WASHINGTON — San Joaquin Valley Republicans split at the edge of the cliff Wednesday, as they divided over whether to reopen the federal government and avoid an unprecedented default by extending the government’s debt ceiling.
Facing a feared economic chasm, three GOP House members from the Valley backed off their previous hard line and voted for a bill that dropped the “Obamacare” rollbacks and revisions they once deemed essential. Buoyed by unanimous Democratic support, the House approved the legislation by a 285-144 margin.
Two House Republicans from the Valley stuck to their guns and opposed the bill that ends the first federal government shutdown in 17 years.
Valley Reps. David Valadao, R-Hanford; Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield; and Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, voted for the bill that some thought could have been passed drama-free several weeks ago.
“This has to end,” Valadao said late Wednesday afternoon, explaining that “the debt ceiling is a place I didn’t want to go to.”
Nunes, agreeing that “we’ve got to get the government back open,” denounced the congressional tea party “lemmings” he said blindly marched Republicans into the showdown in the first place. One unexpected byproduct of the shutdown has been a higher national profile for Nunes, who has vividly denounced the tactic publicly in the press and privately in GOP caucus meetings.
“There’s no question this was a bad move,” Nunes said of the shutdown. “I think it’s pretty evident in the polls.”
Another byproduct of the shutdown imbroglio was to cast doubt on the acumen of the House GOP leadership team, which includes McCarthy as majority whip.
But Reps. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, and Tom McClintock, R-Granite Bay, joined 142 other House Republicans – a majority of the Republican caucus – in opposing the bill, with Denham explaining his opposition as driven by concern about the federal debt.
“The American people deserve long-term solutions to stop the spending, stop running up the debt and give real certainty to families across the country and the financial markets so we can get back on a path to economic success and job growth,” Denham said in a statement issued after the late-night vote.
Denham did not make reference in his one-paragraph statement to the health care law, the original impetus behind the Republicans’ use of a government shutdown as bargaining leverage.
The divided House Republicans’ support for the deal negotiated by Senate leaders, combined with the support of all voting House Democrats, extends until Feb.7 the debt ceiling that if breached could result in an unprecedented federal government default.
The bill also ends the shutdown that since Oct. 1 has furloughed hundreds of thousands of federal workers and caused collateral damage among those who depend on federal assets such as Yosemite National Park.
“It’s starting to have a serious impact on local businesses,” Jarrod Lyman, public relations director for the Yosemite Sierra Visitors Bureau, said in a telephone interview Wednesday, adding that “a lot of the international visitors have shaken their head that this could happen.”
A survey by the visitors bureau found that 59 lodging businesses in Madera County, a gateway to Yosemite, are down about $600,000 in sales this month compared with October of last year at this time, Lyman noted.
McClintock, the conservative career legislator who represents Yosemite, voted against the government-reopening bill. His office did not respond to multiple queries Wednesday.
In recent House floor statements, though, McClintock has blasted the Obama administration for the “ruthless and vindictive way the shutdown has been handled” and declared that if Republicans “acquiesce” to Democratic demands, then “the nation’s spending will again dangerously accelerate (and) the deficit will again rapidly widen.”
The political fallout from the shutdown and debt-ceiling cliffhanger could take time to unwind.
McClintock holds a safely Republican seat spanning the Sierra Nevada from Lake Tahoe to Kings Canyon National Park, and he cast his vote knowing his greatest conceivable political threat might be from a primary challenge.
Valadao, by contrast, holds a seat that spans all or parts of Fresno, Tulare, Kings and Kern counties, and he is being targeted by Democrats. Like Denham, who represents Stanislaus and part of San Joaquin counties, Valadao has been on the receiving end of identically worded missives from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee since the shutdown started.
Republicans maintain their constituents have many complaints about the health care law formally known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
“I’m still getting a lot of comments from my district about Obamacare,” Valadao said, adding that “we proved to the world that we are working hard” to fix problems with the legislation.
The two Democrats who represent parts of the area between Stockton and Bakersfield, Reps. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, and Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton, voted for the bill, as did all 198 House Democrats who voted Wednesday night.
“For too long, our government has been closed for business while partisan bickering and inaction ruled the day,” said Costa, whose district includes Merced County.
California’s two senators, Democrats Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, joined in the large 81-18 Senate majority voting in favor of the bill, which now goes to the White House for President Barack Obama’s signature.
Bee Washington Bureau reporter Michael Doyle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (202)383-0006.