Mostly ‘no’ from Mass. delegation

By Theo Emery
Globe Staff / August 2, 2011

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WASHINGTON - In three decades of service and thousands of votes cast in the House, Representative Barney Frank had never agonized so much over a bill.

In the end, the Newton Democrat joined six of his counterparts from Massachusetts in voting against the bill yesterday to raise the nation’s capacity to borrow. The vote was “the hardest I’ve ever had to cast here,’’ said Frank, the ranking Democrat on the Financial Services Committee.

The anguish and polarization generated by the legislation throughout the entire House chamber were echoed in the all-Democratic delegation from Massachusetts yesterday. Some members of the delegation, which regularly votes in one voice, remained undecided minutes before the vote.

Ultimately only three voted for it - William Keating of Quincy, Niki Tsongas of Lowell, and Stephen F. Lynch of South Boston. Despite the threat posed by default, the other members said they could not support the measure, citing concerns that the trillions in cuts would harm the nation’s most vulnerable.

“I don’t think anybody’s choice was easy,’’ said John F. Tierney of Salem.

Tierney said that his staff pored over the bill’s details and ultimately decided that he could not justify supporting it. He hedged, though: Had the bill failed, which would have sharply increased the threat of default, he believed the president could have acted on his own to raise the nation’s debt ceiling, despite White House insistence that it would not.

For Keating, the decision, though difficult, boiled down to a harsh reality.

“I think that looking at the economic ramifications, there’s really no choice in my opinion,’’ Keating said. “We risk plunging ourselves, maybe for an extended period of time, back into a very terrible economic position, while the economy is still fragile.’’

Edward J. Markey of Malden said he opposed the bill because he feared Republicans would recommend future budget cuts for hospitals, research, higher education, and other programs important to the Bay State.

Michael E. Capuano of Somerville weighed in against the bill and would have done so even if he were the swing vote that killed it, he said. “This agreement is not balanced, no matter how you look at it,’’ he said.

Overall, the House Democrats were split 95-95 over the bill, which passed 269-161. Many of those against the bill were from the party’s liberal wing.

During yesterday’s vote, James P. McGovern of Worcester stood stone-faced on the House floor, arms crossed, watching the measure rack up votes. “I didn’t come to Washington to dismantle the New Deal or the Great Society,’’ McGovern said after the vote. “I came to Washington to lift people up, not put people down.’’

Theo Emery can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @temery. Globe reporters Donovan Slack and Matt Viser contributed to this report.