By Paul Kane
House Democrats are voting with such unity that, if continued throughout the 110th Congress, their cohesion would be unparalleled in recent congressional history.
Through the first five months of the year, the average House Democrat has voted with a majority of his/her caucus colleagues on 94 percent of the 425 roll calls. Enjoying their honeymoon period, 110 Democrats -- nearly half of the 232 Democrats -- have sided with a majority of the caucus on at least 98 percent of the votes cast this year.
Consider this: Rep. Adam Putnam (R-Fla.) has been the most partisan Republican in the 110th Congress, voting with a GOP majority on 98 percent of votes. But if someone prints out the washingtonpost.com's chart of most partisan voters in the House, they will have to turn through eight and a half pages of House Democrats before they see Putnam's red-headed mug shot (Rep. Charles Norwood R-Ga., who died on Feb. 13 and cast only nine votes in the 110th Congress, is the lone exception.)
No other caucus of House Republicans or Democrats has maintained such a unified voting bloc over a two-year Congress, according to washingtonpost.com's vote tracking feature.
The previous high-water mark for partisanship came with House Republicans in the 107th Congress, when a string of major national and international events demanded an intensely unified voting trend: the start of the Bush 43 administration; the largest tax-cut package history; the 9/11 attacks and ensuing legislation, such as the Patriot Act; and the Iraq war authorization vote in October 2002.
Still, the average House Republican in 2001 and 2002 voted with the GOP majority on just 90.4 percent of roll calls. (In the 107th Congress, then-Rep. Tom Sawyer of Ohio was the most partisan Democrat, voting with his caucus's majority 96.6 percent of the time; 65 Republicans had more partisan voting records than Sawyer.)
The unity among Democrats is particularly notable because of the lengths that Republicans have gone in the past year to politically demonize House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), hoping to drive a wedge between her liberal roots and many of the moderates and centrists who won seats in 'red' districts.
Republicans contend that the only way Democrats can stay unified through 2008 is by sticking to a minimalist agenda. 'It's not my choice to waste two years playing small ball,' Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said dismissively.
Admittedly, Democrats say that the unity so far is driven by an agenda that stresses unity first, not divisive issues. So far they have avoided such emotional touchstones as abortion and gun rights.
'Our agenda is centrist oriented, trying to get consensus first,' said Brendan Daly, spokesman for Pelosi. 'We're trying to bring bills that people can be unified on.'
Democrats note that this overall unity allows them to sometimes break away from the old GOP rule of the 'majority of the majority' -- requiring a majority of the majority caucus to approve of a bill before it's vote on -- which occurred with last week's Iraq funding bill. Pelosi is likely to confront a similar issue later this summer when contentious trade bills are brought to the floor and in the fall when the next big Iraq funding votes are likely.
For now, Democrats are stunned to see their unity lasting, the culmination of a long, slowly built process that has taken a dozen years to reach this point. Here's a breakdown of the partisan unity index, citing the percentage of votes that the average member of each party cast with a majority of his/her colleagues over the last 12-plus years:
CONGRESS DEMOCRAT REPUBLICAN
110th 94 88.4
109th 87.4 88.9
108th 87.2 90.2
107th 85.8 90.4
106th 84.6 86.6
105th 82.6 87.7
104th 82.6 87.7
104th 79.6 89.1
By Paul Kane