While Cantor has been crafting the softer agenda, McCarthy’s job has been to secure the votes for its passage, a whip operation that fellow Republicans have privately mocked.
For a few dozen core conservatives, cutting spending and eliminating the health-care law are such paramount goals that they tend to oppose any new spending or any health-related bill that would not repeal the 2010 law — no matter what Cantor and McCarthy say.
“You’re replacing one big-government program for another big-government program, and I don’t think that’s what the American people are asking us to do,” Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) said Wednesday at a forum held by the Heritage Foundation.
Reconsidered in May
Some GOP lawmakers and aides said that the health-care measure appeared too quickly, winning committee passage last week, and that there was insufficient time to build support for it. Senior advisers suggested that it would be brought up again in May.
But the defeat signaled again that, only when a large bloc of Democrats is also voting with them can Republican leaders truly guarantee a floor victory.
Without Democratic support, GOP leaders have only about 15 votes of their own to spare. Club for Growth and Heritage Action have shown an ability to hold sway over a few dozen Republicans, those from the strongest GOP-leaning districts who would have the most to fear if a well-financed conservative challenger appeared in a primary.
On April 9, leadership brought a bill to the floor to allow state and local governments to purchase battlefield sites from the Revolutionary War. A few hours before the vote Heritage Action opposed the measure and announced that it would “key vote” the roll call, putting it in its rolling score card measuring how conservative a lawmaker is. The group declared it “irresponsible” for any government to be purchasing more land in such tight budgetary times.
Cantor, McCarthy, the entire leadership team and every major committee chairman supported the bill, including Ryan. It received just 101 Republicans votes, as 122 GOP lawmakers opposed it.
The measure passed only because of universal Democratic support.
Ed O’Keefe contributed to this report.
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