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Government shutdown: Why Boehner doesn't overrule tea party faction

The tea party faction linking an end to the government shutdown to the defunding of Obamacare comes largely from recently redrawn, bullet-proof Republican districts. They don't hear what Boehner hears. 

By Staff writer / October 4, 2013

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio walks to a Republican strategy session on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

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To understand why House Speaker John Boehner has not just ended the government shutdown, now in its fourth day, by standing up to the tea party faction in his caucus, look no further than the highly skewed congressional districts those members represent.

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The districts, and their representatives in Congress, are the product of one of the great Republican electoral successes of recent years, the midterm elections of 2010, when the tea party rose to prominence on a wave of antigovernment sentiment, especially opposition to President Obama’s signature health-care law.

Americans reelected President Obama in 2012 and trimmed Republican representation in both houses of Congress – an outcome that he and Democrats took as a national referendum on health-care reform. But the elections also solidified the hold of GOP conservatives on districts whose boundaries were redrawn by victorious Republicans after 2010.

Call it an alternate political universe. The new, bullet-proof GOP districts created voting blocs significantly at variance with the rest of the country, according to data released by David Wasserman, House editor of the Cook Political Report.

The hard-liners now facing off with Speaker Boehner over when and how to end the government shutdown largely are products of these districts.

Exhibit A is freshman Rep. Mark Meadows (R) of North Carolina, a real estate developer who easily won the seat formerly held by three-term Rep. Heath Schuler, a fiscally conservative Democrat who retired in 2012 after the GOP-controlled state legislature changed the district map to favor Republicans.

In August, Congressman Meadows circulated a letter urging Boehner and majority leader Eric Cantor (R) of Virginia to use any fight over the funding of government to insist on the defunding of Obamacare – a strategy proposed earlier in the summer by tea party Sens. Ted Cruz (R) of Texas and Mike Lee (R) of Utah.

The letter picked up 80 House GOP signatures, mainly from tea party-backed members from the South or Midwest. In these 80 districts, Republicans typically trounce Democrats in general elections, but are at constant risk of a challenge from the right.

By contrast, the estimated 20 caucus members now openly backing an end to the government shutdown, without conditions, represent districts where nearly half the voters voted for Obama in 2012.

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