POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Nov 1, 2011
WASHINGTON » Rep. Don Young of Alaska likes to get around his home state, and he does not let his voting schedule get in the way. One Tuesday in July when his fellow House Republicans voted for their signature budget measure, known as Cut, Cap and Balance, Young was the only one among them to miss the vote, for a charity fishing trip in Whittier.
Young, the second-longest-serving Republican in the House, has missed nearly 17 percent of all votes in the 112th Congress, making him the member of the House most often absent, excluding those recovering from serious illness or Reps. Ron Paul of Texas and Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, two Republicans who are running for president.
According to an analysis of House attendance, nearly 20 current members have missed more than 10 percent of the votes this year. Most said they were ill or were tending to sick family members. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., missed several weeks of votes during what might have been the first paternity leave for a gay member of Congress.
While a 10 percent rate of absenteeism might not seem all that significant, the vast majority of lawmakers try to miss as few votes as possible, with the view that their constituents consider voting a basic function of serving in Congress.
A spokesman for Young, first elected in 1973, said the lawmaker's efficacy should not be judged solely on how often he registers his positions on the House floor.
"There are many things that factor into being an effective member of Congress in addition to voting, such as meeting with constituents," said Luke Miller, the spokesman, in an email. (Young did not respond to a request made on the House floor Thursday to discuss the matter, because, in fact, he was not there.)
The fishing trip during the vote on the Cut, Cap and Balance bill, Young's aide explained, was part of a long-planned charity event in the name of his deceased wife to benefit Alaskan children with cancer.
"It should be noted," Miller said, "that Alaska is over 10,000 miles away roundtrip."
Alaska's inconvenience to Washington has not had quite the same stymieing effect on the two senators from Alaska; Sen. Mark Begich, a Democrat, has not missed a vote this year, while Republican Lisa Murkowski has missed 6 percent of the total of 187 votes. Young has missed more than 10 percent of House votes in seven of the previous eight Congresses.
Although members are not required to say why they miss votes, many do submit explanations. Rep. John Campbell, R-Calif., missed a vote because he was attending a reception in honor of Prince William and his wife, the Duchess of Cambridge. Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va., once had the ever-vexing flight delay, and his explanation is rife with indignation.
"At moments, the arrival/departure information was so confused that the airplane would have had to violate the laws of physics in order to abide by the airline schedule," he wrote. "This flight delay prevented me from carrying out my Constitutional duty to represent the people of southern West Virginia."
Not all votes are created equal. Rules votes, which concern the manner in which a bill will be debated and voted on, do not carry the same weight as those on budget agreements, appropriations bills or bills supported by House leadership that risk failure. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., came back to the Capitol in August to cast her only vote since she was seriously injured in an assassination attempt in January, to help pass a bill to raise the debt limit.
Further, while members are expected to keep their vote cards handy, by tradition, the speaker of the House tends to vote far less frequently. Rep. John A. Boehner of Ohio has voted only four times since he took the speaker's gavel in January and was excluded from this analysis. (In contrast, during the 110th and 111th Congresses, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, then speaker, voted 281 times on 3,531 possible votes.)
There are also equivalents to those kids who get perfect attendance in elementary school: 15 members — 11 Republicans and four Democrats — did not miss a single one of the 814 votes. Four of them are from Michigan, giving it the most perfect attendees of any state.
Rep. Bobby L. Rush, D-Ill., who has missed nearly 11 percent of votes in this Congress, said, first, he had things to do back home, and second, not all votes matter.
"I think you will find that the votes I cast are on the substantive issues that arise," he said in an email. "Message bills that are never destined to become law do not help improve the quality of life of my constituents," he said, referring to the numerous bills passed by the Republican-controlled House that have languished in the Democrat-controlled Senate. "I spend my time in direct service to my constituents."