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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi received considerable support from Alabama congressmen for her 'first 100 hours' package of initiatives.
AP photo by Dennis Cook
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi received considerable support from Alabama congressmen for her "first 100 hours" package of initiatives.

State Republicans vote their support for Pelosi package

By Ben Evans
Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON — Alabama Republicans apparently found a lot to like in the Democrats' "first 100 hours" agenda that passed the House.

With a few exceptions, the state's five GOP congressmen supported much of the legislative package that new House Speaker Nancy Pelosi championed as Democrats assumed power for the first time in over a decade.

All five of the Republican lawmakers backed a bill to gradually raise the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 and a legislative package tightening ethics rules for House members. Only one, Rep. Jo Bonner of Mobile, voted against a bill lowering interest rates on federally backed student loans.

Likewise, three of the five — Reps. Robert Aderholt of Haleyville, Terry Everett of Rehobeth and Mike Rogers of Saks — supported a bill to eliminate oil industry tax breaks and recoup lost royalties from drilling.

The state's two House Democrats — Reps. Bud Cramer of Huntsville and Artur Davis of Birmingham — voted for all of the bills, with action on the last completed Thursday night.

"I think the first 100 hours was pretty well-scripted. I give them high marks on style," Bonner said in an interview. But "this was the low-hanging fruit .. . . It's going to be a lot more challenging, I predict, in the months and weeks to come."

To be sure, Bonner and his GOP colleagues found some things not to like in Pelosi's platform. They voted unanimously against a bill expanding federally funded embryonic stem cell research and a measure making the government negotiate for lower Medicare prescription drug prices.

But for a conservative delegation that rarely strayed from the party line while in the majority, the degree of bipartisanship was unusual.

Rep. Spencer Bachus of Vestavia Hills said the votes do
not represent any shift in
philosophy and that he simply supported the underlying principles of several of the bills, such as raising the minimum wage and lowering college borrowing costs.

Asked why Republicans didn't raise the minimum wage — last increased to $5.15 in 1996 — over the past decade, Bachus and Bonner argued that they tried to do so last year but were blocked.

GOP leaders did offer a proposal for raising the wage last year after coming under heavy pressure from Democrats as the November election approached. But they linked the raise with tax breaks for businesses and a permanent reduction of the estate tax, and Democrats opposed it.

Bachus commended Democrats for proposing a stand-alone minimum wage bill to ensure passage.

"One thing I think the rank-and-file members are tired of on our side and on their side is leadership attaching unrelated issues to bills," he said.

Bonner said Republicans also were making progress on an ethics package last year before losing power.

Carol Cassel, professor of political science at the University of Alabama, said the Democratic strategy for kicking off the session with hard-to-resist legislation is similar to what Republicans did with the "Contract with America" after winning control in 1994.

"They've put out items that they know are popular in the public," she said. "It's symbolic unless the Senate passes it and it's signed by the president. And that's not a sure bet."

Keith Nicholls, a pollster and political science professor at the University of South Alabama, doubted that the votes might signal a move to the left.

"I don't think there is a liberalizing trend among the delegation in Alabama," he said. "They're responding to the politics of the day where they can."

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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