Tea Party favorite breaks with GOP on healthcare repeal votes

A Tea Party favorite in the House is turning against the Republican leadership’s strategy on healthcare.

Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.), who has emerged as an outspoken conservative voice among GOP freshmen, cast a surprising vote last week against a bill to scrap part of the 2010 healthcare overhaul. The legislation would repeal $100 million in funding for the construction of school-based health centers. West was one of just four Republicans to vote against the measure, which passed 235-191.

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West spokeswoman Angela Sachitano said in an email that the congressman “believes there are bigger funding issues to be focusing on right now including the numerous developments in the Middle East, concerning Pakistan and whether there is a link to [Osama bin Laden] and the recent unity agreement with the [Palestinian Authority] and Fatah and Hamas."

He also questioned the House’s continued efforts to dismantle the healthcare law on a piecemeal basis, she said.

“He voted to repeal Obamacare, and it was dead on arrival in the Senate,” Sachitano said. “He questions what the goal is of chipping away like this if it’s almost certain that the Senate is not going to take it up.”

A day earlier, West voted in favor of a GOP bill to strip funds from the state-based insurance exchanges created by the 2010 healthcare law. Sachitano would not say why West supported that bill but not the second measure targeting school health centers.

A frequent speaker at Tea Party rallies, West has pushed the GOP leadership to be more aggressive on cutting spending. His actions this week flummoxed members of the conference, a GOP aide said.

The aide said West and his chief of staff were urging Republicans to vote against the health center bill on the grounds that Congress should be solely focused on the conflict in Libya and asserting its constitutional prerogatives under the War Powers Act. The aide said West was “sorely mistaken and is out of step with the rest of his conference.”

Sachitano denied the account and said West had merely informed the whip’s office of his stated reasons for opposing the bill.

West’s district in south Florida includes two applicants for federally-funded school-based health centers: North Broward Health District and the Palm Beach County Health Department. Neither entity returned calls on Friday.

Sachitano said there was “no specific local issue” for his opposition to the bill.

His vote caught advocates against the legislation by surprise. 

“We had not talked to him about it. We are scratching our heads,” said Linda Juszczak, executive director of the National Assembly for School-Based Health Care. Juszczak said the group’s local affiliates had been lobbying two of the other Republicans to vote against the legislation, Reps. Steven LaTourette (Ohio) and Mike Kelly (Pa.). Rep. Joe Heck (R-Nev.) also opposed the bill.