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October 1, 2013

Gibson, Hanna fall back into GOP line

By Joe Mahoney Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — Reps. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, and Richard Hanna, R-Barneveld, were among the 228 congressmen who voted Monday night for a resolution to provide short-term funding to the federal government while blocking the health care mandate scheduled to take effect Jan. 1.

While Gibson and Hanna were back in the GOP tent for the new legislation, the two were conspicuous dissenters from a very different resolution that led to a Washington stalemate and threatened a shutdown of certain government operations. They were the only two Republican House members to break ranks with their party leadership on that Sunday morning vote.

Late Monday, Gibson said in a statement that the latest resolution to come out of the House was “a simple, fair, and reasonable compromise that should be adopted.”

Gibson said the resolution adds two provisions to the Senate’s companion legislation: Reversing the Obama administration’s move to hand subsidies to members of Congress, and derailing the tax that would be imposed on Americans who refuse to get health care coverage after the Afffordable Care Act kicks in Jan. 1.

“Congress gets a fix before the American people, and that’s simply wrong,” Gibson said.

The congressman said it was also unfair that American consumers would have to face a penalty if they resisted the so-called Obamacare mandate after the administration earlier postponed the mandate until 2015 for large employers.

The new GOP plan would keep government funding flowing through mid-December. It differed from a resolution passed early Sunday in that the earlier version would have delayed Obamacare for a year.

“That is policy that I support, but at this late hour is an overreach,” said Gibson, whose 19th Congressional District includes Otsego, Schoharie and Delaware counties.

The Monday night vote was slightly less partisan than the Sunday vote, when Gibson and Hanna were the only Republicans to vote with the Democrats. Nine Democrats strayed from their party leadership by voting with the Republicans out to stop the Affordable Care Act mandate from taking effect. A dozen Republicans voted against the measure, although most of them did so because they thought the legislation didn’t do enough to upend Obamacare.

Gibson and Hanna have both shown strong independent streaks in their relatively brief Washington careers. Both were first elected in 2010 and face re-election next year in a blue state — where Obama won a wide margin over challenger Mitt Romney in 2012. In the 19th Congressional District, for example, Obama topped Romney by 6.2 percent in the same cycle that Gibson fended off Democratic challenger Julian Schreibman of Stone Ridge by 5.7 percent.

Gibson said he voted against the continuing resolution that could pave the way to a government shutdown because he would prefer to see both parties compromise and President Barack Obama open negotiations with the House.

Hanna was more critical of the stalemate that brought about the threat of a government shutdown, calling it “a shameful way to operate.”

“It is incumbent on us to approve a bill that keeps the government open at responsible spending levels — and then work to address the long-term, structural drivers of our national debt,” Hanna said in a statement.

In local Republican circles, there was mixed reaction to the fact that Gibson and Hanna were the nation’s only two GOP House members to vote against yanking funding from the federal government.

Cobleskill Mayor Mark Galasso, a conservative Republican, said the votes of Gibson and Hanna smacked of “political expediency” and trying to take political cover when they are being aggressively challenged by the Democratic Party.

Galasso said Gibson now shares a similar space on the political spectrum as former President Bill Clinton, a moderate Democrat, while becoming increasingly out of step with those who subscribe to the core convictions of the Republican Party.

But even though they voted with Democrats on the continuing resolution, neither Gibson nor Hanna is likely to face a viable challenger from the right wing of the Republican Party or the ultra-conservative tea party movement, Galasso said.

“Who is going to bother going against them in New York state?” he asked.

Former state Assemblyman Anthony J. Casale of Cooperstown, a moderate Republican who served in former New York Gov. George Pataki’s administration, said he believes both Gibson and Hanna voted as they did based on their convictions as representatives of their constituents.

“Both of them are principled individuals,” he said.

Casale also said he isn’t convinced that any member would pay a significant political price based on the weekend vote.

“Very seldom does one vote make the difference in an election,” he reasoned.

Hartwick College professor Laurel Elder, the chairwoman of the school’s political science department, noted Gibson and Hanna are both in competitive districts where neither major party commands a lopsided majority, and where unaffiliated independents could tip the scales in a close election. In 2010, Hanna, then a challenger, won a close race against Democratic incumbent Michael Arcuri, while part of Gibson’s current district had been represented by former Rep. Maurice Hinchey, a liberal Democrat.

The fact that President Obama did well in those districts in 2012 is a “political reality” that likely factors into the deliberations of both congressmen as they approach controversial votes, she said.

Elder said Gibson and Hanna appear to have staked out positions similar to that of another Republican in a blue state, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine. Collins, who is also a critic of Obamacare, warned Monday that a government shutdown would slow efforts to bring the economy out of recession.

While they didn’t disagree with the votes cast Sunday by the two GOP congressmen, local Democrats said the best way to address Washington gridlock is to replace them with Democratic candidates.

“They are still part of the do-nothing Republican Congress,” said Otsego County Democratic Chairman Richard Abbate.