The Washington Post

Rep. Tom Cole embracing a path he tried to avoid

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said a government shutdown cold be devastating to his party. (Sue Ogrocki/AP)

For days, Rep. Tom Cole (Okla.) has had a message for fellow Republicans: A government shutdown could be devastating to their party.

“Politically, anybody who thinks it’s not high risk is just not playing with a full deck,” he said Saturday. “It’s extraordinarily high risk for not much gain.”

A close ally of House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), Cole is a member of the House’s vote-counting whip team and a member of Congress since 2003, making him a GOP elder in a House stacked with Republicans elected in the 2010 tea party wave.

But by Saturday, Cole had endorsed the chosen path of the most conservative members of the House. He said he supported sending back to the Senate a short-term spending bill that would avert a shutdown, but with new amendments to delay implementation of the federal health-care law for a year and eliminate a tax on medical devices.

But unlike the hard-liners who cast the new plan as victory for those who want to stop the health-care law, Cole, 64, presented the new strategy as one more cautious step toward avoiding a government shutdown.

“Let’s see what happens,” he said. “We’re going to move our response to what they did. And then we’ll see what they send back.”

“We’re working the process,” he said.

Rosalind Helderman is a political enterprise and investigations reporter for the Washington Post.

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