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.