Democratic congressional candidates Paul Vance and Joe Courtney today attacked incumbents Nancy Johnson and Rob Simmons for voting against the interests of their constituents. Vance pointed to Johnson's vote for slashing federal student loans, while Courtney accused Simmons of violating campaign promises by voting for a defense appropriations bill that included an amendment allowing oil drilling in the Alaskan National Wildlife Reserve.
Student Loan Program Slashed
The House of Representatives agreed yesterday to slash the federal student loan program, and Paul Vance is not happy about it:
Said Vance, “When seven moderate and conservative Republicans voted to protect the student loan program, our supposed “independent” Congresswoman forgot about our concerns and voted with the majority to cut nearly $13 billion from the student loan program – and thousands of families from across the Fifth District want to know why.” (Paul Vance Press Release: 12/20/05)
Vance is referring to this, which is part of a defecit-cutting measure that will take more than $12 billion out of the student loan program. While it seems that banks will actually suffer the most, students will see higher interest rates and potentially fewer dollars. Republicans claim that students have been protected and that the money freed up from government payments to banks will lead to more grants and lower fees. We'll see if that is actually the case. I suspect that, in their suddenly remembered zeal to cut the budget, Republicans have taken off too big a bite for the program to remain as useful as it is today.
Rob Simmons is coming under fire for apparently breaking a promise to his constituents. Joe Courtney compares two recent campaign mailings to Simmons' vote to approve the defense appropriations bill, which included a provision to allow ANWR drilling:
In a November 4, 2005 bulk email to constituents, Simmons said “Since coming to Congress in 2001, I have voted six times against opening the Arctic Refuge to drilling. Rest assured, I will oppose any budget that permits drilling in ANWR.”
Simmons, in another bulk email on November 30, said the following on the GOP budget cuts: “I voted against this budget because I am opposed to cutting spending at the expense of Connecticut's most vulnerable citizens. Medicaid, student loans, and food stamps are programs that help people. I could not vote for a bill that targeted these programs. I am for a reduction in federal spending, but it must be done in a more equitable manner.”
Second District Democratic Congressional Candidate Joe Courtney said the votes are typical of Simmons’ performance in the Congress.
“Although ‘Connecticut Rob’ tells us how opposed he is to ANWR drilling and cutting important programs like student aid and Medicare, ‘Washington Rob’ backs his Republican leadership and the special interests funding his campaign,” Courtney said, “It’s time for leadership that will represent the people of this district when it counts – not when it’s politically convenient.” (Joe Courtney Press Release: 12/20/05)
To be fair to Simmons, he got screwed by his party (story here). Simmons was part of a group that tried to stop the ANWR drilling provision, it seems, but came up short. So what to do? Either vote for ANWR drilling and break a promise, or keep the promise and vote against the troops. It's an impossible situation, and Simmons, whose base of support is the Groton-New London area, apparently chose the option that would least harm his image among constituents. If I were Simmons, I'd be furious with Dennis Hastert for using the military as cover for unpopular oil exploration.
Both challengers are making efforts to tie their opponents to the Republican leadership, a tactic that has had mixed success in the past. However, as Northeastern Republicans become stretched by the often conflicting demands of their party's leadership and their own constituents, the charge that the incumbents are out of touch may start to resonate.