By JEREMY HAY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
What led Rep. Lynn Woolsey to vote against cutting the House of Representatives budget last week?
The Petaluma Democrat joined 12 colleagues — all Democrats — who opposed a Republican bill to trim the House’s operating budget by 5 percent.
Woolsey said Saturday that she wants to preserve the services that her office provides for her constituents in the high-cost North Coast.
“I believe that the House should be held in higher esteem than the people who recommended our budget be cut,” she said.
“Each office represents 700,000 to 800,000 constituents, and in order to do what needs to be done, we spend money. Depending on where you are, salaries are higher or lower. Ours are very high out here. I just didn’t want to be intimidated.”
Woolsey has voted before against popular political winds.
In April, for example, she was one of 15 House members who voted in favor of a congressional cost-of-living pay raise.
Thursday’s measure to cut the House budget passed 410-13. It will force representatives to reduce their operating expenses by $75,000, or the equivalent of 1.5 staffers, its proponents said.
On one level, Woolsey’s vote is a tea leaf of sorts, said David McCuan, a Sonoma State University political science professor.
“It’s because she’s not running again,” McCuan said. “I think it begins to signal that she has turned the page on 2012.”
Last month, Woolsey said she is considering retiring after 20 years in Congress when her term expires next year.
That decided, McCuan said, Woolsey would have seen no gain in a largely symbolic vote.
The bill will save $35 million a year, said GOP supporters who cast it as a vote for a new frugality in government spending. That’s equal to about 0.001 percent of the $3.5 trillion annual federal budget.
“Because the overall numbers of the debt are so staggeringly large, it doesn’t help that,” McCuan said.
But the staunchly liberal Woolsey likely had a deeper reason for her vote, he said.
“Really what’s behind this is, she really is so put off by the Republicans and this Congress, for her to vote any other way would have been a surprise,” McCuan said. “She doesn’t want to give any moral authority to the leadership of the 112th Congress.”
A colleague of McCuan’s, SSU political science professor Andy Merrifield, suggested that Woolsey’s belief in the value of government — combined with her security in a district that is overwhelmingly Democrat — may explain her vote.
“She’s stated it over and over again: Government service is honorable and big government is necessary,” Merrifield said.
Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, voted yes on the measure. He was on an airplane returning to California Friday and unavailable for comment.
Not all representatives spend all the money their offices are allotted each year — by law, what’s unspent is put toward cutting the deficit. It could not be determined Friday what Woolsey’s and Thompson’s offices spent last year.