A couple of clues about the dynamics of the government shutdown endgame can be found in the roster of 15 House Republicans who voted Thursday against the food stamp overhaul.
First, the roster of centrists who opposed the legislation amounts to only 6 percent of the conference, the latest indication that the number of moderates in the House GOP is smaller than at any time in decades — and insufficient to form a functioning coalition with Democrats. Which means that, even if all of the GOP food stamp bill opponents and all the Democrats unite behind a straightforward stopgap spending measure shorn of language to prevent spending on Obamacare, that number would be insufficient to pass the bill.
That scenario is not happening in any case, because a so-far unpredictable number of Democrats are going to vote against any continuing resolution that maintains spending at the current post-sequester levels. That's what the bill before the House today would do, and it's what President Barack Obama has said he would agree to for at least the next 10 weeks.
The small number of Republican dissenters on food stamps nonetheless illustrates just how daunting a task the House GOP leadership faces in assembling anything close to a majority of the majority for a clean CR, or even one that only nibbles at the edges of the health care law because of the reality the Democratic Senate won’t go along with an outright defunding.
The difficulty ahead for the leadership is underscored by the list of lawmakers who voted “no” on Thursday on the grounds that a 5 percent, $4 billion annual cut to food stamps every year for the next decade was too steep, and the bill’s broad new work requirements for recipients too onerous. The group is another reminder that almost all members of the Republican Conference remain extraordinarily willing to rally behind small-government conservatism even when very clear parochial or electoral considerations would customarily prompt abandonment of such orthodoxy.
Of the two-dozen House Republicans representing districts where more than one-fifth of the population lives in poverty, only one voted against the bill: David Valadao, whose district in the southern Central Valley of California has a 30.6 percent poverty rate.
And of the 22 members of the caucus who are currently viewed as even remotely vulnerable in 2014, only three of them voted “no” — Valadao, fellow California freshman Gary G. Miller and sophomore Michael G. Grimm, the only Republican in the House from New York City.
The others who opposed the bill were Shelley Moore Capito, the early favorite to win West Virginia’s open Senate seat next year; Peter T. King, Chris Gibson and Richard Hanna of New York; Christopher H. Smith and Frank A. LoBiondo of New Jersey; Michael G. Fitzpatrick and Patrick Meehan of Pennsylvania; Don Young of Alaska, Frank R. Wolf of Virginia, Walter B. Jones of North Carolina and Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska.