So, who are these “anarchists,” as Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada has taken to describing them? Where do they come from? And what do they want?
Conventional wisdom has it that the insurgents come mainly from the class of 2010 or 2012, many elected with tea party backing. They are typically new to the ways of Washington, fearful of a primary challenge on their right, disinclined to compromise principles, and driven by a fixed purpose to destroy Obama’s signature health-care reform before Americans come to depend on its benefits and the “big government” that provides them.
In fact, it’s a more diverse picture. There are big tea party personalities, but, so far, no House tea party leaders, with the possible exception of Sen. Ted Cruz (R) of Texas, who played a major role in pushing House Republicans to force a high-stakes vote on Obamacare.
Here’s what’s known: Nearly half (103) of the 233-member House Republicans caucus have served three years or less, according to data compiled by Bloomberg News. For about half of these newcomers, their House seat was their first elected office. Some 41 Republicans, or about 18 percent of the caucus, have consistently voted against leadership, Bloomberg concludes.
But the big, anti-establishment votes that rattled GOP leaders this year, including the current bid to defund Obamacare, drew from a much wider pool of GOP dissent: 62 Republicans handed GOP leadership a surprise defeat on the farm bill on June 20. Ninety-four Republicans joined with 111 liberal Democrats to support an amendment by Rep. Justin Amash (R) of Michigan to rein in National Security Agency phone record collection.
In July, freshman Senator Cruz, a likely GOP presidential hopeful in 2016, and two-term Rep. Tom Graves (R) of Georgia proposed a bill to continue government funding into a new fiscal year on condition that Obamacare receive nothing.
The last two classes of GOP freshmen won their seats on a pledge to defund Obamacare. With open enrollment for online insurance marketplaces under the Affordable Care Act set to start on Oct. 1, they say that time is running out to block it. Some add: If Republicans are not willing to take a stand on this issue, then what would they ever take a stand on?
By the time Boehner walked into the Wednesday morning caucus meeting, the Cruz-Graves measure had picked up 178 GOP supporters in the House, driving down support for the leadership’s less-risky alternative.
“If we just wait around and are afraid of the polls, then we’re not leading,” said Rep. Raul Labrador (R) of Idaho, at a live-streamed event Thursday with “free market and liberty-minded members of Congress,” a monthly event sponsored by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington.
“I heard for two years that if we didn’t fight on all these ideas, we were going to win the presidency and win the Senate, and [they] were wrong,” he added.
Responding to criticism that they are dividing GOP ranks and undermining leadership, libertarian-leaning lawmakers say Republicans have never been as united and that Friday’s vote could be unanimous on the Republican side.
“Republicans are more united than at any time since I’ve been in Congress, and Democrats are more divided,” says freshman Rep. Thomas Massie (R) of Kentucky at Thursday’s Heritage Foundation event.