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Unyielding GOP politicians doing what voters ask
Friday - 2/15/2013, 5:22pm EST
HEBER CITY, Utah (AP) -- U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz flew home from Washington last week, leaving behind a capital baffled by Republicans like him in Congress: those who stubbornly refuse to compromise with President Barack Obama, a tactic that some see as damaging the GOP brand and pushing the nation repeatedly to the brink of fiscal chaos.
Back in his Utah district, Chaffetz drove to the Dairy Keen and barely had bitten into a bacon cheeseburger before a diner begged him to stop Obama's health care overhaul.
"It's the stupidest plan in the world," said Phoebe Eason, 69, leaning over her booth to complain about a clause that forces her husband, a podiatrist, to pay more for medical devices.
"I'm doing everything I can to repeal it or take out these sections," Chaffetz reassured her. Minutes later, he headed to a town hall where some constituents asked why the president hadn't yet been impeached.
To understand why the nation may remain politically gridlocked for the next two years, talk to people in a place like Heber City, a conservative farming and ranching hub nestled beneath the imposing peaks of the Wasatch mountains. Many voters here, and in conservative communities across the country, still want to do whatever it takes to stop Obama, despite his solid re-election in November, and the politicians they elect are listening.
In his State of the Union address this week, Obama laid out an ambitious agenda that includes gun control, raising the minimum wage, allowing most of the 11 million illegal immigrants in the country to become citizens and raising tax revenue to help cut the deficit.
But the president has acknowledged it will be difficult to get those proposals through a Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
"The House Republican majority is made up mostly of members who are in sharply gerrymandered districts that are very safely Republican and may not feel compelled to pay attention to broad-based public opinion, because what they're really concerned about is the opinions of their specific Republican constituencies," Obama said in an interview with The New Republic magazine last month.
Analysts differ on whether gerrymandering -- the practice of drawing district lines so your party can pick up more seats -- fully explains why Obama handily won re-election in November, even as Republicans lost only a handful of seats in the House. One thing is clear: Compromise is a dirty word for many of the Republicans remaining in the House.
A Pew poll last month found that 36 percent of GOP voters would look favorably on a politician who compromises, compared with 59 percent of Democrats and 53 percent of independent voters.
Virtually all House Republicans come from districts that voted against Obama in November. And in many states, primary voters have punished Republicans they see as too eager to cut deals with Democrats.
That's how Chaffetz, 45, won his seat in 2008. He challenged a 12-term Republican congressman who angered the party's base by backing an immigration overhaul that included granting citizenship to many illegal immigrants. Two years later, Utah Republican primary voters also pushed out Sen. Robert Bennett, replacing him with a tea party-supported candidate who is now the state's junior senator.
Though he has worked with Democrats on some bills, Chaffetz has refused to budge on some of the biggest issues in Washington. In 2011, he voted against raising the debt ceiling, arguing Congress and Obama weren't reining in entitlement spending. Most economists said that if the limit hadn't been raised it would have triggered a global depression. Last month, Chaffetz voted against the so-called fiscal cliff deal because it involved raising levies on those making more than $450,000 annually. Taxes would have risen on all income levels had the deal not passed.
Chaffetz also voted against aid for victims of Superstorm Sandy, saying the bill was larded with pork. He did vote to delay another debt ceiling confrontation until May, but said he won't budge on automatic spending cuts scheduled to kick in next month or on his opposition to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
"The perception inside the Beltway is dramatically different than in hometown America," Chaffetz said. "Most people in my district believe we've compromised too much."
Chaffetz's district stretches from the southern Salt Lake City suburbs and Provo, home to Brigham Young University, to the high valleys of Wasatch County. Nearly half of the county's 23,000 residents live in this town. Once an overlooked rural community far from the Salt Lake City metropolitan area, it has recently seen an influx of more liberal-minded residents drawn by its proximity to storied ski resorts like nearby Park City. In Utah, this place is almost a swing county. Nonetheless, it voted 3-1 for Romney in November.