House Instigators Work Outside the Spotlight

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  WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 10: during a "Exempt America from Obamacare" rally,  on Capitol Hill, September 10, 2013 in Washington, DC. Some conservative lawmakers are making a push to try to defund the health care law as part of the debates over the budget and funding the federal government. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images) WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 10:during a "Exempt America from Obamacare" rally,  on Capitol Hill, September 10, 2013 in Washington, DC. Some conservative lawmakers are making a push to try to defund the health care law as part of the debates over the budget and funding the federal government.  
National Journal
Billy House
Oct. 2, 2013, 6:21 p.m.

The Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans whose ar­gu­ments helped drag Obama­care in­to the fund­ing de­bate are well-known. Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah have gained much at­ten­tion.

But what about their coun­ter­parts in the House?

A small group of con­ser­vat­ive House mem­bers has had broad in­flu­ence over the fisc­al de­bate, help­ing to steer the ac­tions of Speak­er John Boehner and the Re­pub­lic­an con­fer­ence. And yet few of them have stepped in­to the na­tion­al spot­light.

“They meet secretly, they plot and they plan,” said Rep. Dev­in Nunes, R-Cal­if.

One of the most vis­ible is Rep. Tom Graves of Geor­gia, who got dozens of fel­low Re­pub­lic­ans to sup­port his ef­fort to de­fund Obama­care and who, along with Cruz and Lee, has been in­stru­ment­al in the push to use the fund­ing fight to weak­en the Af­ford­able Care Act. Oth­ers in­clude reg­u­lar mav­er­icks like Reps. Justin Amash of Michigan, Louie Gohmert of Texas, Tim Huel­skamp of Kan­sas, and Steve King of Iowa. There are also Reps. Paul Broun of Geor­gia, Thomas Massie of Ken­tucky, Steve Stock­man of Texas, and Ted Yoho of Flor­ida.

Minor­ity Lead­er Nancy Pelosi has called the House tea-party wing a bunch of “le­gis­lat­ive ar­son­ists” for their de­mands. Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id has called them “an­arch­ists.”

While few doubt there is a genu­ine hatred of the Af­ford­able Care Act and an an­ti­gov­ern­ment fer­vor among this group, some law­makers sug­gest that the budget battle was also de­signed as a vehicle to weak­en Boehner and help re­make the House Re­pub­lic­an Con­fer­ence it­self.

Rep. Mark Mead­ows, R-N.C., a tea-party-aligned mem­ber, said Wed­nes­day that he’s heard such sug­ges­tions about him­self and oth­ers who have played key in­stig­at­ing roles be­hind the House ef­fort to tie the dis­mant­ling of Obama­care to a bill that funds gov­ern­ment. And, in­deed, Mead­ows wrote a let­ter to his Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers this sum­mer sug­gest­ing that very strategy, also signed by dozens of col­leagues.

But Wed­nes­day, Mead­ows said talk that the idea was in­ten­ded to em­bar­rass or un­der­mine Boehner is un­true.

“I can tell you there’s been ab­so­lutely no con­ver­sa­tions about a new speak­er,” he said. “If any­thing, I’ve made just a great ap­peal to thank lead­er­ship in a united way.”

Nunes points out that many of the mem­bers in­volved in the Obama­care de­bate were part of the same group that “at­temp­ted this goofy thing right as we came out of the gate this year,” re­fer­ring to a botched ef­fort by some House law­makers to pre­vent Boehner from win­ning his second term as speak­er in Janu­ary. More than 20 House Re­pub­lic­ans were said to be be­hind that ef­fort — enough to keep Boehner from get­ting a re­quired ma­jor­ity-plus-one — but the re­bel­lion fizzled.

In the time since then, Nunes said, many have worked to pre­vent Boehner from get­ting enough votes in the House to pass le­gis­la­tion without hav­ing to turn to Demo­crats for help, which some might see as weak. He sug­gests a sim­il­ar strategy is in play on the budget im­passe now.

“So what was the real ob­ject­ive? A lot of these guys, when you talk to them privately, the guys who don’t let us get to 218 on any­thing, they’ll tell you, “˜Well, we just figured the lead­er­ship was go­ing to cave,’ “ Nunes said. He said their be­lief was that Boehner would cut a deal with Pres­id­ent Obama and Demo­crats, and by his do­ing so would fur­ther un­der­mine his stand­ing as speak­er.

“So now just step back from this — if they ac­tu­ally thought Boehner was go­ing to cave, that means they nev­er ac­tu­ally had a real plan to deal with the CR to be­gin with,” Nunes said. “From the be­gin­ning, this nev­er made sense.”

A Boehner spokes­man had no com­ment.

But an­oth­er House Re­pub­lic­an law­maker, speak­ing on the con­di­tion he not be named, said that Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Eric Can­tor and Ma­jor­ity Whip Kev­in Mc­Carthy, R-Cal­if., share part of the blame for the open­ness and brazen­ness with which some con­ser­vat­ives now openly defy the speak­er.

While there are few pub­lic con­front­a­tions with­in the lead­er­ship trio, he noted that both Can­tor and Mc­Carthy voted on New Year’s against the bill de­signed to avert the so-called fisc­al cliff, abandon­ing Boehner. The law­maker said that il­lus­trated for oth­ers that Boehner’s in­flu­ence could be chal­lenged.

“It’s one thing to sit at the lead­er­ship table and dis­agree and talk through things,” the law­maker said. “It’s an­oth­er to then leave the table and do so. And since the fisc­al cliff when you had No. 2 and No. 3 not back No. 1, every­body’s been say­ing, “˜Where are these guys?’ “

Mead­ows in­sists that what he and the oth­er con­ser­vat­ives be­hind the ef­fort to tie Obama­care to a CR are try­ing to ac­com­plish has noth­ing to do with oust­ing Boehner.

“We are united in this ef­fort to get gov­ern­ment back open and work­ing again. So, there’s been no talk of any­thing like that,” he said.

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