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McHugh attacked for voting with Dems


WASHINGTON — Rep. John M. McHugh said his office has weathered "vulgar" calls from around the country since he split with most of his Republican colleagues in Congress and voted for a Democratic-sponsored climate change bill last week.

Mr. McHugh, one of eight GOP lawmakers to support the measure, said in an interview that he did so because of late changes that benefit farmers and ensure continued protection of the Adirondacks from acid rain.

But those considerations have not stemmed the flood of calls, generated from conservative groups and blogs, coming into his office, he said. As many as 90 percent of the calls are from states other than New York, said Mr. McHugh, R-Pierrepont Manor.

"Some have been pretty vulgar," Mr. McHugh said.

The congressman said that most callers from his congressional district, on the other hand, have been "respectful and polite and are appreciated," even if in opposition to his vote.

Mr. McHugh occasionally finds himself on conservative hit lists, given his moderate stance on environmental and other issues. But the backlash has been especially severe on the climate bill. Conservative commentators, including radio host Rush Limbaugh, have accused the eight Republicans of abandoning GOP principles and joining what they see as President Obama's far-left agenda.

Critics have called them the "Cap and Tax Eight," referring to the bill's cap-and-trade program to reduce carbon emissions and predictions it will increase the cost of energy.

Conservative commentator Glenn Beck called Mr. McHugh and the other lawmakers "cap and traitors" — a striking criticism given Mr. McHugh's nomination as Army secretary.

The bill's supporters called it a first big step toward attacking global warming, a phenomenon widely accepted by scientists but largely ridiculed by conservative groups, although both presidential candidates vowed to address it if elected. But critics said the bill, in fact, does little to address that problem because of the relatively modest decrease in emissions and a slow response by other industrialized countries.

Mr. McHugh said he voted in favor largely because congressional negotiators moved toward his position on two issues: giving the U.S. Department of Agriculture, rather than the Environmental Protection Agency, control of agricultural aspects, including a carbon offsets program, and including provisions cutting emissions of chemicals that contribute to acid rain.

"I didn't go into this with my eyes closed," Mr. McHugh said.

"The worst thing," he said, would have been to decide he would vote against the bill and not become engaged in pushing for such provisions.

"I had to do something to lessen the negative impacts," he said.

In a press release after the vote, Mr. McHugh said, "This legislation provided the best opportunity since I have been in Congress for significant legislative action to be taken in the fight to combat acid rain and mercury precipitation."

In Congress, he said, it is widely accepted that lawmakers who push for concessions on a bill should vote for the bill if those demands are met.

Of course, Mr. McHugh said, the climate bill is far from final and he does not know how he will vote on the next version if he is still in Congress; he could be confirmed as Army secretary as soon as this month.

Calling the bill "the first bite of the apple," Mr. McHugh said it was clear to him that Democrats had the votes to pass it regardless of how he voted.

On the other hand, Mr. McHugh and the seven other Republicans, as a group, were the deciding factor, given that 44 Democrats voted against it — assuming those Democrats would still have opposed it knowing it would fail because of them.

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