In a move that has some political observers scratching their heads, U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, voted with 86 other House Republicans on Wednesday to settle the 16-day stalemate in the nation’s capital, siding with 198 Democrats to temporarily end the partial shutdown of the federal government and raise the debt ceiling.
Tipton represents Colorado’s sprawling 3rd District, which includes Aspen and Pitkin County but also many rural areas aligned with conservatives and the so-called tea party, whose affiliates in Congress generally have garnered the most blame for starting and prolonging the shutdown affair. His decision was seen as unusual in light of the fact that he has always been supported by the tea party and is considered to be solidly in its corner.
“Frankly, I was pleasantly surprised that Scott Tipton voted (with the Democrats), and I’m very relieved and happy that the government is open again and that we did not put the country over the brink of disaster,” said Blanca O’Leary, who chairs the Pitkin County Democratic Party.
O’Leary said she’s not sure why Tipton — who had been supportive of the House GOP effort not to pass a 2014 federal budget because of its opposition to the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare” — went along with moderate Republican leadership to bring a halt to the crisis. She said local Democrats sent many emails and made numerous phone calls to Tipton’s Washington, D.C., office in an attempt to change his mind on the issue.
“I hope it’ll be the beginning of (congressmen) not doing business in this way anymore,” she said of the Republican tactics to hold the budget hostage to ideologies. “It didn’t pay off, and I’m hoping they learned a lesson.”
Though Tipton may not call himself a tea party member, O’Leary noted that in the three years he’s represented the 3rd District, he consistently has voted with the far-right GOP faction. In fact, Tipton was propelled into office during the 2009-10 movement that saw the emergence of the tea party, which paralleled President Barack Obama’s first two years in office.
“I think Scott Tipton listened to the people in his district who asked him to do the right thing,” O’Leary said.
Tipton could not be reached for comment but issued a prepared statement about the decision.
“We have voted every way possible to repeal, de-fund and replace Obamacare in the House,” Tipton said. “Some even thought that a government shutdown would stop it. But as we’ve seen over the past two weeks, while some government functions have ceased during the shutdown, Obamacare has continued unaffected.”
Tipton pointed out that even though federal spending bills originate in the House, changes to a law, including the Affordable Care Act, require House, Senate and presidential approval.
“When the legislative process fails, gridlock ensues and unintended consequences can occur — such as a default on our national debt, damage to our economy, lost jobs and an extended government shutdown,” he said. “There have been many opinions on the best way to stop Obamacare and it’s important to remember that a difference in tactics is not a difference in principle. There is no question that Obamacare is raising costs and decreasing access to care in this country, and that it must be replaced.”
The agreement reached Wednesday “includes positive steps to extend responsible spending reforms, prevent a national default on nearly $17 trillion of U.S. debt, and reopen the government. It protects the economy and sets the stage for further budget negotiations to address our nation’s spending crisis,” Tipton said.
Frieda Wallison, who chairs the Pitkin County GOP, said she believes Tipton showed “courage and leadership” by voting to end the partial shutdown.
However, she said she was not surprised by his decision, regardless of whether Tipton enjoys overwhelming support from the tea party.
“I think you have to give him credit for deciding that was the right thing to do,” Wallison said. “Personally, I think the Affordable Care Act is a disaster, but let’s let it implode under its own weight.”
Wallison questioned Obama’s tactics during the shutdown, saying that he could have averted it or stopped it sooner had he simply met with GOP leaders to discuss differences.
“I’m amazed the president didn’t step in and try to end it,” she said. “He was nowhere to be found. In the end it took some cooler heads — (Senate Republicans) primarily — to work this out.”