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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.

THE YOUNG GUNS

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.”

THE GRIZZLED VETERANS

Steve King (R-Iowa), 64, of Kiron, sixth term, left college to work in construction and founded King Construction, an earth-moving company, in 1975. He founded the Kiron Business Association in the 1980s and became interested in politics, winning a seat in the Iowa state Senate before moving to Congress. An outspoken social and fiscal conservative, King has attracted substantial controversy. Speaking about immigration reform, he said, “For every one who's a valedictorian, there's another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds — and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they're hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.” When Obama ran for president in 2008, he said, “I will tell you that, if he is elected president, then the radical Islamists, the al-Qaeda, the radical Islamists and their supporters, will be dancing in the streets in greater numbers than they did on Sept. 11.” “House Republicans do not want a government shutdown," said King. "We want a resolution reflective of the needs and priorities of the American people. The government is temporarily and partially shut down nonetheless, but the House has consistently put offers on the table and the Senate has repeatedly refused to negotiate.”

Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), 60, of Tyler, fifth term, earned a law degree from Baylor Law School and served in the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General’s Corp primarily as a defense attorney before returning to his native Texas where he was elected as a state district judge in Smith County. Gov. Rick Perry subsequently appointed him to serve as chief justice on Texas's 12th Court of Appeals. Gohmert generally is recognized as one of the most conservative members of Congress. He proposed a federal income tax holiday allowing taxpayers to decide how best to spend their hard-earned money. He has repeatedly called for an end to the “socialization” of the nation’s economy. “I could not in good faith vote for a bill that provides even more funding for Obamacare when I have heard from massive numbers of constituents about the damage it is doing. I will continue to listen to the people of my district, but the hue and cry is overwhelmingly from those who have lost insurance, had insurance costs become prohibitive, lost jobs, or have been moved from full-time employment to part-time because of Obamacare.”

Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), 57, of Stillwater, fourth term, is the onetime GOP presidential contender and tax lawyer who formerly worked for the Internal Revenue Service. She and her husband now own a Christian counseling practice titled Bachmann & Associates. A former Democrat who became disillusioned during the administration of President Jimmy Carter, Bachmann is a longtime conservative political activist who was involved in the anti-abortion movement when she was elected to the Minnesota state Senate. As one of the country’s best known Tea Party politicians – Bachmann founded the House Tea Party Caucus -- she has continued to oppose abortion, proved skeptical about global warming, advocated for increased domestic oil and natural gas exploration, called for lawsuit reform and introduced the Light Bulb Freedom of Choice Act. She has also become one of the most vocal congressional critics of Obamacare; she immediately joined with Rep. Steve King to propose repeal legislation. Bachmann has announced she will not seek re-election. She is under investigation from a number of agencies, including the Federal Election Commission, for alleged campaign finance violations during her 2012 campaign for president. "As the implementation of Obamacare comes into effect, the American people are worried and uncertain about the future of their healthcare coverage. Every day my office is flooded with phone calls, emails, Facebook posts and tweets from Americans who are deeply concerned about the negative impact of Obamacare on their families, their jobs, their healthcare, and their small businesses.”

Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), 61, of Brentwood, fifth term, is a longtime Republican activist – she helped found the Williamson County Young Republicans in 1977 – who worked in retail marketing before assuming a seat in the Tennessee state Senate where she was credited as a “hero” for her participation in the so-called Great Tennessee Tax Revolt of 2000, rallying support against a state income tax proposal. She has long been involved in the healthcare reform debate, the choice of the House Republican leadership in February 2010 to represent conservative views on health care reform at President Obama’s Blair House summit. She reacted to passage of the Affordable Care Act by saying, “freedom dies a little bit today.” “From all of my listening sessions and meetings throughout the district, the one thing that concerns Tennesseans most is the negative impact the implementation of Obamacare is having on their lives. From labor unions to national advocacy groups, we are hearing both locally and nationwide that there are serious questions about President Obama's Affordable Care Act.  It isn't ready for primetime. That's why I'm continuing to work to delay, defund, repeal, and replace it with patient-centered, market-driven healthcare reform.”

