Doug Jones' budget vote gets mixed reactions among DemocratsBy Jessa Reid Bolling | 02/05/2018 9:36pm
Two weeks after Alabama Sen. Doug Jones (D) voted with House Republicans on a short-term spending bill, he still has to walk a bipartisan line since the bill expires this Thursday, putting the government at risk of shutting down again if both parties don’t reach a more permanent deal.
“The challenge for Doug Jones is going to be voting with the Republicans enough to keep independent swing voters happy, while at the same time voting often enough with Democrats to keep his base happy,” said Richard Fording, a political science professor at The University of Alabama.
After his first major vote in the Senate, Jones has been criticized for his decision to side with House Republicans on a budget deal that included funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) but did not include funding for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), a key issue for Democrats. Jones was one of five Democrat senators to vote in favor of the budget put forth by Republicans before the three-day shutdown last month.
Funding for CHIP, which provides health insurance to children in families who can't afford private insurance but make too much to be eligible for Medicaid, ended on Sept. 30.
DACA, a program that allows individuals brought into the country as minors to qualify for a two year period of deferred action and allows them to obtain a work permit, is set to expire in March.
However, some say Jones is simply following through on the promises he made during his campaign to reach across the aisle and work with Republicans and compromise when necessary.
Fording said Jones campaigned on the promise that he would take a bipartisan approach to his role in the Senate and cross party lines from time to time. Fording said Jones cannot side with Democrats on everything if he hopes to hold on to his seat.
“It is not surprising that he would vote with Republicans in his first big vote,” Fording said. “The question to ask, I think, is how often will he do this? His Democratic base is going to have to be patient and understand that the impact of his victory will be much greater if he can get re-elected, and if he can help boost the popularity of the Democratic Party in Alabama. There is no chance of that happening unless people like Doug Jones can convince Alabama independents, most of whom lean conservative, that Alabama Democrats can be trusted to be more independent of the more liberal national Democratic party establishment.”
Fording said Jones will walk a fine line of keeping both Republicans and Democrats happy as he tries to increase his popularity among Alabama voters and increase his chances of re-election.
“The best way to do that, I think, is to vote with the Republicans as often as possible when the vote isn’t critical to passage, like he did with the recent budget vote," Fording said. "If he does that enough, he can build enough goodwill with more conservative voters so that when he votes with the Democrats, they give him a pass.”
Mike Smith, an economics and finance student at the University and the development director of Alabama College Democrats, said Jones deserves credit for keeping his promise of voting to fund CHIP and for his willingness to reach across the aisle on certain issues.
“I think Doug Jones gets attacked too much by some liberals,” Smith said. “They hope that he will vote like a California or Illinois senator when he represents a state as red as West Virginia. Politics is a game of choosing options, and having Doug Jones in the Senate is much better than any Alabama Republican, especially Roy Moore.”
Smith said he thinks Jones fulfilled his immediate responsibility to the people of Alabama and the rest of the country with his vote to end the shutdown and secure CHIP funding.
“I think Doug Jones made the tough, but right, call during the shutdown debate,” Smith said. “I think it was critical that Democrats threatened a shutdown to call CHIP and DACA to attention, but once a deal was secured to take CHIP off the chopping block, Senator Jones took it. Now, we are days away from voting on protection for Dreamers, without CHIP being used as a negotiating tool.”