GOP freshmen feel Tea Party pressure

Several newly elected Republicans say they will push for an immediate vote in the House to repeal the healthcare law, a leading priority for the Tea Party movement. 

The overwhelming majority of Republican challengers ran on pledges to repeal the law and already face pressure from Tea Party activists to act on those promises — particularly if they want the grassroots movement’s support in 2012. 

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But most concede a repeal is unlikely, given the Democratic-controlled Senate and President Obama wielding the veto pen. 

Still, the consensus is building among freshman Republicans — send a full healthcare repeal to the Senate as soon as possible once the new Congress convenes in January. And, if that effort fails, defund the legislation or get parts of it declared unconstitutional.

“It’s critical that we have that vote,” said Rep.-elect Morgan Griffith (R-Va.), who defeated longtime Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) earlier this month. “I think we need to tell the folks that we’re doing what they sent us here to do.” 

Like many newly elected Republicans, Griffith ran a campaign predicated on his opposition to the legislative priorities of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Obama, and he painted Boucher as one of their puppets in the House.

One of Griffith’s leading messages on the trail was a pledge to work for healthcare repeal, and that’s exactly where he wants the new Republican majority’s early focus to be. 

“I think we vote to repeal first, send it over to the Senate and then we work on defunding [healthcare],” he said. 

Griffith is one of several incoming freshmen who said they want to prioritize a full repeal vote, both to send a clear message to Democrats and to follow through on their word to activists during the campaign.

Rep.-elect Frank Guinta (R-N.H.), who defeated Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H.) and led with an anti-Obama, healthcare-repeal message, agrees that a full repeal vote should be priority No. 1, but said the party needs to be ready for step two. 

“Procedurally, if it gets to the president’s desk and he vetoes it, the reality is that we don’t have the votes to override,” said Guinta. “So we’re going to have to work immediately after that to do three things: No. 1, reduce the cost of the overall bill. No. 2, eliminate the unconstitutional components of it. And No. 3, do what many people in this country wanted to see done in the first place, which is to reduce costs for employers and employees.” 

Rep.-elect Kristi Noem (R-S.D.), who has already been pegged as a rising Republican star after defeating Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D), wouldn’t even entertain the notion of what happens once the Senate or president rejects a vote to repeal the healthcare law. 

“If we repeal it, we don’t have to defund it,” insisted Noem. 

Asked what the GOP’s course of action should be if and when the party is unable to get a repeal past the Senate, she answered only, “Focused on repealing.” 

The message echoes that of many Tea Party and conservative activists who have called for repeated votes in the House to repeal the law and increase the political pressure on Democrats and the president.

The message from the crowd at a Monday Tea Party rally just outside the Capitol, sponsored by the conservative group Americans for Prosperity, was largely focused on healthcare. 

Tea Party activist Gary Monsees wielded a sign that read, “Phase One, Nov. 2010. Complete. Phase Two. Nov. 2012. We are watching you.” 

Republican leaders are saying publicly that they have to wait “until after leadership elections” before making any announcements on the future legislative schedule. 

Asked if incoming freshmen have pressured leaders to call for a quick vote on repealing healthcare, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the presumed majority whip, said that he hadn’t heard from them directly. 

Rep.-elect Allen West (R-Fla.), a conservative firebrand and another of the Tea Party movement’s 2010 triumphs, said Tuesday, “You’ve got to have the full repeal vote, and then we need to go back to reintroduce the proper type of legislation.” 

West said if Democrats and the president get the message of November’s midterms, there’s always the possibility they might be willing to work with the GOP.

“I think [activists] understand what goes on with the Senate and what goes on in the White House,” said West. “But it would behoove the president to do what Bill Clinton did after 1994 and understand that if he wants to have a legacy, he will adopt the formula Clinton did, when he worked with Newt Gingrich.” 

Not all Republican freshmen appear ready to embrace the tactic of repeated repeal votes in Congress, particularly if doing so jams up the House agenda. 

Guinta said he would certainly consider voting repeatedly on repeal in the House, so long as it doesn’t distract from other leading priorities like reducing the deficit and focusing on job creation. 

“I’m here to get something done,” said Guinta, who noted that his constituents expect that there will be “substance behind everything that we do.” 

“If [repeal] passes, great. If it doesn’t, then find another way to move the ball forward,” he said.

Rep.-elect Lou Barletta (R-Pa.), who defeated Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D) earlier this month, is also down on the idea of repeatedly hammering home repeal votes in the House. In fact, Barletta said he’s not even sure a full repeal vote is a useful tactic.

“I’m not certain that will be useful,” he said. “I think everyone understands that there’s not enough votes for a total repeal, so I’d like to get right to work on the bill and let’s start defunding it and reforming it in increments.” 

As to just how much patience Tea Party activists will have with members their grassroots efforts helped elect this fall, “They don’t have a lot, let’s face it,” said West.


Molly K. Hooper contributed to this article.