Fifth Phila.-area congressman breaks with GOP on budget

By Jonathan Tamari / Inquirer Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Jim Gerlach, a Republican from Chester County, on Wednesday became the latest GOP lawmaker to call for a “clean” spending bill to open the government, saying that phone calls and e-mails from his constituents show that a solid majority wants to end the shutdown.

Gerlach is now the fifth Republican from the Philadelphia area to break with House leadership on the fight involving government spending and President Obama’s sweeping health law.

“It is time for Congress to vote on a budget bill that gets the government back to work providing all of the services already paid for by the hard-working taxpayers in my district and across the country,” Gerlach said in a statement Wednesday morning. “If a bill comes to the floor to accomplish that goal, I will vote for it.”

Gerlach joins Philadelphia-area Republican Congressmen Charlie Dent, Mike Fitzpatrick, Pat Meehan and Jon Runyan in supporting a spending bill that would re-open government without requiring any changes to Obamacare, as we reported today. They are five of just 15 House Republicans to so far publicly back that idea, according to the Washington Post. Another is Pennsylvania Republican Lou Barletta. South Jersey Congressman Frank LoBiondo has said he is open to the idea, and mainly wants a new strategy in the House -- though this group is in the vast minority in their caucus.

Gerlach’s release included some eye-opening constituent feedback explaining why some of these lawmakers from more moderate districts are crossing their leadership in this fight, in which conservatives have insisted that any bill to fund the government must also include changes to Obamacare. Obama and Democrats have flatly rejected negotiating over keeping the government running.

In an e-mail survey over the weekend, Gerlach said 52 percent of his constituents support continued funding for government operations, including for Obamacare, compared to 39 percent who support shutting down the government if the budget plan does not defund or delay the law. (Eight percent chose “other.”)

Since the shutdown began Tuesday, the messages to his office are even more stark: 458 (89 percent) showed “strong opposition” to a shutdown, while 56 (10 percent) favored staying the course.

Gerlach’s district is moderate by the standards of the House, but still considered fairly safe for Republicans overall. Mitt Romney won the district by 2.5 points last year. 

Gerlach said his constituents “don't want the federal government shut down and they don't want the glitch-filled, job-crushing health care law known as ObamaCare. But at this moment, middle-class families, employers and communities of all sizes are coping with the devastating effects of both.”

Despite local lawmakers' stand, they have not prevailed. Republican leaders, siding with their caucus' conservative bloc, continue to demand negotiations over Obamacare - saying this fight is their chance to alter a flawed law. Obama and Senate Democrats continue to refuse, saying they will not give ground to get Congress fulfill what they consider a basic function of government. Many in Washington believe the stand-off could last well beyond this week.

The 15 Republicans who have publicly backed a spending bill with no strings attached represent less than 7 percent of the GOP caucus.

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