Posted: Jan. 24, 2006
MIKE CASTLE'S BLUE HEAVEN
By Celia Cohen
U.S. Rep. Michael N. Castle voted a straight party line on the six bills that constituted the "100 Hours" agenda of the new Democratic majority in the House of Representatives.
It just did not happen to be his own party line.
Castle, an eight-term Republican, unleashed his inner Democrat, although some of his votes were cast with reservations. He was one of three House Republicans with a perfect Democratic score.
"I was supportive of what they are trying to do. Actually, in most of those instances, they are areas where I either introduced legislation, or it was my legislation they were dealing with. For example, on embryonic stem cell research, it was my legislation," Castle said Wednesday in an interview.
"I don't think I took any new positions on any of these votes."
The "100 Hours" drill was the Democrats' plan to prove themselves in the early days of their majority, even if they did tend to keep track of the hours the way Florida counted presidential votes -- that is, the time counted when they wanted it to.
The Democratic clock started and stopped at will, but the work did get done with tens of hours to spare. It remains to be seen whether the bills become laws, once the Democratic Senate and the Republican president take a look at them -- notably the stem cell measure. When it got to George W. Bush's desk last year, it received the only veto of his presidency.
In addition to the stem cell bill, the "100 Hours" agenda had five other parts. They would: implement the 9-11 Commission's recommendations, increase the minimum wage, require the federal government to negotiate for lower drug prices for Medicare recipients, cut the interest rate for college loans, and reduce oil subsidies to use the money to invest in alternative energy sources.
All of the items drew some Republican votes, from a low of 24 on the Medicare bill to a high of 124 on the student loan legislation, according to a tally provided by the House Democratic leadership.
The other Republicans who voted for everything were Minnesota Rep. Jim Ramstad and Pennsylvania Rep. Todd R. Platts, whose district is south of Harrisburg. Like Castle, they are members of the Republican Main Street Partnership, an organization of moderates within the party.
Castle's votes hardly caused ripples at home -- not from a state that has watched him hold statewide office since 1981 as a lieutenant governor, governor and congressman, and not from a state that prefers its politics Democratic blue these days.
"It was a Chevrolet and apple pie program. The people in Delaware would have been disappointed if he hadn't voted for it. It says he's where the country is and where Delaware is," said James R. Soles, a political scientist retired from the University of Delaware.
State Democratic Chair John D. Daniello was not surprised by what Castle did. "He's always been the moderate voice of the Republican Party here," Daniello said, although he noted the congressional session was young. "Let's see what his term turns out to be."
State Republican Chair Terry A. Strine did not expect consternation within his party's ranks. "Some of the more conservative people, both Republicans and Democrats, may be upset. However Mike votes is what he conscientiously believes is the right thing to do. It's why he's so widely respected," Strine said.
Strine did not think the 2006 election returns -- in which Castle polled 57 percent, a comedown from his more typical 70 percent -- were a factor in the congressman's "100 Hours" voting, and Castle said it was not. "I've always voted what I believe is correct, which is also the correct politics," he said.
Castle said the toughest "yes" vote was the one on Medicare, because he believes the new prescription drug benefit is working, particularly in Delaware, so why bring the government into the marketplace?
That reasoning certainly sounds Republican, and no one is drumming Castle out of the party. He had no trouble finding his seat Tuesday evening for the State of the Union.
"I sat very comfortably on the Republican side," Castle said.