N.C. lawmakers are in the thick of Capitol Hill budget showdown

Franco Ordonez,David Lightman

North Carolina congressmen are helping lead a pack of emboldened conservatives pushing Republican leadership toward a potential government shutdown over the 2010 health care law and, in the process, are driving a wedge between the GOP’s old and new guard.

Freshman Reps. Mark Meadows of Jackson County and Richard Hudson of Concord are part of a crew of young conservatives who compelled the House’s GOP leaders to set a vote Friday on legislation to defund Obamacare and keep the government running after the new fiscal year starts Oct. 1.

“It’s a huge victory for conservatives,” Hudson said. “This is what we’ve been asking for since July. We were finally able to bend the leadership in our direction.”

It was Meadows who instigated the push when he wrote a letter in July to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., pressing them to “defund one of the largest grievances in our time.”

Some 80 GOP colleagues signed on to the letter, which was adapted into legislation by Rep. Tom Graves of Georgia.

One of the early signers, Rep. George Holding of Raleigh, said Congress should use “every tool in the toolbox” to defund or delay the program.

“Obamacare is going to be a train wreck,” he said. “There is not a day that goes by that I don’t hear from multiple constituents who are already feeling the impacts of Obamacare.”

Other signers include Republican Reps. Howard Coble of Greensboro, Walter Jones of Farmville and Mick Mulvaney of Indian Land, S.C., Jeff Duncan of Laurens, S.C., and Joe Wilson of Springfield, S.C.

“There is an unrelenting resolve in terms of fighting this battle,” Meadows said.

Rep. Renee Ellmers of Dunn did not sign the letter, but Wednesday introduced legislation to defund Obamacare and replace it with another program that would allow the purchase of health insurance across state lines and allow small businesses to pool together to purchase insurance.

Rep. Robert Pittenger of Charlotte has co-sponsored several bills that would repeal and/or defund parts of Obamacare. In August, he said he supported defunding Obamacare but didn’t see it as politically feasible because of likely opposition in the Senate.

On Wednesday, Pittenger said he was supporting the Friday vote to defund Obamacare.

“Just listen to the American people. They have a lot of Democrats who are up for re-election who are going to have to be accountable back to their voters and tell them whether they’re for Obamacare or not.”

On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., called House Republicans “anarchists.” The Democrats’ Senate campaign committee launched a campaign, “GOP Shutdown Watch,” that intends to flood social media with news about Republican actions.

Many prominent Republicans – including, at one time, much of the party’s House leadership – have tried mightily to avoid such a vote.

They know that neither the Democratic-run Senate nor President Barack Obama will go along, setting the stage for a shutdown of most government services when the fiscal year ends Sept. 30. They read the polls that say Congress’ approval ratings remain dismal. And a CNN/ORC poll earlier this month found that half of Americans would blame Republicans for any shutdown, while one-third would blame Obama.

“Over the long term, this (split) is a really big deal,” said Stuart Rothenberg, a nonpartisan political analyst. “You not only have a formula for more gridlock, but for Democrats to run against Republicans as extremists.”

Conservatives groups have pressed hard for Friday’s vote. ForAmerica is threatening primaries against those who violate what they consider conservative orthodoxy. The Club for Growth issued a “key vote alert” Thursday that said a “yes” vote on the health care measure would look good on its annual congressional scorecard.

Last week, House Republican leaders wanted separate votes on a budget and on defunding the health care law. That way, the Senate could approve the budget but turn down the health care measure, and the government would keep running.

But Republican conservatives rebelled, and Boehner changed course.

On Tuesday, Hudson met with Cantor and Kevin McCarthy, the Majority Whip, in a private meeting that included Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Luke Messer of Indiana. With less than two weeks until major parts of the health plan would be implemented, Hudson said they had to do something bold to force Democrats to the negotiating table.

“The battlefield is set and we have to fight now,” he told them.

Hudson and Meadows said that a government shutdown was not the goal and that their proposal allows funding for other parts of the government.

Meadows also noted it was just a few weeks ago that Obama was threatening to attack Syria, but that has not happened.

“Don’t ever underestimate the power of the voice of the people,” he said.

By Franco Ordonez and David Lightman
McClatchy Washington Bureau