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The Journal Gazette

  • Left: Rep. Luke Messer, R-6th; Right: Rep. Rokita, R-4th

  • Messer

  • Rokita

Sunday, August 20, 2017 1:00 am

Senate hopefuls vote nearly alike

Drawing a difference may be next

BRIAN FRANCISCO | The Journal Gazette

Indiana Republicans might have trouble telling Luke Messer and Todd Rokita apart if they are judging the U.S. Senate candidates by their congressional voting records.

Reps. Messer, R-6th, and Rokita, R-4th, have voted alike nearly 96 percent of the time both have been members of the U.S. House, according to data compiled by the news organization ProPublica.

“I would tell you frankly, if you take a look at our voting records, they're pretty similar. We are both relatively mainstream conservatives,” Messer said last week during a campaign stop at Allen County Republican Party Headquarters in downtown Fort Wayne.

Messer and Rokita are the best-known and best-funded of the six Republicans who seek their party's nomination to face Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., in next year's general election. They also are the only GOP candidates who have a head-to-head voting record on legislation.

Messer and Rokita have taken the same side all but 123 times out of 2,814 roll-call votes since Messer joined the House in 2013, two years after Rokita arrived, according to ProPublica. The votes include procedural matters – 15 times they have disagreed about whether to approve the House journal on the previous day's activities.

They have split on only 10 legislative proposals that ProPublica considers “major votes.” It's tricky trying to discern patterns from such a small sample. Rokita did oppose large spending measures more often than Messer, and Rokita appeared to back stricter limits on the government's surveillance of Americans. 

IPFW political scientist Michael Wolf said some votes probably reflect “the Washington game of where you sit is where you stand. Committee placement or leadership placement might explain some of their differences.”

As Republican Policy Committee chairman, Messer is part of the GOP leadership team and more likely to support legislation favored by leaders of that team, Wolf said. Messer has voted the same as House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy 98 percent of the time this year, according to ProPublica, while Rokita has voted with McCarthy 96 percent of the time.

Wolf said it was no surprise that Rokita, as a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, would have voted for highway funding bills that came out of that committee. One of his split votes with Messer came on the 2014 highway bill.

Now that Messer and Rokita are competing for the Senate nomination in the May 2018 GOP primary election, Wolf expects more divides on legislation.

“They have to distinguish themselves. ... It's probably going to be a little easier for Rokita to do it because Messer has been in the leadership and Rokita has positioned himself as an outsider, draining the swamp,” Wolf said in a telephone interview.

Following are “major votes” in which they went their separate ways, as well as statements they made at the time, along with the House voting results and the Indiana delegation tallies.

• The $1.1 trillion Consolidated Appropriations Act to fund the government through the end of fiscal 2017. Rokita voted “yes,” and Messer voted “no.”

Rokita said, “While keeping spending flat, this bill re-prioritizes existing funds to keep Americans safe, reauthorizes school choice programs and enhances border security.”

House vote: 309-118 on May 3.

Indiana vote: 6-3 in favor

• The continuing resolution to fund the government through Dec. 9, 2016. Messer voted “yes,” and Rokita voted “no.”

“Given that our national debt is already over $19 trillion,” Rokita said, “I cannot support this bill because several of the provisions are not even paid-for, including Zika funding, and therefore add to the national debt.”

House vote: 342-85 on Sept. 28, 2016

Indiana vote: 7-2 in favor

• An amendment to prohibit warrantless searches of government databases for communications of U.S. citizens. Rokita voted “yes,” and Messer voted “no.”

House vote: Amendment failed 198-222 on June 16, 2016

Indiana vote: 6-3 in opposition 

• Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act to allow the U.S. territory to restructure its debt in exchange for federal oversight of its finances. Rokita voted “yes,” and Messer voted “no.”

House vote: 297-127 on June 9, 2016

Indiana vote: 8-1 in favor

• An amendment to prohibit the use of federal funds for the large-scale display of Confederate battle flags in national cemeteries. Messer voted “yes,” and Rokita voted “no.”

House vote: 265-159 on May 19, 2016

Indiana vote: 6-3 in favor

• The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 adopting a two-year budget and temporarily suspending the national debt limit. Messer voted “yes,” and Rokita voted “no.”

Messer said he voted in favor of the legislation after working to help restore proposed cuts to the crop insurance program. “I could not stand by while Congress tried to negotiate another spending deal on the backs of our agriculture community,” he said.

Rokita said the legislation “stunts our progress toward meaningful spending reform” and “is Washington cooking its books.”

House vote: 266-167 on Oct. 28, 2015

Indiana vote: 5-4 in opposition

• The 21st Century Cures Act to speed regulatory approval for medicines and medical devices and increase funding for the National Institutes of Health. Messer voted “yes,” and Rokita voted “no.”

Rokita said he opposed the bill because the new appropriation – $6.3 billion – was not offset by spending cuts elsewhere. “I was dismayed that H.R. 6 did not respect the importance of research funding by reducing other spending priorities to responsibly pay for the program,” he said.

Messer said in an op-ed commentary: “It's a bill that not only paves the way for new innovation and cures but also helps grow our economy.”

He said the bill “is paid for” and would reduce the budget deficit by $524 million over a decade through Medicare and Medicaid revisions.

House vote: 344-177 on July 10, 2015

Indiana vote: 7-2 in favor

• The Highway and Transportation Funding Act of 2014. Rokita voted “yes,” and Messer voted “no.”

House vote: 367-55 on July 15, 2014

Indiana vote: 7-2 in favor

• The USA Freedom Act to restrict the National Security Agency's surveillance of U.S. citizens. Messer voted “yes,” and Rokita voted “no.” It should be noted that 71 co-sponsors of the bill, including Rokita, voted in opposition, reportedly because a House committee watered down provisions related to the government's bulk collection of citizens' telephone and internet data.

House vote: 303-121 on May 22, 2014

Indiana vote: 5-4 in favor

• Legislation to increase the borrowing authority of the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the National Flood Insurance Program in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Messer voted “yes,” and Rokita voted “no.”

Rokita said: “Just as normal American families do, we have to be willing to cut spending on less important things if we want to pay for emergency expenses. Today's bill failed to do so, and so I reluctantly opposed it.”

House vote: 354-67 on Jan. 4, 2013. 

Indiana vote: 7-2 in favor

Also seeking the Republican Senate nomination in next May's primary election are state Rep. Mike Braun of Jasper, Hamilton County businessman Terry Henderson, Kokomo attorney Mark Hurt and New Albany college administrator Andrew Takami.

bfrancisco@jg.net