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Health care fight shows tea party tension brewing with Oklahoma Republicans

Though united against the health care law, Republicans in Congress are divided over the tea party demands as another government shutdown looms.
by Chris Casteel Modified: September 15, 2013 at 12:00 pm •  Published: September 15, 2013
/articleid/3882883/1/pictures/2210584">Photo - Ronda Vuillemont-Smith <strong>David McDaniel - Oklahoman File Photo</strong>
Ronda Vuillemont-Smith David McDaniel - Oklahoman File Photo

“I have no confidence in (House Speaker) John Boehner or (Senate Republican leader) Mitch McConnell,'' she said. “I just feel very disappointed in our leadership. They've been more concerned with the next election than doing what's right.”

In January, freshman Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Tulsa, who was backed by the 9.12 Project in his upset victory in the primary last year, voted against Boehner, R-Ohio, for speaker. He was one of only nine Republicans to do so; he voted for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., for speaker.

At the time, Bridenstine said he objected to Boehner's role in the 2011 deal on the debt ceiling — a deal that led to last year's “fiscal cliff” crisis on tax hikes and the automatic budget cuts known as the sequester.

Bridenstine didn't end his opposition to Boehner there. According to a Washington Post analysis of seven key House votes this year, Bridenstine was among a small group of Republicans who opposed House Republican leaders on almost every vote.

Mullin, R-Westville, opposed them on at least half. Rep. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, voted against the leadership on at least two votes. Reps. Tom Cole, R-Moore, and Frank Lucas, R-Cheyenne, voted with the leadership on all of the votes.

‘Make our stand now'

Bridenstine has now signed on to legislation that would require defunding Obamacare as a condition for funding the rest of government.

At a gathering with the Oklahoma State Chamber last week, Bridenstine said that it was the last, best chance to dismantle the health care law.

“If we don't do it now, it won't be done,'' he said. “This is just the reality. We've got to make our stand now.”

At week's end, the legislation had 43 co-signers — less than 20 percent of the House Republicans but enough to control the situation if the Democrats remain mostly united against whatever approach Republicans take.

House and Senate Democrats last week said the tea party was intent on shutting down the government.

“We know that the American people are sick and tired of House Republicans pandering to the tea party and pushing us from one artificial crisis to the next,'' said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash..

And Senate majority leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Boehner “has to break away from those people who are ruining the Republican Party and hurting our country.”

Not surprisingly, Vuillemont-Smith has a different take on the tea party's effect.

“I think the tea party is shining a light on what's wrong with the Republican Party,'' she said. “the Republican Party has a platform but no one seems to want to follow it.”

With Bridenstine and Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Rand Paul, R-Ky., she said, “you've got new people in there who are willing to take a stand and do what they said they were going to do.”

by Chris Casteel
Washington Bureau
Chris Casteel began working for The Oklahoman's Norman bureau in 1982 while a student at the University of Oklahoma. After covering the police beat, federal courts and the state Legislature in Oklahoma City, he moved to Washington in 1990, where...
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