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Davis Merritt: GOP voters can change the gridlock narrative

  • Published Tuesday, August 6, 2013, at 9:26 a.m.

The 41 U.S. representatives who are the main impediment to movement away from Washington’s political gridlock have headed home for Congress’ summer vacation.

Awaiting their return in the fall will be yet another ideologically freighted struggle over extending the debt limit or shutting down the government, a recurring drama that has consistently exploded in the face of the Republican Party. The 41 intend to hold funding of the Affordable Care Act hostage as the price of extending the debt ceiling, a political and fiscal disaster that even the GOP House and Senate leadership urgently wants to avoid.

How will the 41 spend their summer vacation, and what stories will they have to tell the class back in Washington? And who perhaps could affect their narrative?

Understand first that this is a special group. Bloomberg News analyzed eight key votes in which the House’s most conservative members bucked their leadership. These 41 voted against the party leadership on at least five of those eight issues.

They are special in other ways, too. Thirty-nine are white males (one Native American, one female). More than half are from Southern states (five from Georgia, four from South Carolina) and one, Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Fowler, is from Kansas. They were elected in 2012 with an average of 65 percent of the votes in their districts. Only five had majorities of less than 55 percent. President Obama lost all 41 of those districts. A majority of them have been in the House fewer than five years. By traditional measures, they are returning to “safe” districts.

The House Republican caucus numbers 234, so how can these 41 keep things untracked? Because House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has only a 16-vote margin above the bare majority of 218 needed to do anything. It potentially takes only 17 of the like-minded 41 to thwart every move, so the disruptive leverage in the House resides with them.

Their return to their districts is not unlike a high school football hero going back for his 10th reunion: At a time in life when he’s getting a bit out of shape and the glorious memories of long touchdown runs are beginning to fade, he’ll be refreshed and his ego reinflated by the recognition of friends, teammates, coaches and teachers. His parents, to whom he is forever 18 and wonderful, will welcome him home. Of course, he won’t seek out the adviser who urged him to pay less attention to X’s and O’s and more to accounting, nor the people who urged him to go to college. He’ll simply go back to his low-level warehousing job reinforced in his greatness.

The congressmen will spend most of their time going to meetings of the civic clubs, churches and other groups that sent them to Congress in the first place and, most important to the congressmen, can return them. Even if they stroll the streets talking to people at random, the mathematics of their gerrymandered districts dictate they will mostly encounter kindred souls.

So who could change them and thus the narrative for the country?

Citizens registered as Democrat or independent need not apply, nor any of the thousands of “suspended” citizens who can’t vote because of ID laws. It’s up to Republicans who value effective governing more than self-righteous ideology to exorcise their voters’ remorse.

The best, and most truthful, opening line is, “I voted for you, but….”

Davis Merritt, a Wichita journalist and author, can be reached at dmerritt9@cox.net.

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