Democrats Time Votes to Pack Partisan Punch Democratic congressional leaders have been working to highlight partisan differences by crafting bills that force Republicans to take unpopular stands. In the House, Democrats staged a vote on a bill extending unemployment benefits. Senate debate centered on a measure to tax oil companies.
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Democrats Time Votes to Pack Partisan Punch

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Democrats Time Votes to Pack Partisan Punch

Democrats Time Votes to Pack Partisan Punch

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

John McCain and Barack Obama are promising a different kind of politics, and for all we know, they may deliver. The challenge is it's a little like promising a different kind of baseball. The game is very traditional; many things don't change. In a moment, NPR's Mara Liasson gives us an early look at the electoral map, which may determine who wins in November.

We begin with the tradition of politically timed votes in Congress. Yesterday, the House voted to extend unemployment benefits. Republicans had to go on record opposing the extension. Just as Republicans once did, Democrats have been staging votes to highlight their differences with the other party. NPR's Brian Naylor reports.

BRIAN NAYLOR: As he argued against the extended unemployment benefits bill on the House floor the other day, Illinois Republican Congressman Jerry Weller took particular umbrage at the politics of it all.

Representative JERRY WELLER (Republican, Illinois): And I am especially opposed to the cynical election year maneuvering, reflected in how the House is considering this important issue today.

NAYLOR: What's that? Election year maneuvering on the House floor? Shocking. But of late, it seems there has been an uptick in the stagecraft on Capitol Hill. This week, Senate Democrats knew there was little chance their bill slapping a windfall profits tax on oil companies would pass, and in fact it failed Tuesday morning, coming up nine votes short of the 60 needed to overcome a Republican filibuster.

Yet for most of the rest of the day, and the next, the Senate continued to debate the issue to no particular end. At one point, Iowa Republican Charles Grassley took aim at the Senate leaders, who are driven around in large SUVs.

Senator CHARLES GRASSLEY (Republican, Iowa): When we're paying $4 of taxpayers' money for gasoline, it just irritates me to high heaven when I see these SUVs idling out here, maybe to keep the car warm in the wintertime or keep it cool in the summertime. And I saw it when the temperature around here was 60 degrees. Shut those cars off and save.

NAYLOR: Grassley's indignation was one of the few times this week lawmakers departed from their prepared scripts. House Republican leader John Boehner said partisanship has gotten to be a bad habit.

Representative JOHN BOEHNER (Republican, Ohio): Well, if you've watched what the House, and frankly what the Senate's done, all year, it's been about politics every day, all day. And I don't say this in a partisan way. It's a fact.

NAYLOR: Democrats say it's not about brazen politics but pursuing policies aimed at helping people. Still, they wasted no time issuing press releases blasting those Republicans who voted against extending unemployment benefits. But Democratic Congressman Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, who chairs his party's campaign committee, said Democrats have the high ground.

Representative CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (Democrat, Maryland): We think this is the right thing to do and therefore, we also think that the American people will agree with us that this is the right thing to do - which is why we think it's important that their constituents know how they voted. Because the extent more people know about this, we think people will pick up the phone and call their member of Congress and say, hey, are you out of touch or what?

NAYLOR: And in the Senate, Democrats vow to return to the windfall profits tax and other measures aimed at putting Republicans on the defensive. It is, after all, what Republicans did when they controlled Congress. The Senate Democrats' campaign chairman, Charles Schumer of New York, seems almost gleeful about it.

Senator CHARLES SCHUMER (Democrat, New York, Chairman, Democrat Campaign): We are going to continue to bring up these issues, over and over and over again. The status quo: $4 gasoline, unemployment 5.5 percent, 1 million homes in foreclosure, food prices skyrocketing. And what's their answer to all of this? No. Do nothing.

NAYLOR: Now that both parties have settled on their presidential nominees, there are likely to be even more votes where - as with the windfall profits tax -Democrats look to boost Barack Obama while setting up difficult votes for Republican John McCain. There's talk of a second economic stimulus package along the lines of what Obama has called for, and coming up, more votes on spending for the Iraq War.

Brian Naylor, NPR News, the Capitol.

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