What the GOP dissenters have in common

Congressional Republicans generally excel at being on the same page and sharing the same agenda. Whereas Democrats are split along all kinds of ideological and geographic lines, GOP lawmakers nearly always have one party playbook, and they stick to it with very little dissent.

With that in mind, it’s been interesting to watch the Republicans speak up this week to take issue with their party’s opposition to the payroll tax break. As of yesterday, there were 12 GOP lawmakers — seven in the House, five in the Senate — who disapprove of the House’s rejection of a pending bipartisan compromise.

It’s worth noting what nearly all of these dozen Republicans have in common.

Seven House Republicans bucked their party and voted against sending the payroll tax bill to conference Tuesday.

Reps. Charlie Bass of New Hampshire, Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington state, Chris Gibson of New York, Tim Johnson of Illinois, Walter Jones of North Carolina, Jeff Flake of Arizona and Frank Wolf of Virginia all voted against sending the bill to conference. The measure, which passed 229-193, continues the legislative stalemate on Capitol Hill.

Some of the votes against sending the bill to conference appeared to be a tacit acknowledgement of the political risks House Republicans could face in the year end fight over extending the payroll tax holiday.

It’s more than that. Bass, Herrera Beutler, and Gibson are freshmen in competitive districts who will be targeted by Dems next year. Johnson is also at risk. Flake, meanwhile, is running for the Senate. Going into a tough cycle, none of these members wanted to get stuck with having voted against a middle-class tax cut.

In the Senate, it’s a similar picture. Five Republican senators spoke out publicly this week — Scott Brown, Susan Collins, Dean Heller, Dick Lugar, and Olympia Snowe — criticizing House Republicans for their antics. Four of these five are seeking re-election in 2012. Heller, in particular, is in a very tough race in a competitive swing state (Nevada), and has no interest in picking up the “tax raiser” label.

If the politics of this fight was working in Republicans’ favor, why are some of the most nervous GOP lawmakers siding with Democrats?