Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.) knows he's likely going to face a well-funded Democratic challenger next year and that his opponent will try to tie him to the ongoing battles over the budget, health-care reform and immigration. With little ability to steer those debates, Meehan is looking for other ways to keep busy.


Reps. Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.), left, and retiring Rep. John Runyan (R-N.J.), right. (Matt Rourke/AP)

He recently helped a pharmaceutical firm in his district secure a new patent from the FDA. He pushed the Justice Department to allow U.S. Airways to merge with American Airlines because thousands of plane mechanics and flight attendants live in his district. And he took up the case of a local 11-year old girl who federal regulators said couldn't receive a rare double lung transplant. After Meehan earned national news attention for the case, regulators relented and the girl is now recovering.

Each of those achievements is notable, but not likely to dominate a news cycle. But that doesn't bother Meehan, who's banking on the theory that voters don't like Congress but still like him.

"I believe that what people do – especially in a district like mine – they really look at the person and they appreciate that there’s a whole lot of road blocks and challenges to trying to get to resolutions," he said in an interview. "But this guy understands me and he understands what it’s like to struggle and he fights for me. And you know, he’s getting some things done that have made a difference in my life -- and I’ll take that."

Meehan's district is one target of the Democratic Party as it works toward its goal of retaking the House of Representatives or at least narrowing the GOP's control of the chamber. Democrats would need to win at least 18 seats next year to retake the House of Representatives -- a tall order in the final two years of a Democratic presidency.

Over the weekend The Post explored how troubles with the Affordable Care Act may have dashed those Democratic goals in places like the Philadelphia suburbs. Our story on Sunday focused primarily on Democrats, but it's worth considering the Republicans like Meehan whom they hope to defeat.

Take Rt. 309 out of Philadelphia north toward Allentown, and you'll pass through Meehan's district. To the north is the district represented by Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.). President Obama won both in 2008 and lost both by less than one percentage point in 2012.

"I represent an independent and thoughtful area, one of the few truly remaining swing districts in the country," Fitzpatrick said in an interview. "My constituents want a smaller, smarter federal government, one that puts people and problems above petty political games of national parties. Right now my constituents are not happy with either political party."

Based on calls to his office, Fitzpatrick knows that constituents "want a workable answer to the health-care crisis," he said.

So he came up with a potential replacement for the Affordable Care Act with Rep. Joe Heck (R-Nev.), another vulnerable Republican. Their proposal would copy and paste the first few hundred pages of the Affordable Care Act about consumer protections and then replace the rest of the law with what Fitzpatrick describes as a "market-based approach."

Before troubles with the new health-care law began dominating the nation's attention, it looked as if Republicans might suffer grave consequences for prompting the partial government shutdown. Knowing they would take heat back home, both Meehan and Fitzpatrick vigorously opposed tea party-backed colleagues who insisted on the shutdown as a way to undo the new law.

Working with Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) -- another moderate GOP lawmaker who might face a tough challenge next year -- they met with several moderate House Democrats in hopes of drafting a bipartisan way to reopen the government. The deal fell apart amid pressure from party leaders.

"We were working very hard at it," Fitzpatrick recalled. "We put forward plans to do so and Democrats brought the plan to their leader and it was soundly rejected by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi."

Almost immediately, Democrats began attacking. His likely Democratic opponent, Kevin Strouse, a former Army Ranger and CIA analyst, suggested that Fitzpatrick's unwillingness to work with Democrats jeopardized national security.

Strouse said in a statement that he experienced the affects of the congressional gridlock "first hand as a manager at the CIA when Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick and the House GOP's irresponsible brinksmanship and reckless threats to shut down the government distracted from our job of protecting the country."

Fitzpatrick insists that the shutdown could have been avoided if Obama had been willing to delay the new law. "That would have been a wise move, because we both would have avoided a temporary shutdown and the Affordable Care Act is clearly not ready for implementation," he said.

Meehan hasn't drawn a Democratic opponent yet, but national Democrats still expect to challenge him. Across the Delaware River in New Jersey, Democrats are also targeting Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.) and the district of retiring Rep. John Runyan (R-N.J.).

Meehan believes his voters will send him back to Washington next year in part to serve as a counterweight to the final years of the Obama presidency.

"Being a check, I think, is an important part of our government," he said.

"This marriage is broken on both sides and you're one voice among 400," he added. "You do your best to show notwithstanding, we're working together on things where we can find common agreement and make a difference. But I do think being a check is important."

Follow Ed O'Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost

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