Cravaack's political future on the line?

  • Article by: JEREMY HERB and JIM SPENCER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 29, 2011 - 10:46 PM

GOP holdout will need his leadership's backing for '12.

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U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack

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WASHINGTON - Republican Rep. Chip Cravaack's vote Friday against a bill to raise the debt ceiling and lower the deficit was a stinging rebuke of the GOP leadership in the House of Representatives.

The decision by Cravaack, a freshman representing Minnesota's Eighth Congressional District, exemplifies the trouble that Speaker John Boehner has had in controlling members elected -- as Cravaack was -- with support of the anti-government Tea Party movement.

Boehner's supporters, including Minnesota Reps. John Kline and Erik Paulsen, spent hours lobbying Cravaack in the 24 hours leading up to the vote on Boehner's bill. Rep. Pat Meehan, R-Pa., visited Cravaack twice, once on Thursday night and again Friday afternoon, trying to get him onboard with the House leadership. Meehan chairs a subcommittee on which Cravaack serves.

Cravaack was among a cluster of Republican holdouts who forced two embarrassing vote cancellations by Boehner, leaving the speaker unable to muster enough party support to pass a bill to increase the debt ceiling and cut the deficit until late Friday afternoon.

The re-tooled bill passed on a narrow 218 to 210 vote. (Boehner needed 216 votes to approve the bill.) Many of Cravaack's demands were included, but that wasn't enough to draw the support of the Minnesota congressman.

Cravaack said the balanced budget amendment he helped force into the latest version was too "easily eradicated." He also complained that the bill contained no long-term deficit reduction. So the former Navy pilot stuck by a fiscal script that some say could force the United States to default on its financial obligations.

Cravaack may have put his political future on the line with his decision to force changes in the bill while ultimately withholding his support. The freshman lawmaker has already made himself a Democratic target by recently announcing that his family is moving to New Hampshire for his wife's job. Cravaack ousted 18-year incumbent Democrat Jim Oberstar in part by painting him as a Beltway politician who had lost touch with his northern Minnesota district.

In running for re-election, he'll need the support of his party's leadership to get legislation passed and to raise the money to campaign for 2012.

Kathryn Pearson, a University of Minnesota political scientist, said Cravaack had put himself in a no-win situation. "Many of the Republicans were in no-win situations," Pearson said. "You don't want to defy the party leadership, but you don't want to defy the Tea Party. And meanwhile, the public wants compromise. I would guess these past two days have been his toughest in Congress"

Asked how badly he'd been bruised by the last-minute lobbying, Cravaack quipped, "I won't take off my shirt, let's put it that way."

Jim Spencer • 202-408-2752 Jeremy Herb • 202-408-2723

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