I knew at the time that changing my vote at the 11th hour may have been tantamount to political suicide."
- Former Congresswoman Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky (D-PA), on casting the final vote for the 1993 Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act
In 1993, President Clinton was on the verge of forcing his unpopular budget and tax increase package though Congress by way of reconciliation. However, much like the government takeover of health care, public opinion was against the massive tax increases in the budget, and even though Democrats held a 258-175 majority in the House, the president lacked the votes to pass the bill. In an effort to find one more vote, Democrats called on Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky, a freshman Democrat from a moderate Pennsylvania district, who had publicly opposed the tax hikes.
CAVING TO THE PRESSURE
Former Rep. Margolies-Mezvinsky won her election in 1992 by campaigning as a fiscally conservative moderate, and later said that she would not vote for the tax increases in President Clinton’s budget. She had initially joined 37 other Democrats to vote against the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993, when it originally passed in May and the final conference report was coming back to the floor through reconciliation. As she recently told Time Magazine, Margolies-Mezvinsky did not think the president would target her vote, “I never thought they would come to me.” The New York Times later recalled the tense situation on the floor of the House while leadership squeezed its Members to cast suicidal votes for the toxic legislation: “As the voting went on, Ms. Margolies-Mezvinsky stood by the leadership desk, rubbing her arms nervously and hoping against hope that she could vote no to keep her skeptical constituents happy.” Eventually, Margolies-Mezvinsky threw her convictions out the window when strong-armed by the president and cast the final vote to pass the tax increases in the House on August 5, 1993, by a vote of 218-216. As she later recalled, the vote had nothing to do with her support for the provisions or the will of her constituents, and everything to do with pressure from within her own party. “I wasn't going to do it at 217. I wasn't going to do it at 219. Only at 218, or I was voting against it,” she said days after the vote.
The day after the House vote, Vice President Al Gore broke a 50 to 50 tie in the Senate to pass the tax increases using reconciliation. The backlash against the Margolies-Mezvinsky flip-flop was immediate. In her district, Margolies-Mezvinsky later recalled that she faced immediate resentment from constituents, saying “I ran into a wall of anger.”
Having campaigned pledging to oppose tax increases and having previously stated her objections to the budget, voters in Margolies-Mezvinsky’s district were understandably infuriated. As one constituent said after the vote, “She said she didn't think it was a good piece of legislation but she still voted for it. If it wasn't good, why did she vote for it? She said if she didn't, we'd still be in gridlock. But it doesn't make sense to me.” To this day, Margolies-Mezvinsky still recalls the ire of constituents in her Pennsylvania district, saying in a 2009 interview, “When I went to town-hall meetings, I had to be escorted by the police. There were kids holding signs saying ‘LIAR.’... I just painted a target on my chest.” As a result of her vote against the will of her constituents, Margolies-Mezvinsky was swept out of Congress the following year, along with 33 other Democrats incumbents in Congress during the election of 1994.
WHAT HER CONSTITUENTS SAID
QUESTION FOR DEMOCRATS
Are you the next Marjorie?