WASHINGTON – Leading Democrats have not looked kindly on House Republicans’ attempt to keep the federal government open by passing individual spending bills rather than a full continuing resolution. President Obama’s spokeswoman dismissed the conservatives’ strategy as “not serious,” while Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid accused House Republicans of “cherry pick(ing)” which federal agencies should receive funding.
If Rep. Jared Polis agrees with their criticism of the piecemeal approach, he has a funny way of showing it. In the first week of the partial federal shutdown, the Boulder Democrat has voted on final passage for six of the seven spending bills the Republican-led majority put up for a vote.
In all but one of the votes, Polis broke ranks with most of the Democratic caucus, as he and a few other House Democrats crossed the aisle to vote with nearly all House Republicans.
Those bills included funds for the 2014 fiscal year for the National Institutes of Health, national parks and museums, and veterans benefits.
A bill to give furloughed federal employees their back pay was approved without opposition in the House.
In an interview last week, Polis did not answer a question if Democratic leaders had looked askance at his votes, nipping the suggestion that he is giving Republicans some bipartisan cover in the bud.
Instead, he noted, correctly, that Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Golden) too had voted to fund FEMA and the National Guard. And he emphasized the importance of providing federal funding for flooded Estes National Park.
“Estes Park has been hit with a double whammy: massive flooding and trying to attract federal funding … So I don’t think Estes Park should be held hostage to the government shutdown,” Polis said.
A look at Polis’ voting record shows he does not side with Republicans often. The liberal organization Americans for Democratic Action gave him a rating of 85 percent in May, while National Journal rated him as a liberal on 68 percent of foreign and social policy issues in July.
Polis is a chief critic in the House of hydraulic fracturing or fracking, as he has sponsored legislation to impose new regulations on the industry.
And Polis has differed with House Republicans on every key procedural maneuver related to the government shutdown. He voted to set aside all seven of the continuing appropriations bills, which would prevented them from coming to the House floor for a vote.
Polis’s best-known contribution to the debate over the partial government shutdown has been partisan. He parodied Sen. Ted Cruz, the Texas Republican who read Dr. Seuss’ book “Green Eggs and Ham” during his 21-hour speech on the Senate floor in support of a government shutdown. But an aide to one close Polis colleague described the Democrat as bipartisan on civil liberties and fiscal issues.
“… He’s smart and principled. He understands the importance of individual liberty, which is an idea that has bipartisan appeal,” said an aide to Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) in an email.
The aide added that the two 30-something lawmakers worked together on an amendment to balance the budget, limit the reach of the 1970 federal anti-drug law on state marijuana laws, and curtail the power of the National Security Administration on domestic wiretapping.
The effect of Polis’ aisle-crossing within the Democratic caucus is unclear. An aide to one Democrat close to leadership did not return an email for comment.
If Polis’ interaction with his Democratic colleagues last Thursday afternoon is any sign, the effect is minimal. After he voted to fund the National Guard and military reserves, the lanky congressman chatted with Rep. Diana DeGette of Denver for two minutes, jitterbugged to talk with Rep. Jared Huffman of California, conferred with Sander Levin of Michigan, and shared a laugh with Rep. G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina.