Holding the Line: The House Conservatives Driving the Obamacare Debate

WASHINGTON – Observers characterize them collectively as “the tail wagging the dog” – a loosely knit group of conservative lawmakers pushing an agenda aimed at pressuring President Obama and Senate Democrats to accept defunding or delay in implementation of the Affordable Care Act in return for support of a stopgap spending plan and, perhaps, raising the nation’s $16.7 trillion debt ceiling.

A relatively small cadre of Tea Party conservatives has somehow managed to tie Congress in knots, essentially forcing House Republicans to shut down the federal government until Obama and his allies acquiesce. It all started in August when 80 members signed a letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Republican Leader Eric Cantor, of Virginia, urging them to “affirmatively defund the implementation and enforcement of Obamacare in any relevant appropriations bill brought to the House floor in the 113th Congress, including any continuing appropriations bill.”

They have achieved their goal through sheer force of will, steamrolling Boehner, who wanted to keep the party’s powder dry on Obamacare until the looming debt limit fight, and in the face of a majority in the chamber that likely would support a temporary spending plan, known as a continuing resolution, with no strings attached.

Most group members, characterized by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) as “lemmings with suicide vests,” hail from the South or Southwest – Texas looks to be the prime breeding ground – and are relatively new to the Capitol – many are either in the first or second two-year terms.

Here’s a quick look at 25 of the folks who constitute the unstoppable force meeting, at least to this point, an unmovable object, based on information provided by THOMAS, the congressional website, Wikipedia, public statements and the members’ own websites.


Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), 42, of Garrison, second term, was the judge-executive of Lewis County before moving to Congress. He is a committed technocrat, having received a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and a master’s Degree in mechanical engineering from MIT. During school, he invented a technology that enabled people to interact with computers using their sense of touch and leveraged that technology to found SensAble Technologies, Inc., which raised over $32 million of venture capital, created 70 jobs and obtained 24 patents. Massie has co-sponsored legislation favoring the legalization of industrial hemp and favors repealing federal gun-free zones in schools. He voted for Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) over Boehner in the 2013 leadership election. “I have a lot of IRS employees in my district and I spoke with them,” Massie told WFPL-FM, in Louisville. “They told me ‘look we’ve been through these shutdowns before. It’s not a big deal. We go home. We come back a few days or a week later, and we still get paid,'" says Massie. "And I can tell you the ones who have been through a shutdown before—the federal employees who have—tell me it’s just not that big of a deal and that they don’t know why the media is making such as big deal out of it."

Tom Graves (R-Ga.), 43, of Ranger, third term, was a business owner prior to winning a seat in the Georgia House of Representatives. In Congress, he has voted to restrict abortion rights and access, supported ending all federal funding for Planned Parenthood, is opposed to a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and is against withdrawing troops from Afghanistan. Graves’ Defund Obamacare Act formed the basis of the provision introduced in the original continuing resolution that sought to halt all funding for the Affordable Care Act. “As it stands today, only Democrats are taking the all-or-nothing hardline position. Republicans have simply asked to negotiate for a fair funding bill, and until Democrats agree to talk, we will continue acting responsibly to fund the government.”

Tim Huelskamp (R-Kansas), 44, of Fowler, second term, is a farmer and teacher and a budget and legislative analyst who attended seminary in Santa Fe. He was in the Kansas state Senate when he won his congressional seat. He was removed from the House Ways and Means Committee by Boehner last year for failing to cooperate with the GOP leadership. He nominated Jim Jordan to replace Boehner as speaker earlier this year. Huelskamp introduced the Federal Marriage Amendment in wake of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the federal government had to recognize same-sex marriages approved by the states. “We have been warned time and time again that Obamacare is not ready for prime time. Well, it turns out that is right. When I tried to sign up for the exchanges, I was met with error messages, unfinished security forms, and misspelled notices at every click. Seeing how poorly this has been implemented, I am surprised that Harry Reid and Senate Democrats are willing to shut down the government over a law that simply is unworkable, unaffordable, and increasingly unpopular.”

Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.), 38, of Tulsa, first term, is a former executive director of the Tulsa Air and Space Museum & Planetarium and serves as an aviator in the U.S. Navy Reserve where he flies the E-2C Hawkeye in Central and South America as part of the War on Drugs. He is also a current state of Oklahoma record holder in swimming. In his first term, Bridenstine has verbally attacked Obama, stating that “the president's dishonesty, incompetence, vengefulness and lack of moral compass lead many to suggest that he is not fit to lead” and rejected the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on the Affordable Care Act, maintaining that “just because the Supreme Court rules on something doesn't necessarily mean that that's constitutional. What that means is that that's what they decided on that particular day given the makeup of the Court on that particular day.” “The American people do not want Obamacare, and the representatives closest to them have voted not to spend the people’s money on it. If the Democrat-controlled Senate decides not to accept this, then it is their choice to shut down the government.”

Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), 35, of Ponta Vedra Beach, first term, is a Harvard Law School graduate who served in the U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General's Corps as a prosecutor, eventually working with incarcerated terrorists at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. He subsequently reported to the Naval Special Warfare Command Group in Coronado, Calif., where he was assigned to SEAL Team One and deployed to Iraq as a legal adviser to the SEAL commander in Fallujah. He offered an amendment to the continuing resolution, the James Madison Congressional Accountability Act, aimed at prohibiting the Obama administration from issuing special subsidies to members of Congress and congressional staff for use on the Obamacare exchanges. It passed the House but was removed in the Senate. ''I don't believe we should be paid until this is resolved and I have requested that my pay be withheld.”