Watch a Republican Congressman Try to Tell Constituents That Defunding Obamacare Won't Work

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Aug. 6 2013 4:25 PM

Watch a Republican Congressman Try to Tell Constituents That Defunding Obamacare Won't Work

Earlier today Tom Kludt noticed a small town hall confrontation in North Carolina. Rep. Robert Pittenger, the new Republican holder of a precious gerrymandered seat, was asked by a Tea Party activist if he'd back the kamikazi plan to defund Obamacare via the continuing resolution. Rep. Mark Meadows, another GOP freshman elected by the gerrymander, has introduced a version of that plan in the House—though not actually "no CR unless Obamacare is defunded." Never mind that, neither party in this debate seems to notice. The Tea Party group's own video is edited for comic effect, but Pittenger's office put the full exchange online, too.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel, a former Slate politics reporter, is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

The full remarks reveal something that sounds like strategy, but actually isn't. "Takes 60 votes in the U.S. Senate, doesn't it," says the congressman—at odds with Ted Cruz, who says he only needs 41 Republicans to filibuster a continuing resolution. "We don't have 12 votes. Why do you fight a battle you can't win? You lose over there, then they come back to us in the House. You win this battle by going after—we look at your battle and how we can win. How do we get the Democrats on defense? We pass no budget, no pay. What did that do? That forced them to go back to pass the first budget they'd written in four years. It turned the ship around. It turned the debate around."

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Yes, the House passed "no budget, no pay," and the Senate passed a budget. Budgets aren't binding! Spending bills are. Pittenger's clinging to a limb that broke off weeks ago, and his audience seems to know it, interrupting him and reminding him that the House originates spending bills.

"It has to pass the Senate and be signed by the president," Pittenger says. "Do you think Harry Reid is going to pass that in the Senate?"

One of the Tea Partiers lays into him. "It doesn't matter what Harry Reid does," she says. "We need to show the American people we stand for conservative values!"

There's a little chaos in the room, until Pittenger returns to the activist who'd asked him the question, pointing a camera at him. "Let me share something with your camera," says Pittenger. "I am a co-sponsor with Mr. Meadows. I'm a co-sponsor. But let me just tell you, the reality is it's not gonna happen."

Looks like a stalemate to me. The activists left with their congressman assuring them he really wanted to defund Obamacare, but because they'd probably lose, they should just try to message better.

Correction, August 7, 2013: This post originally misspelled Robert Pittenger's name.

David Weigel, a former Slate politics reporter, is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

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