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GOP's LoBiondo, Meehan: time for House to change course

By Jonathan Tamari

WASHINGTON – Frank LoBiondo, a longtime Republican Congressman from the Atlantic City area, said Tuesday morning it's time for his colleagues to develop a new strategy in the ongoing shutdown battle, signaling that he might break from conservatives who insist that any bill to fund the government must include changes to Obamacare.

Three other Republicans from the Philadelphia suburbs -- U.S. Reps. Pat Meehan, Mike Fitzpatrick and Jon Runyan -- all also said Tuesday they would back a "clean" spending bill that funds the government without any other policy demands, as President Obama and Democrats have insisted on. U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent, a Republican from Allentown, backed that approach Monday, meaning five House Republicans from the area have now backed a change of course, though the GOP's most conservative bloc is pressing to continue the fight.

LoBiondo first showed his dissatisfaction around 1 a.m. Tuesday, when he was one of just nine Republicans to oppose the latest House plan intended to fund the government but chip away at President Obama's health care law.

"At a certain point, if the strategy is not going to get us a result or a conclusion, I'm not going to go along with it," said LoBiondo, who represents a moderate district that Obama won by more than 10 points in 2012. "I want to see a result. The bigger fight's coming on the debt limit."

He added, "You've got a bunch of members in the conference who don't believe we should do anything but stay the course. I believe there are more members in the conference who believe we need to get a result."

UPDATE: Meehan, Fitzpatrick and Runyan also backed a "clean" spending bill.

"I came to DC to fix gov't, not shut it down," Meehan, of Delaware County, wrote on Twitter Tuesday. "It's time for House to vote for a clean, short-term funding bill to bring Senate to the table."

Fitzpatrick, from Bucks County, issued a statement saying he has supported a spending bill at current funding levels. An aide said he would back that approach if it was presented for a vote. A Runyan aide said the same.

"Americans want their government to remain open and want to see public officials resolve our differences to put our country back on the right track," Fitzpatrick said in a statement.

LoBiondo would not say if he would support a "clean" spending bill, as Democrats have demanded and a few moderate Republicans have called for - including Allentown U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent.

Few other House Republicans, though, have publicly supported that idea, with many still arguing that the party must stand strong in opposition to the new health care law, which they contend will harm the economy and health coverage.

But as the shutdown takes hold, LoBiondo made it clear that he favors a change in how House Republicans approach this fight, which has been driven by the most conservative GOP bloc.

LoBiondo, in his 10th term, was in Congress during the 1995-96 shutdown and remembers the damage it did.

"I've been through this before," he said in an interview as the work day began and the shutdown effects became visible. "The last time around we were promised this would be very short lived. Twenty days later we were still in the same room. I'd like us to find a way to move forward."

Before Tuesday morning, LoBiondo had voted for each of the House Republicans' previous proposals – each of which was rejected by the Senate. He broke ranks when GOP leaders inserted a provision calling for formal negotiations with the Senate. Meehan, Fitzpatrick and Runyan have also voted for all of the previous House plans, including the last one, early Tuesday.

LoBiondo said that idea had not been vetted with the rank-and-file. He voted in favor of other plans that included a full defunding of Obamacare, repealing the medical device tax and delaying the health law by a year, each of which was attached to a short-term bill to keep the government running.

LoBiondo faces a potential political challenge in 2014. Obama took 54 percent of the vote in LoBiondo's district in 2012 – third most among the 17 Republican-held districts that Obama won. LoBiondo has long fended off opponents – he won by 18 points last year – but Democrats have made him a prime target this year and several hopefuls are lining up to challenge him.

Democrats have run robo-calls targeting LoBiondo in recent weeks, he said, acknowledging that a shutdown is likely to make many constituents angry.

Phone calls to his office, he said, range from "Obamacare is killing the country, stay the course" to "we'd like to see you burned at the stake because you're part of the problem."

LoBiondo said staying the course should be ruled out as lawmakers enter another day of strategizing and (presumably) votes.

"Call it a new strategy, call it a new direction, we've got to do something to get the problem solved," he said. "They can't try just re-circulating things that have not worked before."

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