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Spending bill deadlock yields growing vote tally for 2014 scorecards

The struggle over the government shutdown, now in Day 7, hasn’t yet produced a spending bill President Barack Obama is willing to sign into law.

But it has produced a scorecard of votes, growing longer by the day, on veterans’ benefits, cancer research, Head Start, contraceptives, and other issues —which can be used in next year’s congressional campaign ads.

Case in point: the Planned Parenthood scorecard. Included in the first spending measure the House OK’d on Sept. 29 was a provision exempting employers, insurance companies, and individuals who have religious or moral objections from the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that insurance plans cover birth control and women’s preventive services.

That vote will be added to the scorecard of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the group’s political arm.

“The Planned Parenthood Action Fund is committed to holding politicians accountable for votes like the one they took” on Sept. 29 “that would have allowed employers to deny women access to important preventive care like birth control and breast feeding support,” said Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

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Meanwhile, the fiscal conservative Club for Growth added three roll-call votes from the past two weeks to its 2014 scorecard, including the key Senate vote that got the ball rolling – the cloture vote that paved the way for the Senate to pass its spending bill which would fund government operations until Nov. 15.

On the cloture vote, 25 of the Senate’s 46 Republicans voted to end debate -- including Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, Senate GOP Whip Sen. John Cornyn, and every member of the leadership team.

McConnell is already facing a conservative primary challenger, Matt Bevin, in Kentucky and Cornyn could face one in Texas.

Club for Growth spokesman Barney Keller said it is never “one vote that matters to us – we look at the entirety.” He added, “Certain votes are more memorable than other votes, but by and large, we usually see a pattern of bad behavior from an incumbent and that’s what precipitates our involvement” in a race.

Matt Hoskins of the Senate Conservatives Fund said what’s especially significant is “the cloture vote in the Senate that gave Democrats power to fund Obamacare – that’s a key vote that’s very important to us that we look at as this debate continues.”

Neither the Club for Growth nor the Senate Conservatives Fund has yet endorsed a primary challenger to any GOP incumbent senator.

For the moment, the focus of the spending/shutdown battle is the House.

Obama and the congressional Democratic leadership argue that the House should simply pass the entire spending bill already OK’d by the Senate– and not pass targeted bills that pay for specific departments, programs, or selected groups of beneficiaries.

The battle over spending and, more importantly, the upcoming struggle over raising the debt limit have the potential to expand the number of competitive races and put the House in play. Democrats need a net gain of 17 seats to win back the majority which they lost in 2010.

The Democratic group House Majority PAC has run ads targeting four Republicans in Colorado, Nevada, Florida and Ohio for not voting for the Senate bill to keep the government running. All four are in competitive districts rated “Lean Republican” by the non-partisan Cook Political Report.

But the House GOP leadership decides what comes to the floor for a vote, so it has been able to force Democrats to vote on targeted “mini-funding” amendments to the Senate spending bill.

For incumbents who fear they may be in a close race next year and for House members trying to win a Senate seat, a pressing question is: do you really want to vote against veterans’ funding or money for cancer research at the National Institutes of Health – and then have your opponent fling that vote back at you in a television ad in 2014?

After the House voted for the NIH funding bill last Wednesday, an e-mail from the National Republican Congressional Committee attacked Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, D- N.H., one of the 170 Democrats who voted no: “Shea-Porter Votes Against Funding For Cancer Patients/Puts Obama’s Government Shutdown Ahead Of Vital Medical Research.”

It followed that on Friday with “Shea-Porter Votes Against Funding For Women And Children Living in Poverty” after she and 164 other Democrats voted against the GOP mini-funding bill for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children.

Then on Saturday the NRCC fired another attack: “Shea-Porter Would Rather Pay Federal Workers Than Fund Cancer Screenings” after she joined every other House member in voting for retroactive pay for furloughed federal workers who aren’t being paid during the shutdown.

In line with almost all Democrats, Shea-Porter has called on House Speaker John Boehner to “drop this poisonous brand of politics and allow a vote on a clean bill to fund the government” – by which she means the entire government, not just some agencies or programs.

Shea-Porter’s district is one of the relatively few truly competitive districts in the country: it has changed hands four times in the last seven years. She won it in 2006, lost in the 2010 GOP landslide, and then won it back last year. She is one of nine Democrats whom the Cook Political Report rates as in a toss-up race for re-election in 2014.

Both Republicans and Democrats have generally showed tight party discipline in the House votes on the spending bills. But there have been exceptions. Take, for instance, Saturday’s vote on money for the Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children: 22 House Democrats voted for the funding, while 164 Democrats voted against it.

Of the 22 House Democrats voting for the veterans’ benefits, 17 of them are in 2014 races rated as competitive by the non-partisan Cook Political Report, while two others – Rep. Bruce Braley of Iowa and Rep. Gary Peters of Michigan – are running for the Senate.

In last week’s vote on funding for NIH, 25 Democrats joined with all but two Republicans to OK the funding. They included almost all of the same group of Democrats who voted for nutrition funding for women, infants and children.

House Democrats need a net gain of 17 – they must lose few or none of their own incumbents in 2014 if they hope to win the majority – which is why Republicans are using the NIH vote and others to try to put pressure on House Democrats.