THE LIBERTARIANS

Justin Amash (R-Mich.), 33, of Cascade Township, second term, is the son of a Palestinian business owner who graduated from the University of Michigan, and worked as a corporate lawyer before his election to the Michigan House of Representatives. In October 2010 he was listed among Time magazine’s “40 under 40 – Rising Stars of U.S. Politics.” He has never missed a congressional vote. Amash supports free markets with limited government regulation and advocates for economic freedom, maintaining that stimulus programs and government bailouts are ineffective ways to energize the economy. Amash sees Obamacare as an overreach of the federal government's powers. He endorsed Ron Paul for president in 2012. It didn’t take Amash long to run athwart of the House GOP leadership – he was removed from the House Budget Committee in his first term. “I think we’re doing the president a favor if we delay it,” Amash said on ABC-TV. “The program is not ready to be implemented. If anything the president should be asking us to delay it because it’s better for him politically.”

Walter Jones (R-N.C.), 70, of Farmville, ninth term, has politics in his blood – his father, Walter Sr., was a Democratic congressman from a North Carolina district adjoining the one his son represents. While running his family’s business supply company he won a seat in the North Carolina House of Representatives as a Democrat where he advocated for campaign finance and lobbying reform. He switched parties in 1994 and captured his congressional seat as a Republican. In recent years his voting record has trended libertarian. Initially a strong supporter of the Iraq War, he eventually became one of the leading Republicans opposed to continued involvement. He did, however, take a leading role in the effort to have French fries renamed freedom fries on House cafeteria menus in reaction to French opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. “Eastern North Carolinians are opposed to Obamacare and opposed to a government shutdown. That is why I voted to support a continuing resolution that will keep the government open and delay the president’s disastrous healthcare law. It is imperative that our military personnel receive pay under any circumstances. Providing them with this assurance is the least we can do after all of the sacrifices our troops have made for us.”

THE MEDICAL COMMUNITY

John Fleming (R-La.), 62, of Minden, third term, started out as a U.S. Navy doctor after graduating from the University of Mississippi medical school. He eventually started a private practice and he was honored as the Louisiana Family Practice Physician of the Year in 2007 by the Louisiana Academy of Family Physicians. As a businessman he owns 33 Subway sandwich shops in Northern Louisiana. Fleming was elected Webster Parish coroner before entering Congress. Representing a district that includes Barksdale Air Force Base, he has been critical of what he characterized as “devastating cuts to military spending." “Obamacare is the most dangerous piece of legislation ever passed in Congress.”

Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.), 71, of Marietta, sixth term, attended the Medical College of Georgia and spent most of his professional life as an obstetrician -- one of three in the lower chamber, with Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) and Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.). He is a founding member and co-chairman of the GOP Doctors Caucus, a group of 20 healthcare providers in the House. Gingrey perhaps is best known for a short-lived feud with Rush Limbaugh, criticizing the radio commentator in Politico for caustic remarks directed at the GOP congressional leadership. Gingrey subsequently appeared on “The Rush Limbaugh Show” to apologize to the host, saying “I clearly ended up putting my foot in my mouth.” He has announced he will run for the open seat being vacated by Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.). “Delaying Obamacare for one year is the first step towards ensuring it’s permanently delayed,” Gingrey said. “A majority of Americans think Obamacare will make healthcare in our country worse, and they’re right. House Republicans are listening to the American people, and I urge Harry Reid and Senate Democrats to do the same. It’s now up to them to prevent a government shutdown.”

Diane Black (R-Tenn.), 62, of Gallatin, second term, is a registered nurse, college educator and small business owner who turned to politics, first as a member of both chambers of the Tennessee legislature and finally to Congress. Her official biography states that she is “driven by her Christian faith and an unwavering commitment to restore fiscal sanity in Washington, enact market-based health care reform, and return America to its founding principles of limited government and a strong free enterprise system.” She is, through marriage, one of the wealthiest members of the lower chamber thanks to a stake in Aegis Sciences Corp. which places her net worth at about $29 million. As a member of the House Ways and Means Committee Black is a proponent of the flat tax and is the author of a spending plan that balances the budget in 10 years. “The President and Senate Democrats have refused to negotiate over commonsense proposals that the House has passed that would keep the government open and protect the American people from the disastrous effects of Obamacare.’”

