Who’s Pushing the GOP’s Obamacare Strategy?

80 lawmakers signed the letter now driving Boehner’s approach. A National Journal analysis finds it’s not just right-wingers out to kill this program.

Mark Meadows, North Carolina District 11. 
National Journal
Scott Bland
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Scott Bland
Sept. 20, 2013, 7:01 a.m.

When House Re­pub­lic­ans line up to vote on the ap­pro­pri­ations bill they have craf­ted to keep the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment run­ning, there won’t be much sus­pense about the res­ult. The real in­trigue lay in the story of how we got here, in which the 80 House Re­pub­lic­ans who signed onto a let­ter ur­ging GOP lead­er­ship to ad­opt this strategy played an out­sized role.

The nar­rat­ive goes something like this: Those mem­bers, and the con­stitu­ents and ad­vocacy groups that pres­sured them dur­ing the Au­gust re­cess, launched a right-wing re­bel­lion that forced their col­leagues to ad­opt de­fund­ing Obama­care as their cent­ral budget­ary goal. But in truth, a look at just who signed GOP Rep. Mark Mead­ows’s let­ter shows that this pres­sure came not from the House Re­pub­lic­an con­fer­ence’s right wing, but from its core. Those mem­bers hail from dis­tricts all over the coun­try that, over­all, look a lot like the av­er­age con­stitu­ency rep­res­en­ted by Re­pub­lic­ans in Con­gress.

Time and time again, when House le­gis­la­tion draws con­tro­versy, some ques­tion, or lament, or gloat, that the GOP con­fer­ence is “held host­age” by an un­reas­on­able few. But these mem­bers are an ac­cur­ate rep­res­ent­a­tion of their col­leagues — which is why this le­gis­lat­ive push, like oth­ers in the past, has be­come the party po­s­i­tion.

There are some im­port­ant dif­fer­ences between the let­ter-sign­ers and their col­leagues, es­pe­cially at the vul­ner­able end of the polit­ic­al spec­trum, ac­cord­ing to fig­ures com­piled by Pol­idata for the Cook Polit­ic­al Re­port and the Al­man­ac of Amer­ic­an Polit­ics. None of the 17 Re­pub­lic­ans who rep­res­ent dis­tricts Pres­id­ent Obama car­ried in 2012 signed the let­ter. About one-third of GOP mem­bers are from turf where Rom­ney got less than 55 per­cent of the vote, but their sig­na­tures ap­pear at half that rate on Mead­ows’s let­ter. But those mem­bers fit in­to a broad­er pat­tern in the Re­pub­lic­an House, where rep­res­ent­at­ives to­ward the more vul­ner­able end of the spec­trum have gladly signed onto some of their party’s more dar­ing le­gis­lat­ive moves over the last three years, es­pe­cially as com­pared to Blue Dog Demo­crats who helped mod­er­ate their party’s le­gis­lat­ive ef­forts dur­ing Obama’s first two years in of­fice and of­ten aban­doned them out­right. That pat­tern will soon play it­self out again, when House Re­pub­lic­ans’ con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion comes up for a vote.

As far as the let­ter goes, a look at the over­all polit­ic­al situ­ation across those 80 mem­bers’ dis­tricts is par­tic­u­larly in­struct­ive. In the 234 House dis­tricts con­trolled by Re­pub­lic­ans, their 2012 pres­id­en­tial nom­in­ee won a little over 58 per­cent of the vote. Rom­ney car­ried the let­ter-sign­ers’ seats by only a little more (un­der 61 per­cent). Look­ing at either the mean or me­di­an, the av­er­age Re­pub­lic­an who signed the let­ter isn’t from a dis­trict that’s mean­ing­fully more con­ser­vat­ive than that of the av­er­age House Re­pub­lic­an over­all.

The group of let­ter-sign­ers is dom­in­ated by South­ern­ers and new mem­bers — but so is the Re­pub­lic­an con­fer­ence as a whole. Nearly half of House Re­pub­lic­ans are from the South, a ra­tio that just ticks over 50 per­cent on the let­ter. And al­though 58 per­cent of the names on the let­ter were first elec­ted to Con­gress in 2010 or 2012, in­clud­ing mem­bers who re­turned after pre­vi­ous ser­vice, so were nearly half of House Re­pub­lic­ans as a whole.

One cent­ral group is heav­ily over-rep­res­en­ted on Mead­ows’s let­ter: mem­bers of the Re­pub­lic­an Study Com­mit­tee, the Hill’s club for card-car­ry­ing con­ser­vat­ives. Sev­enty-six of the 80 let­ter-sign­ers are RSC mem­bers. But so is a ma­jor­ity of the House Re­pub­lic­an ma­jor­ity. The group of rep­res­ent­at­ives that made the latest Obama­care vote hap­pen live up to their titles — rep­res­ent­at­ive — as far as the GOP con­fer­ence goes.

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