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Tea Party Drives Republican Hardline on Government Funding

A one-page letter - signed by almost one-fifth of the legislators in the U.S. House of Representatives - was a factor leading to a political stalemate and the U.S. government shutdown. Congress and President Barack Obama cannot agree on continuing to fund the government, with the Republicans determined to undermine the president’s signature health care law. Some powerful Republicans say they are bowing to the wishes of their constituents.

Outside the Capitol, Washington, D.C. is quiet. Inside, talk is tough. Democrats support the president.

“What have we come to here? We have the best country in the world and it’s time we start running it again,” asked Rep. Peter Visclosky (D-Ind).

“The House has compromised over and over and over again," insisted Rep. Andy Barr (R-Ky).


Republican Congressman Barr belongs to the ultra-conservative arm called the Tea Party. It arrived on the political scene in 2009. The movement is now a force within the party.

Eighty members (a third of House Republicans, including Barr) signed a letter connecting a repeal of health care reform to any resolution that keeps the government running.

Barr accused Democrats of pushing through the health care reform act in 2010 when they had a majority in both houses of Congress, and said his Kentucky constituents did’t like it.

“I cannot ignore the deluge of calls and conversations and communications that I’m getting from constituents talking about Obamacare hurting them, their businesses and their families,” he said.


According to the Cook Political Report, most of the 80 Republicans come from districts that voted unlike most of the country. For example, President Obama only received 38 percent of the vote in Barr’s district. And while voters nationwide are looking more diverse, the Cook Report said Republican districts are getting whiter.

Moderate Republicans agree that Obamacare should be diminished but oppose the tactics of the Tea Party - like shutting down the government. Analysts said they were looking over their shoulder, afraid of a Tea Party challenger, if they didn't go along.

“In the case of Republicans looking over their right shoulders, they may be safe in their districts as Republicans if they were to face a Democrat in an election, but they may not be safe from a primary challenge,” explained John Fortier, of the Bipartisan Policy Center.

Blame game

Meanwhile, Republicans and Democrats accuse each other of refusing to compromise.

"All we are asking for is to sit down and have a discussion," insisted House Speaker John Boehner.

"Mr. Speaker, You shut down the federal government. But now what?” asked said Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-Hawaii).

“It’s part of our polarized world," remarked Fortier. "The extent that we have divided government. Our parties differ a lot. It’s likely that part of this is the new normal.”

So for now, the factions wait to see which side blinks first. Until then, the federal government remains shut down until further notice.
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    Carolyn Presutti

    Carolyn Presutti is an Emmy and Silver World Medal award winning television correspondent who works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters. She has also won numerous Associated Press TV, Radio, and Multimedia awards, as well as a Clarion for her TV coverage of The Syrian Medical Crisis, Haiti, The Boston Marathon Bombing, Presidential Politics, The Southern Economy, Google Glass & Other Wearables, and the 9/11 Anniversary.

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