Raleigh, N.C. — As the U.S. House's Republican caucus clashes over the vote to raise the debt ceiling, North Carolina’s delegation is in the national spotlight on the front lines of the battle.
The standoff that led to the federal shutdown officially began with a letter written by 11th District Congressman Rep. Mark Meadows. His letter urged House Speaker John Boehner not to pass a continuing resolution to keep the government open unless it included language to de-fund the Affordable Care Act.
Among the 80 Congress members who signed the letter, dubbed the “Suicide Caucus” by conservative Fox News commentator Charles Krauthammer, were five out of the nine Republicans in North Carolina's House delegation – Meadows, 13th District Congressman George Holding, 8th District Congressman Richard Hudson, 6th District Congressman Howard Coble and 3rd District Congressman Walter Jones.
That puts North Carolina in a tie with Michigan for the state with the second-most signatories to the Meadows letter. Texas was in first place, with 11 of its 24 Republican House members signing on.
In addition, Holding, Hudson, Jones and Meadows also signed on to co-sponsor the “Graves bill,” the House legislation linking the continuing resolution to the de-funding of the health care law.
Asked in July about linking the two, North Carolina’s Republican Senator Richard Burr called it “the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard.” He followed up Wednesday, telling The New York Times the strategy has been a failure.
“Let’s just say sometimes learning what can’t be accomplished is an important long-term thing,” Burr told the newspaper, “and hopefully, for some of the members, they’ve learned it’s impossible to de-fund mandatory programs by shutting down the federal government.”
Asked for a response, the North Carolina Republican Party attacked Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan instead. The GOP is hoping to take her seat in 2014.
"During the shutdown, Kay Hagan has refused to work across the aisle to broker a compromise, instead spending her time holding ritzy fundraisers with lobbyists in Washington,” N.C. GOP director Todd Poole said in a statement. “Given countless opportunities to support commonsense proposals supported by Republicans and moderate Democrats to keep paying our veterans and reopen national parks during the shutdown, Kay Hagan has sided with (Senate Majority Leader) Harry Reid over hard-working North Carolinians."
Hagan, it should be noted, was opposed to the shutdown, as was Burr, and while the Senate managed to come up with a bipartisan plan Wednesday, the House Republican majority was unable to do so.
In the meantime, the shutdown has had an outsized effect on North Carolina, thanks to the high number of federal workers – Defense Department employees and contractors working at the state’s military bases and in Research Triangle Park. Thousands of those workers have been furloughed since Oct. 1.
The impasse has taken a toll on the state’s safety net programs, too. The federally funded Work First welfare program has been shuttered. Childcare subsidies for low-income families are being suspended in at least one-third of the state’s counties. Food aid to families with infants and young children was temporarily shut down, then reopened. Job training for displaced employees and people with disabilities has been suspended.
Still, William Peace University political science professor David McLennan said he doesn’t expect North Carolina’s five signatories in the House to pay a political price next November for backing the shutdown.
“That’s a long time for people to forget, particularly because cliffhangers have become part of our political culture. People think it’s just politics as usual,” said McLennan. “If we get past this, there’s no debt ceiling breach, and the economy comes back. A lot of this will be forgotten.”
While Meadows’ and Hudson’s western districts are less affected by the shutdown, he said, “For someone like Jones, it’s a much more risky proposition, because all the military employees in his district are feeling it on a daily basis.”
Holding, too, is taking a risk, McLennan added, “because his district does touch on the Triangle, and the Triangle’s not as ‘tea party’ as other parts of the state.”
But, he says, the new congressional districts were redrawn in such a way that most of the signatories could lose 10 percent of their support without losing their seats – and that may be why they’re playing a more prominent role in the House GOP’s feud.
“I think it shows what’s happened in the last two election cycles in North Carolina,” McLennan said. “Not only has the congressional delegation changed, but the Republican Party has changed. These are tea party-supported folks. That’s how they ran, and that’s how they’re going to vote. This is not the traditional Democrat-Republican state of 10 years ago.”