* Indiana Republicans bring their mission to Congress
* Constituents want them to stand and fight Obama
By David Lawder
GREENFIELD, Ind., Sept 20 To understand why so
many conservatives in Congress are willing to risk a government
shutdown in their quest to cut spending and derail "Obamacare,"
take a look at Indiana and the state's crop of young Republicans
in the U.S. House Representatives.
The congressional delegation sprouted up from a Midwestern
state whose Republican governor and legislature spent much of
the last eight years making painful budget cuts, including
hundreds of millions of dollars to education, to wipe out
Now, whipped on by voters and conservative groups urging
them to do the same in Washington - or step aside, the seven
House Republicans from Indiana see little alternative to budget
First elected in 2010 and 2012, the Indiana Republicans
personify the party's younger, harder-line vanguard that has
been willing to challenge House Speaker John Boehner's
leadership in a quest for smaller government.
And the voters in their home districts gave them a simple
message at town hall meetings in August: stand up to President
Barack Obama and block his health insurance reforms.
"You act like you're the minority," retired General Motors
worker Paul Neal told U.S. Representative Luke Messer at a town
hall meeting in Greenfield, a farm town east of Indianapolis.
"We control the House. You ought to act like it."
Messer, a former state legislator who is president of the
House Republican freshman class, pledged to do just that.
"We always knew the bill was eventually going to come due,"
said Messer. "We were going to have to stand up and fight for
The Indiana Republicans have been at the front of the pack
as House conservatives demanded a tougher stance against
Obamacare, persuading colleagues to back a stopgap government
spending measure that directly withholds money from the
healthcare reform law.
This week, Boehner bowed to the pressure and agreed to let
House Republicans pass a measure on Obamacare defunding that
keeps government agencies open through Dec. 15. He also vowed to
use an increase in the $16.7 trillion U.S. debt limit to try to
stop the healthcare law.
The efforts are certain to be rejected by Democrats and
Obama has already issued a veto threat, so the ensuing fight
will heighten the risk of a government shutdown or debt default
and likely unnerve financial markets.
That is a risk that many conservatives see as essential,
with key parts of the law due to take effect in October.
"The American people want this law stopped one way or
another," Representative Marlin Stutzman of northeast Indiana
told Reuters. "Many of us are willing to hold out on this one."
The rhetoric over Obamacare's fiscal impact is fiercely
partisan. Republicans, who argue the law will cost jobs, reduce
employee working hours and increase health premiums, focus on
its $1.3 trillion expenditure cost over a decade.
Democrats, who tout that it will extend affordable health
coverage to 30 million uninsured Americans, focus on a
Congressional Budget Office estimate that overall, it will
reduce the 10-year U.S. deficit by $105 billion.
NOT TEA PARTY CREATIONS
These Republicans do not fit the Democratic caricature of
conservative Tea Party novices who are holding the House
hostage. Several have experience in Indiana state government,
making tough budget choices under former Republican Governor
His success in turning around the state's finances prompted
speculation that Daniels might make a presidential bid in 2012,
but he opted against running.
Indiana cut taxes and built up a surplus. Now it
consistently ranks highest in the Midwest in business climate
surveys, while neighbors Illinois and Michigan struggle
financially. But Indiana's unemployment rate, at 8.3 percent, is
a full percentage point above the national average as its
manufacturing base struggles to recover from the recession.
The experience at the state level has driven the Indiana
Republicans in Congress to try to replicate the same formula in
Three members - Todd Rokita, Messer and Jackie Walorski -
now serve on the House Budget Committee, a big presence for a
state with only 6.5 million residents. Todd Young switched from
that panel to the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee. And
Stutzman, another Budget Committee alumnus, saw his standing in
the caucus rise after the House passed his plan to separate the
$74 billion food stamp program from a long-stalled farm bill, a
move aimed at shrinking the nutrition subsidies.
"I think we've been able to prove in this state,
statistically, that balanced budgets create stable economies,
create jobs, and there is a way out of the mess we're in at the
federal level," said Walorski, who once described herself as a
"pit bull" in the state capitol.
Freshman Representative Susan Brooks, a former U.S. attorney
in Indiana, has local, state and federal government experience,
most recently as general counsel for the state's network of
The group often repeats a Daniels mantra: "You'd be amazed
at how much government you won't miss."
But Daniels himself has admitted that it would not be easy
to apply the strategy of Indiana to the federal budget, with its
entitlement programs and other entrenched spending.
"I think there's limited application. I wish I could tell
you otherwise," he told CNN in 2011. "The huge changes we need
for the nation to get out of its fiscal ditch are not going to
be achieved in this way."
THE RIGHT IS WATCHING
The seven Indiana Republicans face little threat of losing
their seats to Democrats in 2014 if they dig in on the budget
and Obamacare. The congressional boundaries some of them helped
redraw in 2011 concentrated the state's two Democrats into
central Indianapolis and the industrial northwest corner. The
Republican districts are now largely carpeted in corn and
soybeans, giving them a naturally conservative rural base.
"Indiana is an agrarian state. A bumper crop one year could
be met with drought the next, so you better focus on long-term
goals," said Wendy Dant Chesser, president of One Southern
Indiana, the chamber of commerce in New Albany, Indiana.
Instead, any threat is more likely to come from the right if
they are too soft on spending. The influential conservative
group Club for Growth, headed by former Indiana Republican
congressman Chris Chocola, is watching their every vote.
Take Representative Larry Bucshon, a heart surgeon from
southwest Indiana. An avowed opponent of Obamacare, he has
supported Boehner more often than his class of 2010
colleagues and is being targeted by Club for Growth for a
primary challenge next year from a more conservative candidate.
"I don't feel like they fight for anything anymore,"
60-year-old Theresa Wheeler said of House Republicans at the
town hall. "It's so frustrating, I'm looking for another party."
Similar sentiments expressed in conservative Republican
districts across the country have put members in no mood to
compromise on the fiscal deadlines.
Rokita, a second-term congressman who boasts that his 2010
budget as Indiana secretary of state was at 1987 levels, said
the Obamacare defunding vote was "a reasonable reflection of
what my constituents wanted of me."
"I think we're best when we're bold," he said. "I keep
trying to preach that to our leadership."