Can area congressmen restart the government?

    U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-New Jersey, opposes renewal of the National Flood Insurance Program. He says he's

    U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-New Jersey, opposes renewal of the National Flood Insurance Program. He says he's "sick and tired of having to defend the people in my district and the people in the Northeast from policies that don’t mean the right thing for us." (AP file photo)

    As the country wrestles with the federal government shutdown, some area Republican congressmen are showing signs they’ll buck party leaders and vote to fund the government without conditions conservative lawmakers are insisting on.

    It would be too much to call it a revolt. So far, the local Republicans have voted with their leadership to impose conditions on continued funding for the government, which Democrats have rejected, leading to the shutdown.

    But several Republicans from suburban districts have indicated that they’d vote to give Democrats what they want — a spending resolution without conditions and an agreement to deal with differences on Obamacare and other issues later.

    Pennsylvania Reps. Mike Fitzpatrick, Pat Meehan, Charles Dent and Jim Gerlach, as well as New Jersey Congressman Frank LoBiondo, have all said in some way or another they’d support a “clean” continuing resolution to fund the government.

    But it’s a tricky pledge, because they’re promising to support something that hasn’t come up for a vote, and won’t unless the Republican leadership brings it up.

    The reps have their say

    I scattered calls to these representatives and managed to speak to two, Delaware County’s Pat Meehan and South Jersey’s Frank LoBiondo.

    “Listen, I would vote for a clean CR if that’s what the solution is,” LoBiondo told me, adding that he’s also voting for new Republican leadership proposals to fund certain parts of the government, which Democrats are certain to reject, leaving the shutdown in place.

    “Why does the Senate get to dictate what they feel is the right way to go?” LoBiondo said. “I mean, it may wind up that way, but what I’m trying to say here is, if you’re going to act in good faith, you can’t just say it’s going to be my way completely or no way at all.”

    Rutgers political scientist Ross Baker said that’s LoBiondo doing what members of Congress do.

    “They try to structure their votes in such a way that they’re on the right side of both sides of the issue,” Baker said with a chuckle. “You know, he doesn’t want to get out of alignment with his caucus, and on the other hand, he’s got a constituency that is not at all like some of his tea party colleagues.”

    I asked Meehan what he would do if a clean resolution came to the floor.

    “I’ve said I don’t want to see the government shut down,” he said. “I want to see a clean resolution that gets us back to work, but I want to see us use that to assure that we get to a table and begin to negotiate.”

    Meehan says those negotiations should include the current spending fight as well as the forthcoming battle over extending the federal debt limit.

    Politics and principle

    Franklin & Marshall College political scientist Terry Madonna said the suburban Republicans are acting on politics (they know the shutdown is unpopular) and on principle.

    “I think these lawmakers believe that a shutdown is not the right thing to do,” Madonna said. “It also happens to conform to the interests of the voters in that district, and the two go hand in glove.”

    While suburban Republicans haven’t defied their leaders on actual votes yet, their public statements give Democrats some hope for an end to the standoff.

    The office of U.S. Rep. Jim Gerlach, who represents suburbs west of Philadelphia, released a statement in which he said he would vote for a clean budget measure, while pledging to continue the fight against Obamacare.

    The statement also offered a sampling of what he’s heard from constituents.

    The weekend email ran this way:

         • 2,584 (52 percent) support continuing to fund government operations, including funding for Obamacare.     • 1,917 (39 percent) support shutting down the government …if the continuing resolution does not defund or delay Obamacare.     • 398 (8 percent) checked “other.”

    And since midnight Tuesday, when the federal government partially shut down, the office phones have had:

         • 458 (89 percent) messages registering strong opposition to a government shutdown.     • 56 (10 percent) messages in favor of staying the course and keeping government shut down.

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