THE TEXANS AND ARIZONANS

David Schweikert (R-Ariz.), 51, of Fountain Hills, second term, is a former real estate agent and treasurer of Maricopa County. Schweikert is no Boehner ally, having been relieved of his seat on the Committee on Financial Services last December for refusing to cooperate with leadership. He is against an income tax increase on any tax bracket, having signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge promising to oppose any and all efforts to increase the income tax rates for individuals and/or businesses, and oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched by further tax rates reductions. He was endorsed by FreedomWorks, a Tea Party group. “This is my idea of fun,” he told NPR in reference to the shutdown.

Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.), 55, of Mesa, first term, spent 13 years in the telecommunications industry in Arizona where he “learned invaluable lessons regarding the effect of government regulation on private enterprise.” With what he regarded as the increasing expansion of government and burdensome tax rates, he entered the Arizona state Senate before arriving in Congress in 1994, retiring after three terms to meet a personal term limit commitment. He returned in 2012. Salmon offered an amendment to the U.S. Constitution limiting House members to three terms in office and senators to two and actively opposes same-sex marriage even though his son is openly gay. “It seems that each day we hear about another delay or new exemption by the Obama Administration. This is not only unfair to the American taxpayer but demonstrates this harmful law remains not ready for prime time.”

John Culberson (R-Texas), 57, Houston, seventh term, is a lawyer and former state representative. His stated priorities include cutting taxes, creating jobs, balancing the budget and securing the border. He has proven to be an advocate for increasing federal investment in medical and scientific research, claiming that breakthroughs are vital to meeting the nation’s economic and technological needs. He is best known, however, for his exclamation after the House Republican Caucus decided to attach a provision defunding Obamacare to the continuing resolution: "The whole room [shouted] 'Let's vote!' And I said, you know like 9/11, 'Let's roll!'", referencing the final words of Todd Beamer,  one of the United Airlines Flight 93 passengers who died while thwarting the hijacking in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Steve Stockman (R-Texas), 56, of Friendswood, second term, was famously homeless before he became a born-again Christian and got a job as an accountant in the computer sales and lab researcher division of IBM. He served a single term in Congress beginning in 1995 but was defeated for re-election. Thereafter he was on the faculty of the conservative Leadership Institute based in Arlington, Va., eventually serving as director of the organization’s Campus Leadership Program. Upon returning to the House, Stockman was one of 10 Republicans who refused to vote for Boehner as speaker, explaining that “I have sharp disagreements with the manner in which he has handled President Obama and House conservatives.” On of his first undertakings was the introduction of the "Safe Schools Act,” a bill intended to repeal federal laws mandating gun-free zones around schools. “Americans want Congress to do two things -- work together on our national fiscal crisis and stop Obamacare. It’s time Congress started listening to them.”

Blake Farenthold (R-Texas), 51, of Corpus Christi, second term, built up one of the lower chamber’s more diverse resumes prior to his arrival in Congress -- conservative radio commentator, co-hosting the show Lago in the Morning, seven years of law practice with the Kleberg Law Firm, and founding Farenthold Consulting LLC, a computer consulting and web design firm. Farenthold caused a stir in September when, during an appearance on Hardball on MSNBC, he refused to acknowledge that Obama is legitimately elected. “We in the House are ready, willing, and able to negotiate with the President and the Senate. What we are not willing to do is give up our constitutional responsibility as guardians of America’s purse—and as voices of our constituents.”

