Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, proudly issued a news release recently showing his conservative side — he broke ranks with House Democrats on a bill that would raise the federal debt limit by $290 billion.
McNerney says he's not as liberal as his critics say, yet Republicans trying to oust him from Congress next year say he agrees with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi about 97 percent of the time.
"Our district is a moderate district," McNerney said in a recent interview. "Sometimes I'm aligned with the speaker; sometimes I'm not. By and large, I'm a moderate."
McNerney, who was elected in 2006 and re-elected in 2008, faces what could be a stern challenge from Republicans who object to Congress' and President Barack Obama's policies. Six Republicans, and a seventh who is willing to be drafted as a candidate, may vie to unseat McNerney next year.
The 11th Congressional District covers much of San Joaquin County, including the Lodi area, Brentwood, Morgan Hill and parts of the Delta, Livermore and San Ramon valleys. The district leans Republican, but the San Joaquin Valley is considered more conservative than Republicans in the East Bay.
A National Journal survey online reports that McNerney was the 196th most liberal congressman in 2008 and the 232nd most conservative. On economic issues, McNerney ranked in the 55th percentile among liberals. In other words, McNerney was more liberal than 55 percent of his House colleagues
The bill that McNerney criticized, House Resolution 4314, titled "To permit continued financing of government operations," would allow the federal government to exceed the current debt ceiling of $12.104 trillion.
"So they're increasing their credit line, basically," said Carl Fogliani, campaign manager for Republican candidate Brad Goehring, of Clements.
Fogliani acknowledged that McNerney indeed strayed from Pelosi on the debt limit bill, but it doesn't compensate for his votes on the stimulus plan and health care, which added significantly to the debt.
"This is like me going to an all-you-can-eat buffet, ordering a Diet Coke and screaming, 'I'm on a diet.' That's exactly what this is," Fogliani said.
Fogliani and Stan Devereaux, spokesman for Republican candidate Tony Amador, who is also running for McNerney's seat, said that McNerney is distancing himself from Pelosi for his political survival.
Calling HR 4314 a short-term fix, McNerney said the bill is not well thought-out.
"I think it's time to take a breath and look at our spending and make sure it's responsible and being invested properly," McNerney said. "The debt is scary, believe me. We need a budget that shows a clear plan to reduce this deficit."
McNerney defended the House version of the health care bill, saying that it would reduce the debt by about $100 billion over the next 10 years. He described the stimulus package adopted earlier this year as a "difficult and necessary vote. We were on the verge, I think, of a great depression."
So how does McNerney rank with Pelosi's voting record?
The National Journal survey doesn't say. The speaker's voting record isn't included in the survey because, as speaker, Pelosi generally doesn't cast a vote unless it's very close, according to National Journal spokesman David Miller.
But to get an idea of Pelosi's liberalism, Miller suggested checking with House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, who is second-in-command under Pelosi.
Hoyer ranks as the 124th most liberal member of Congress, compared to McNerney's 196 ranking, and the 303rd most conservative out of 435 members of Congress, compared to McNerney's 232nd.
McNerney said he also parts company with Pelosi over gun rights (he owns a shotgun and two rifles), a pay raise for Congress and a recent bill the House passed extending the estate tax without exempting farms and small businesses.
As for the $4,700 pay raise he was awarded in January, McNerney said he decided to donate it to charity. He chose the Emergency Food Bank of Stockton/San Joaquin, Catholic Charities of Stockton, Dignity's Alcove in Stockton, Tri-Valley Haven and Village Community Resources Center in Brentwood.
The National Journal has a Web site where people can see how conservative or liberal a member of Congress is. Sarah Hersh, a spokeswoman for Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, describes the National Journal as a highly respected nonpartisan site that is used as a reference tool by both parties.
However, Brian Kaveney, spokesman for Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Gold River, said that people in his office are aware of the Web site, but don't rely on it for reference. Kaveney said Lungren and his staff know their colleagues in the House without using information from the National Journal.
Journal spokesman David Miller said the National Journal and other affiliated publications don't favor one party over another.
"All our publications are militantly nonpartisan," Miller said.
Here are the rankings of McNerney and other Northern California members of Congress for 2008:
To see the House rankings, visit www.nationaljournal.com. (Wait for map to download at bottom of the page.)