Debt vote shows freshmen Dem concerns

Thursday's House vote to approve a $1.9 trillion increase in the federal debt ceiling underscored the dilemmas facing Democrats during this election year.

As Democrats face growing tension between their legislative and campaign demands, Thursday's House vote to approve a $1.9 trillion increase in the federal debt ceiling underscored the dilemmas that lie ahead in this campaign year and how party leaders will seek to accommodate them.

It was no surprise that the 217-212 vote to approve the rule setting terms of the debate included no Republican supporters. More revealing were the 37 Democrats who voted no. Of that total, there are 24 first-termers, nine sophomores, and only four more senior members, of whom three are Southerners.

They included 20 of the 26 Democrats elected in November 2008 to seats that had previously been held by Republicans, plus four others who won special elections in the past two years -- three in what had been GOP-held seats.

The fact there were "no" votes from only nine of the 26 Democrats first elected in 2006 in Republican seats revealed that group's greater level of political confidence, and the fact that many took districts that were low-hanging fruit for House Democrats.

Most of these members already are facing serious re-election contests or seeking to avoid bad votes that could give grist to a campaign challenger. But as a group, many have shown that they can be Democratic team-players, when possible.

So, as Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., prowled the floor during the debt-limit vote, it was revealing that at least four of these Democrats voted no only after the measure had secured sufficient votes to assure passage: Reps. Bill Foster and Debbie Halvorson of Illinois, and Scott Murphy and Bill Owens of New York.

From another perspective, of the 48 House Democrats who hold districts that Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., won in 2008, only 19 voted against the debt-ceiling increase.

The remaining 29 Democrats, most of whom are relatively senior, include five House committee chairmen and four Democrats who have announced their retirements since December.