Why House Republicans Have No Problem Taking Us to the Brink

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
Sept. 30 2013 3:49 PM

The Shutdown Decade

Why House Republicans have no problem taking us to the brink.

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Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, can afford to push so hard for defunding Obamacare because his home district is solidly Republican. Thanks, gerrymandering!

Drew Angerer

On Saturday night, House Republicans declared victory in the shutdown wars—again. The Senate had given them a short-term continuing resolution that would fund the government until Nov. 15—funding everything, including the implementation of Obamacare. House Republicans responded with what several insisted was a “compromise.” The government would be funded through Dec. 15, but Obamacare would be delayed for another a year.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at daveweigel@gmail.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.

What made this a “compromise,” anyway? It hadn’t been negotiated with Democrats; it had actually been pre-denounced, even by Democratic senators in conservative states.

“Sometimes I go back to basic civics,” said Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan. “We’re the House of Representatives. We’re the body that’s supposed to be closer to the people. That’s why the Founders gave a chance for the people to throw us out every two years. That’s why when you go home for five weeks and you hear from people that this law is not ready, that has an impact.”

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Burrow past the blandness of that quote and you’ll learn why the House GOP is so resolute in its repeal-Obamacare drive—and so unafraid of any negative consequences. Jordan’s central Ohio district is a slice of what pundits know as Real America, suburban and well-churched. But it’s roughly 9 points more Republican than the rest of the country, with a population that’s 90 percent white and wealthier (median income $45,326) than average. Mitt Romney, who lost Ohio in 2012, won 56 percent of the vote in Jordan’s district. Jordan ran ahead of Romney, easily dispatching a union organizer who raised $34,167 to Jordan’s $1,078,119. So the people Jordan hears from are inclined to be Republicans—especially when he holds a Tea Party town hall with the Firelands Patriots of Erie County, as he did at the end of the last congressional recess.

When optimists try to predict the end of the government shutdown/debt limit wars, they suggest that Republicans will, eventually, have to buckle. Polls show that most voters blame them, not the president, for the quagmire—hey, who can argue with polls? History shows that Republicans were blamed for the winter shutdown of 1995–1996—who can argue with history?

Republicans can, and they do. The gerrymanders of 2011 added to their natural geographic advantage over urban/suburban Democrats and gave them a House they simply don’t think they can lose. In 2012 they proved it, winning 1.36 million fewer votes than Democratic candidates but keeping a 33-seat majority. According to the Cook Political Report, 205 of 435 House districts are solidly Republican, basically impossible to lose without an unexpected bribery or sexting scandal. Only 163 districts are solidly Democratic. If Democrats swept the table and won all the districts currently rated as tossups or “leaning” Republican, they’d win 213 seats, five short of a majority.

That was always the long-term Republican plan. In 2010, when voter anger was already guaranteeing a fantastic party comeback, groups like the Redistricting Majority Project (nicknamed REDMAP) told donors that “the party controlling that effort controls the drawing of the maps—shaping the political landscape for the next 10 years.”

Ah, but the plan was supposed to complement a Republican win. The actual 2012 scenario—voters voting for Democrats at every level and getting Speaker Boehner—was an undemocratic fluke. That matters, because Democrats from Barack Obama on down are refusing to negotiate with Republicans over the government shutdown. Democrats won the election; Republicans, they say (and believe), lack the consent of the governed.

The conservative response is a resounding nuh-uh. Sens. Ted Cruz and Mike Lee, who led the “defund Obamacare” distraction in the Senate, cited the 1.6 million signatures in support of their plan gathered by the Senate Conservatives Fund. Former Sen. Jim DeMint, who now runs the Heritage Foundation as think tank-cum-war room, argues that voters did not endorse Obamacare by electing Obama: “Because of Romney and Romneycare, we did not litigate the Obamacare issue.” (DeMint endorsed Romney for president in 2007, after Romneycare became law.)