Even Republican strategists were surprised by how few GOP House members voted against the ambitious budget plan from Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., when it reached the floor on April 15. With a 25-seat majority, Republicans could offer vulnerable members a pass. Just before the vote, leaders of the National Republican Congressional Committee say they had anticipated that at least a dozen members from swing districts might take the opportunity to distance themselves from a politically combustible proposal that, among other things, would end Medicare as it now exists for Americans younger than 55.
But just four Republicans voted no, and only one of them, David McKinley from West Virginia, represents a truly competitive district. (The others — Walter Jones of North Carolina, Ron Paul of Texas, and Denny Rehberg of Montana — all hold safe Republican terrain but had idiosyncratic reasons for opposing Ryan.) It was a striking statement of partisan unity, and a moment that revealed the stark contrast in the parties' political strategies.
The nearly monolithic support for Ryan's plan continued a pattern: On this year's biggest votes, almost all Republicans from swing districts have repeatedly sided with their colleagues from more reliably conservative territory. Every House Republican — including all 61 who represent districts that supported President Obama in 2008 — voted earlier this year to repeal the president's health care reform law. The GOP members present likewise voted, unanimously, to bar the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating carbon emissions linked to global climate change. All but seven House Republicans (six from districts that supported Obama) voted to defund Planned Parenthood.