ROME, Ga. (AP) — Undeterred, U.S. Rep. Tom Graves is stepping up his criticism of President Barack Obama’s health care law and defending his role in last month’s partial government shutdown, even though tea party demands weren’t met to dismantle it.
“This isn’t over,” Graves, the sponsor of the GOP’s unsuccessful resolution to defund the president’s signature law, says despite the fact that the shutdown ended Oct. 16 without any changes to the health care law. “In no way was this in vain.”
The Republican has hit the national talk show circuit, and his social media sites regularly highlight the law’s clumsy implementation. “POTUS refused to negotiate, forced govt shutdown & now Ds are running to our last pre-shutdown offer to delay #Obamacare indiv mandate,” he posted on Twitter recently.
Back in his northwest Georgia district, constituents like John Massey, a 67-year-old jeweler and military veteran, applaud his steadfastness.
“Sometimes it takes somebody to stir it up, and if the tea party is what it takes, so be it,” he said.
The mood helps explain why many House Republicans like Graves have little incentive to relax their governing approach, from opposing every aspect of Obama’s health care law to refusing to raise the nation’s borrowing limit.
Massey’s sentiment is widespread in Georgia’s 14th Congressional District, which encompasses the Appalachian foothills near Chattanooga, Tenn., to the outer edges of metro Atlanta.
A former state lawmaker, Graves won a special election in 2010 to succeed Nathan Deal, who left Congress for the governor’s mansion. Deal had gone to Congress as a Democrat two decades ago, but switched parties in 1995, months after Georgia’s Newt Gingrich led Republicans to the House majority. The region has trended solidly Republican since, and redistricting after the 2010 census pushed Graves’ district even further to the right.
In 2012, Republican Mitt Romney got 73 percent of the district’s presidential vote, 20 percentage points better than his statewide total. So it’s no surprise that the 43-year-old congressman was at the forefront of House Republicans who pushed Speaker John Boehner to deny money for the health-care law and block a debt-ceiling vote.
The strategy ultimately led to a partial government shutdown and threatened a default on national debt payments. Boehner relented to the White House on the eve of the Treasury Department’s default deadline, but Graves was among the 144 Republicans who voted against the deal.
“It didn’t fix any of the problems with the (health care) law or the larger problems with the budget,” Graves said, without offering specific recommendations for health care policy or ways to curb the debt.
Floyd County Republican Chairwoman Layla Shipman said Republicans should “offer more detailed alternatives,” but said emphatically, “I’m proud of Tom.” The congressman, she said, “pretty much mirrors most of the views here. … I was proud of seeing the Republican Party dig in. I think we need more Tom Graves.”
Massey, the Rome jeweler, put the standoff in the larger context of his views on government and the economy.
He said the anchor provisions of the health care law — the insurance exchanges with taxpayer-subsidized premiums and expansion of the government’s Medicaid insurance program — are “more giveaways” that cost too much. Any major budget deal, he said, should curtail “this entitlement mentality.”
Even some residents with less strident views are skeptical about the health care law and realistic about the district’s politics.
Nedra Manners, a Democrat who works in Massey’s antique shop in Rome, said she’s shopped around on the federal insurance exchange — Georgia’s Republican leaders declined to run their own — but hasn’t been able to get a price quote. The 62-year-old noted new coverage standards and methods for figuring premiums and said her existing individual policy premium, not sold on the exchange, is set to double. “A shutdown isn’t the answer,” she said, but, “I’m not sure the law is set up the best way.”
Self-described libertarian Colin Williams, a 27-year-old who works in a new home supply distribution center in the district, also blasted widespread premium increases, and he blamed the new law. Asked whether he followed his congressman’s efforts to derail it, Williams said he hadn’t but added that he wasn’t surprised at Graves or the shutdown.
“He’s just another cog in the political machine,” Williams said, “and I’m sure he’ll get re-elected.”
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