When U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent broke ranks with the Republican majority in Pennsylvania’s House delegation over defunding the Affordable Care Act, he said he did what representatives should do: vote the way constituents want.
"It is our job to represent the needs of our district," said Dent, a five-term congressman from Allentown who represents parts of Dauphin and Lebanon counties and was the only Pennsylvania Republican who didn’t vote with his party last week.
The state’s 12 other House Republicans — including Reps. Keith Rothfus of Sewickley, Tim Murphy of Upper St. Clair and Mike Kelly of Butler — oppose the Democrats’ effort to pass a spending bill free of provisions to scale back the law known as Obamacare.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, dug in on Monday, ruling out any measure to boost borrowing authority without concessions from President Obama.
"We could end this impasse today, but the president and the Democrat Senate leader aren’t willing to take up any bills passed out of the House, or sit down and work on a resolution," Murphy said.
"Dozens of House Democrats have crossed the aisle and joined us in solutions to reopen important parts of the government," Rothfus said.
Yet Dent last Tuesday and four other Eastern Pennsylvania representatives since then have split with the party to take positions in accordance with their districts, "in part because they believe that doing so is good for them politically," said Kyle Kondik, a political analyst at the University of Virginia who specializes in House politics.
"Unfortunately for them, it often isn’t," Kondik said. "Look at what happened to the Democrats who voted no on Obamacare: Only six of the 34 remain in Congress."
Dent blames GOP Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and his 21-hour speech for making folks believe he could get the Senate to defund Obamacare before the budget vote last week.
"He raised everyone’s hopes, but he never had the votes, leaving everyone feeling let down," Dent said.
In Washington, being reasonable is considered being weak, and being unreasonable or rigid is regarded as a sign of strength, said Michael Genovese, director of the Institute for Leadership Studies at Loyola Marymount University.
"It is all very backwards," he said.
Given partisan changes in Pennsylvania over the past two decades — the East grew more Democratic and the West, more Republican — it is not surprising that Dent, a moderate representing Philadelphia collar counties, is interested in passing a clean stopgap spending bill instead of playing politics with Obama-care, said Lara Brown, a George Washington University political scientist.
Since the shutdown, Dent’s call to reopen the government has been joined by Republican Reps. Jim Gerlach of Chester County, Mike Fitzpatrick of Bucks County, Pat Meehan of Montgomery County and Lou Barletta of Luzerne County, who indicated they would support a bill that doesn’t include provisions to delay or defund Obamacare.
These suburban Republicans know that Obama carried their districts in 2008 and 2012, and their constituents "are generally supportive of the Affordable Care Act," Brown said.
A CNN/ORC poll released on Monday found taxpayers individually blame both political parties and the White House for the government shutdown. Sixty-three percent of those questioned said they’re angry at Republicans for the way they’ve handled the shutdown, and 57 percent aim their anger at Democrats. Fifty-three percent are unhappy with Obama’s handling of the situation. The poll of 1,009 adults, conducted Oct. 3-6, has a sampling error of 3 percentage points.
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Political Reporter