If Republican Tom Massie’s push to dismantle President Obama’s health-care law shuts down the government and costs him his House seat, he’d happily return to his solar-powered home back in Kentucky with his kids.

That’s making life difficult for Republican House Speaker John Boehner.

The red-haired Massie, who has two engineering degrees and 24 patents, represents a new breed of Republican in Washington: recently elected to the House, not bound by fealty to leaders and unmoved by the usual tools of enforcing party discipline.

This group, not large enough to be a majority yet big enough to prevent one, is shaping the course of Congress in ways not seen since Republicans took over the House in 1994.

Now they’re using that power to raise the specter of the first federal government shutdown since that era. Massie is prepared for whatever happens, saying life was much better before he got elected to Congress in 2012.

“The last thing I fear is going back and leading that same life,” Massie said in an interview.


House lawmakers return to Washington Tuesday and have just five scheduled working days to pass legislation to keep the government funded past Sept. 30, the end of the federal fiscal year.

That job became more difficult last week when Massie and other first- and second-term lawmakers banded together to reject a spending proposal from Boehner’s leadership team, heightening the risk that the government may shut down even though it may cause a political backlash from other Republicans.

“Those who are newly elected to Congress might not realize the long-term implication this could have for the Republican Party,” said Joe Gaylord, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s political adviser during the shutdowns in 1995 and 1996. “The overwhelming sentiment of the electorate is opposed to complete obstructionists. That’s the way they’ll be seen.”

None of these new Republicans were there for those shutdowns, and they tend to play down the political risks. Massie and others say they can shift the blame to the Democratic-controlled Senate if Republicans craft a reasonable plan with enough money to keep the lights on after Sept. 30.

“We were elected to repeal and replace Obamacare,” said Rep. Dennis Ross, a Florida Republican elected in 2010. “We’ve got to offer an alternative for the sake of our credibility.”

The clout of these congressional newcomers comes in part from their sheer numbers — close to half, or 103, of the 233 Republicans in the House have served three years or less, according to data compiled by Bloomberg News.

A total of 41 House Republicans, about 18 percent of the caucus, have repeatedly voted against their leadership this year, according to the Bloomberg data. Many are aligned with the anti-tax Tea Party.

There’s no clear leader in the group, which instead forms small coalitions from issue to issue. In addition to Massie, who was counting votes against the Republican leadership plan last week, influential voices include Tom Graves of Georgia, who introduced an alternative spending plan last week, and North Carolina freshman Mark Meadows.

They work closely with longer-tenured House members Steve Scalise of Louisiana, chairman of the Republican Study Committee, a group of more than 160 lawmakers that promotes small government, and Jim Jordan of Ohio, who carries a 100 percent lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union.

Among 233 House Republicans, Boehner can’t lose more than 16 votes to pass a spending measure, or he’ll need help from Democrats who oppose defunding the health-care law. If he can’t command enough Republican votes, he could face a tough speakership re-election in early 2015.

Without support from this band of rogue Republicans, a House vote on a transportation funding bill was called off. Their opposition doomed a farm bill and forced Republican leaders to rewrite it.

“What’s great about our leadership is they welcome other ideas,” Graves, who was elected in 2010, said in an interview.

Often the leadership doesn’t have a choice. These members exist largely outside the reach of Boehner of Ohio and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia.


Previous House speakers wielded influence by stripping rogue members of committee assignments or rewarding good behavior with hometown spending projects known as earmarks. Those actions aren’t as meaningful for Boehner. The anti-tax tea party members want less spending and show little interest in leadership. Targeted spending projects, or earmarks, are banned.

With support from groups like Club for Growth and Heritage Action for America, these Republicans don’t need to rely on the fundraising power that House leaders can offer.

For many Republicans, their biggest fear is not a challenge from a Democrat, because most House seats are drawn to favor the party in power. These new members fear getting a primary from the right, so standing up to party leaders is a way to win favor with deep-pocketed conservative groups.

Graves said one of the biggest differences between his legislation and the original spending proposal from leadership was procedural. The Republican leadership plan would have allowed Senate Democrats to strip out a provision defunding the health-care law and pass the spending measure on to Obama for his approval.

The Graves bill would require any Senate changes to be sent back to the House for approval, increasing the chances there would be no government funding by Sept. 30.

Massie — who grew up in the Bluegrass State before heading to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he collected two engineering degrees — called Boehner’s proposal “hocus pocus” and a “semantic trick.”

“If our members genuinely believed that our leadership does want to defund Obamacare and is willing to stake some political capital on that effort, then we would entertain other ways of achieving that,” said Massie, wearing a “Liberty” pin on his lapel, just under another of the U.S. flag. “There’s a lack of trust between the leadership and the conference on this issue.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.