WASHINGTON — Rep. Larry Kissell had hoped to have perfect attendance in Congress, but less than a month into the job he decided to skip a vote for something he thought was more important.
While his colleagues were passing a children's health insurance bill Wednesday, the freshman Democrat from North Carolina was in part of his district, at Fort Bragg. He was attending a memorial service for the first soldier killed since he was sworn in as a lawmaker.
Staff Sgt. Justin Bauer, 24, of Loveland, Colo., was killed Jan. 10 while on patrol in Iraq when an improvised explosive device detonated.
Kissell said he'd talked to Bauer's widow, Kari, at the time and assured her he would do everything possible to attend the service.
"In terms of following up on my commitment, it was not a tough decision — it was very important to be where I was," the former school teacher said when asked about his first missed vote – the 50th roll call cast by the House this year.
"There are certain circumstances that go above and beyond just the sake of having a 100 percent voting record. This service, to me, is a big part of what my job is all about. You've got to balance those."
Kissell said he felt attending the service was important not just to Bauer's family but to other troops as an acknowledgment that "we recognize the efforts they make and that they truly are in harm's way."
"In this particular case, tragically it cost a life," he said.
Bauer, who joined the Army in 2004, was a paratrooper with the 2nd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division. According to the Denver Post, he was a third-generation military man.
Kissell said he was touched by the stories told about Bauer at the service in a full chapel at Fort Bragg.
"It was a broad range of emotions, uplifting and just dignified, but still, when Taps played, I don't think there were many dry eyes in the chapel," he said.
Kissell had already voted for the children's health legislation when it originally passed the House last month, though he was torn about the way it was funded, with a cigarette tax that would impact one of his home-state industries, tobacco. The bill had to come back for a final vote Wednesday after differences with the Senate were worked out, and passed easily 290-135.
"If I felt my vote would have been key, I would have found a way to get back up there for it," he said in a phone interview. "I knew it was going to be OK."