By Dustin Hurst | Watchdog.org
HELENA — A top political magazine suggests Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester typically votes with President Barack Obama — but there is more to the story.
Congressional Quarterly says that on 89 keys votes last year, Tester voted with Obama 95 percent of the time.
But the Washington Post tracks votes, too, and its numbers suggest that while Tester generally supports his party’s policies, he also bucks party leadership.
The campaign of Republican U.S. House Rep. Denny Rehberg, Tester’s foe in November’s general election, mentions the CQ figure in nearly every campaign flier, commercial and email, attempting to link Tester and Obama.
But is the CQ figure accurate? Tester spokesman Aaron Murphy says no.
“Leave it to Congressman Dennis Rehberg to put stock in a random number made up in Washington and then hope Montanans will be fooled by it,” Murphy told the Billings Gazette in a March interview.
Each year, CQ rates U.S. senators and representatives on their voting habits and makes those numbers public. The publication doesn’t take all votes into account, but rather only those in which the president has taken “a clear position.” The publication has used the same methodology since 1953.
But the 89 votes CQ used from 2011 represented only 35 percent of the 235 Senate votes cast last year.
A wider scope reveals a slightly different picture. The Washington Post’s vote tracker notes that in the 111th session of Congress in 2009 and 2010, Tester voted down the party line 93 percent of the time. In the 112th Congress in 2011 and 2012, he’s at 91 percent.
By comparison, Montana’s senior senator, Democrat Max Baucus, voted with the party 93 percent in the 111th Congress and 92 percent in the 112th Congress.
The Washington Post based its 111th rankings on 692 Senate votes, and 112th on 336 votes. The Post’s ranking doesn’t take Obama’s positions into account.
Rehberg voted with Republicans on 94 percent of the House’s 1,645 votes in the 111th Congress. In the 112th session, he sided with the GOP on 93 percent of 1,241 total votes cast.
Tester is one of the senators most likely to break ranks with his party, though it doesn’t happen that often, according to the Washington Post’s ratings.
Tester’s 92 percent party-line record this year is much less than U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who logs a 98 percent, or Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who scored 94 percent. Only five of the 52 Senate Democrats are more likely to buck the party than Tester.
Tester joined Republicans in these instances:
- In December 2010, Tester joined 36 Republicans and four other Democrats in opposing the DREAM Act that provides a pathway to citizenship for some illegal immigrants.
- In February 2011, Tester defied Obama by voting against a three-month re-authorization of the PATRIOT Act, a national security and surveillance bill.
On other key votes, Tester has sided with Obama and Democrats:
- In February 2009, Tester supported Obama’s American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, otherwise known as the stimulus bill.
- In December 2010, Tester supported repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” thus allowing homosexuals to serve openly in the armed forces.
- Tester joined the 59 other Senate Democrats for a 60-vote filibuster-proof majority that enabled passage of Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as national health-care law.