DEAR OLD DIXIE

Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), 46, of Indian Land, second term, started his own law firm after graduating from the University of North Carolina law school and later ran the family real estate business and started a small homebuilding company. He was also a minority shareholder in a restaurant franchise company and owned and operated a restaurant. “The House of Representatives is doing everything we can to reopen the government. Indeed — and this unfortunately doesn’t get reported much in the national media — we have sent four different options to the Senate, all of which were immediately rejected (without even debating them).”

Ted Yoho (R-Fla.), 58, first term, worked as a veterinarian in North Central Florida for 28 years before selling his practice and waging a successful campaign against Rep. Cliff Starnes (R-Fla.), in 2012. Yoho supports cutting taxes and replacing the current tax code with a flat tax, reducing corporate tax rates and eliminating federal programs that cannot be balanced with the revenues collected. Yoho also is opposed to raising the debt ceiling unless significant spending cuts are made. “The Senate decided to shut down the government, to not extend to hard-working Americans the same exemptions from the Affordable Care Act big businesses get, and to exclude themselves from the health care law. It is my hope that Senator Reid realizes what he is doing and finally decides to work with us to end this and do what is right for the American people.”

Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), 47, of Laurens, second term, was a wide receiver on the Clemson University football team and eventually became president and CEO of J. Duncan Associates, a real estate marketing firm. After serving in the South Carolina legislature, he sought and captured his congressional seat with the support of the Club for Growth and the National Right to Life Committee. He was one of only three lawmakers to earn a 100 percent rating on the Freedom Index for his votes in 2011, the other being Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) and former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas). He led a group of 97 GOP lawmakers who wrote a letter to President Obama expressing opposition to the possible nomination of Susan Rice, now the National Security advisor, to the post of secretary of state given to John Kerry. “I don’t appreciate being lectured to by a president who has done more to hurt American families, businesses, and our economy through his unworkable healthcare law, than could ever happen in a government shutdown. The president asked us to think about who would be hurt if the government were to shutdown. I ask him to think about how many millions more will be hurt if his healthcare law goes into effect.”

Steve Scalise (R-La.), 47, of Jefferson, third term, is a Louisiana State University graduate with a degree in computer science who worked as a systems engineer and served in the Pelican State’s House and Senate before arriving in Congress where he has been a staunch defender of his state’s oil and gas industry. He has fought against the government takeover of healthcare, took on former Vice President Al Gore over the “Cap and Trade” energy tax and sought to hold the Obama Administration accountable for their taxpayer funded green energy loans to failing companies like Solyndra. He currently is the chairman of the House Republican Study Committee, a powerful internal conservative group spearheading the Obamacare fight. “The devastating effects of the President’s healthcare law are not a partisan issue. Businesses see it. American families see it. Even union leaders like James Hoffa see this train wreck coming. It is time for Senate Democrats and the President to get off the sidelines and work in a bipartisan way to fund the government while eliminating special political exemptions.”

UP-AND-COMERS

Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), 45, of Eagle, second term, was born in Puerto Rico and started a small business after locating in his wife’s native Idaho. He served in the Idaho House of Representatives before winning his congressional seat. Labrador worked with a group on immigration legislation earlier this year but dropped out when he couldn’t agree with the direction members were taking. He supports the repeal of Obamacare because he claims it will raise costs and kill jobs and the best way to give Americans more affordable health insurance is with market-based policies that will decrease healthcare costs. “The House is listening to the American people by advocating for a one-year delay of the individual mandate.  The Senate, meanwhile, is trying to instigate a shutdown with the hope that Republicans will get the blame.  In fact, it will be Senate that gets blamed for refusing to fix the individual mandate.”

Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), 49, of Urbana, fourth term, a four-time state wrestling champion with a career record of 150-1 at Graham High School, was a member of the Ohio House of Representatives before entering Congress. Jordan is the former chairman of the House Republican Study Committee, a conservative caucus, and butted heads on occasion with Boehner over issues like raising the debt limit. Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kansas), a fellow conservative, voted for Jordan over Boehner in this year’s leadership election. "When the American people get engaged, they have a way of making elected officials see the light, find the Lord, and do the right thing,” Jordan told CNN.