House conservatives on Wednesday seemed resigned to the fact that they had lost the latest round in the fight over the budget, but they did not regret having the fight, and vowed to press on.
“Anytime you stand up for the American people it’s worth it,” Representative Raul Labrador (R., Idaho) said at a “Conversation with Conservatives” lunch hosted by the Heritage Foundation.
“At the end of the day, standing up and doing what’s right is more important than what happens in the next election,” said Representative Tim Huelskamp (R., Kan.), who recalled Ronald Reagan’s hardline stance against the Soviet Union during the Cold War, and the moderates in his own party who had urged Reagan to soften his tone. “Waving the white flag of surrender is never going to work, politically and policy-wise, whether it’s in front of the Berlin wall or sitting here today in Washington, D.C.”
Conservative members argued that the shutdown fight had brought increased attention to Obamacare and its myriad shortcomings, and pushed back against the media narrative that the shutdown had been a political distraction. At the same time, they criticized the media for biased coverage over the past several weeks, and repeatedly praised Daily Show host Jon Stewart for daring to ask tough questions of Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
The lawmakers expressed various opinions as to what Republicans should have done differently in order to bring about a better outcome. Labrador suggested that House leadership should have passed a “clean” debt-limit increase for six weeks, in order to put more focus on the fight over Obamacare and the continuing resolution. Huelskamp said he would have preferred that Republicans initiated the debate months earlier, while Representative Ron DeSantis (R., Fla.) lamented that Republicans “didn’t really articulate” their opposition to unpopular items like the individual mandate and the health-care subsidy for members of Congress and their staff, both of which “kind of got lost in the shuffle” of the initial GOP push for a full defunding of Obamacare.
Perhaps surpsingly, conservative members decline to openly criticize House leadership. Representative Jim Jordan (R., Ohio) said there was “absolutely no talk” of a movement to oust House Speaker John Boehnert (R., Ohio). Labrador said he has been “really proud” of Boehner over the past couple of weeks, saying: “I don’t think he should be ashamed of anything that he has done.” Labrador did, however, take shots at his Republicans colleauges who have spent the last several weeks “whining to the media,” and who he said were unwilling to put up a fight to stop Obamacare. “If anybody should be kicked out, it’s probably those Republicans,” he said. “Apparently, some people didn’t come here to do the hard things, they came here to continue to kick the can down the road.”
Conservatives should turn their focus now to upcoming political battles, including the 2014 midterms. Jordan said Republicans should work towards the acheivable task of retaking control of the Senate, so that the GOP can have greater leverage in future policy debates. “Elections are how we do things in this country, and we all get tired of having to wait until the next election, but that’s just the way this great nation works,” he said.
The lawmakers also shrugged of suggestions that the shutdown fight, and the GOP’s low approval rating at the moment would hurt them in the upcoming elections. “We don’t live and die by the polls,” said Representative Matt Salmon (R., Ariz.). Labrador said Republicans would improve on their past performances because “now we showed the American people we are willing to fight.”
Meanwhile, the Senate-broked deal to end the shutdown and raise the debt limit, which is likely to be voted on today in both chambers (when asked if they would support it, the conservative members just laughed in response), will set up another budget showdown early next year. “The debt will be bigger and Obamacare will be more unpopular,” Jordan said, echoing his colleagues’ sentiment that Republicans should be well-positioned politically. By that time, Huelskamp added, more candidates will have announced primary challenges to unseat Republican incumbents, which might “encourage people to have some more backbone.”