By Zayida Baker

Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Fla., voted in September to keep government running through November 18. At a Tallahassee fundraiser September 26, he discussed D.C. budget battles and looked ahead to 2012.

Southerland voted September 23 for the 2012 Continuing Appropriations Act, part of a package to fund government at current levels past September 30. It passed the House 219-203. Among the 24 Republican “nays” were Reps. Steve King (Iowa), Paul Broun (Ga.), Trent Franks (Ariz.), and Connie Mack (Fla.); Michele Bachmann (Minn.) and Ron Paul (Texas) did not vote.

On September 26 a similar measure passed the Senate 79-12. All 12 “nays” and all nine abstentions were Republican. Dissenters included Marco Rubio (Fla.), Pat Toomey (Pa.), Rand Paul (Ky.), and Mike Lee (Utah). Sens. Jim DeMint (S.C.), Tom Coburn (Okla.), and Saxby Chambliss (Ga.) abstained.

The House will consider final details next week upon its return from recess. Government will run through Tuesday on stopgap funding presented Thursday, September 29, for President Obama’s signature. The broader package, once passed, will run government through November 18.

Southerland had voted September 21 for the first version of the bill, which unexpectedly failed, 195-230. Only six Democrats voted for the bill, and 182 Democrats voted against; yet the bill’s failure was blamed by some on a tea-party defection.

Among 48 Republicans voting against this version were Reps. King, Broun, Franks, Mack, Trey Gowdy (S.C.), and Louie Gohmert (Texas). Bachmann and Paul did not vote.

Southerland, a freshman, is often counted among tea-party defectors. His “yes” votes seem to mark a departure from type. His office ignored multiple requests for comment on this story.

The Republican-controlled House and Democrat-controlled Senate tangled over funding of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The House resolution featured $3.65 billion for disaster relief, with $1 billion of that designated as emergency funds for the remaining days of the 2011 fiscal year. Republicans wanted to offset the unplanned $1 billion with cuts elsewhere. Democrats objected to these offsets and spurned the $3.65 billion offered as inadequate. Some conservative Republicans wanted greater spending cuts and joined Democrats in voting “no.”

Southerland discussed the bill September 26 during a Tallahassee fundraiser at Summerbrooke Golf Club. He said that the “mainstream media” was not reporting that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., torpedoed a bipartisan deal. The failed continuing resolution, in fact, had been previously negotiated between Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., over a few weeks.

The stage was set for smooth compromise, Southerland asserted, until Pelosi decided that Monday to revoke Democrat support. The bill failed at first, but Boehner got more Republican backers with a provision cutting $100 million from a Department of Energy program to lend money to green-technology companies. (This program lent $500 million to the much-scandalized company Solyndra, which recently filed for bankruptcy.) Then, after it squeaked through the House with overwhelmingly Republican votes, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., tabled it immediately.

The dispute between House and Senate seemed to clear when FEMA announced it would make do through September 30, the end of fiscal year 2011, without the additional $1 billion, thus also skirting the issue of offsets.

Looking back over nine months in office, Southerland said that the budget gridlock began immediately upon his arrival in Congress, and that it would continue. Consequently, he predicts that Congress will produce nothing major, besides a budget, until after 2012.

Southerland promised to continue to bring “common sense” to Washington in a second term. “I will irritate my leadership; I will infuriate John Boehner—[although] that’s not my goal—and I will infuriate Nancy Pelosi,” he proclaimed to applause.

He also disavowed any interest in committee positions or chairmanships that leadership might use to sway his voting.

A member of the audience commended Southerland’s rating as Florida’s No.1 congressman on the Heritage Action Scorecard. (Southerland, now at 85 percent, is actually second in Florida’s House delegation behind Republicans Connie Mack and Jeff Miller, who tied for first at 90 percent. Sen. Marco Rubio earned a “94.”)

Southerland told donors that his biggest surprise in the last two years was the backing he had received in their area, relatively liberal Leon County.

Stan Willis, founder of Citizens for Responsible Government/Tallahassee, attended the fundraiser. He “thought [Southerland] was very candid” about how Washington works. Regarding Pelosi’s stunt, he mused, “That’s why I don’t understand about the compromising with these people.”

Willis found Southerland’s Heritage rating “reassuring.” He believes that Southerland has “held by his principles” and generally been faithful to his constituents so far.

Note: this story has been corrected to reflect the difference between the two versions of the House’s continuing resolution.

You may wish to contact
Rep. Southerland: (202) 225-5235
Sen. Rubio: (202) 224-3041
Speaker Boehner: (202) 225-0600

Zayida Baker covers Rep. Steve Southerland and Sen. Bill Nelson for Tea Party Patriots’ Government Accountability Project. She can be reached at zayida.baker@tppjournalism.org.