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July 29, 2014

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Even without a safe GOP district, Heck willing to continue shutdown fight

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Leila Navidi

U.S. Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev. speaks to the press outside after a Town Hall at Windmill Library in Las Vegas on Tuesday, July 2, 2013.

With only eight days left before Washington’s fiscal impasse leads the country to default on its debts, the drumbeat from congressional Democrats is only getting louder: House Republicans must pass a clean budget and debt limit extension or bear the blame for the resulting catastrophe.

But even in the face of considerable political pressure, Nevada’s House Republicans flatly reject the charges.

“Democrats always jump all over me. They started jumping all over me the day after the last election,” Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., told the Sun Tuesday. He represents the exceptionally purple 3rd Congressional District divided almost perfectly between Democratic and Republican voters who, Heck said, are split 50-50 on how to approach the current budget crisis.

“In a way, when you know that no matter what you do, 50 percent of the district is not going to be happy, does it matter?” Heck said of his constituents. “Really, it frees me to concentrate on doing what I think is best.”

What is best, in Heck’s opinion, is withholding support for a clean budget resolution until Democrats make some concessions on deficit reduction. He is sticking to his guns on that, even if other House Republicans think it’s about time to give in to Democrats’ demands.

Nearly two dozen Republicans, many of whom have more partisan voting records than either Nevada GOP congressman — recently signed a pledge to vote for a clean budget resolution if it comes up.

“It would have to be a bill, and I don’t comment on hypothetical bills,” Heck said when the Sun asked if he might consider signing on.

But in theory, Heck is not on board.

“What is there associated with the clean (budget resolution)?” he asked. “How are we going to address our debt and our deficit?”

Since mid-September, the House and Senate have been bitterly fighting over House Republicans’ insistence that any fiscal 2014 budget resolution eliminate funding or delay mandates in the Affordable Care Act.

The impasse has resulted in a partial government shutdown. Gov. Brian Sandoval warned Tuesday that the state faces “catastrophic issues” if the shutdown lasts past Oct. 31.

“It’s not just about Obamacare, it’s about our spiraling debt and deficit,” Heck said of the standoff. “To say that the Senate and the president don’t want to negotiate, when we’ve negotiated on previous debt limits, shows that they really don’t have an interest in solving the problem.”

Heck isn’t alone in his opinion — Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., sees things the same way.

“We ain’t repealing Obamacare, we ain’t defunding Obamacare, we get that," Amodei said. “It’s not just health care. It’s $2 trillion more in debt. If you get policy concessions in order for having more debt, what’s the matter with that? What’s the evil in that?”

Amodei may not have as purple a district as Heck, whom, he surmised, has “gotta be mindful of who his folks are.”

But Amodei was quick to point out that he does represent Washoe County, which is fairly evenly divided between Democrat and Republican registrations, and could easily reject his stance on the current budget crisis.

“I campaigned in this county twice in the last two years on ‘you can’t borrow 40 cents of every dollar you spend,’ I campaigned on the Obamacare issue, and none of that’s changed,” Amodei said. “If they’ve changed their minds, then it’s like I’ve always said … if I get fired for that, then I’ll accept it.”

Yet, even as Democrats ramp up the pressure on Republicans for being, as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid calls them, “anarchists,” they admit that it is only in rare cases that their threats will have electoral consequences.

“A big chunk of the Republican Party is in gerrymandered districts where there’s no competition,” President Barack Obama said Tuesday, in an attempt to diagnose the source of the standoff between the two halves of Congress.

That gerrymandering, Democrats have long argued, makes some Republicans impervious to national opinion polls that show their approval ratings tanking, because the GOP has such a stronghold in the areas they represent.

By the numbers, Heck should not enjoy such political cover. As of last month, there are 136,744 actively registered Democrats and 127,126 Republicans, with an additional 88,702 nonpartisan and third-party voters.

Democratic political action committees have already started to launch ads calling on Heck to stop supporting Republicans who play “a dangerous game” with the federal budget. Republicans accuse the Democrats of playing a much more dangerous political game.

“This negotiating stance, this non-negotiating stance is completely pointed at the destruction of the House Republican Conference, because everything else takes care of itself,” Amodei said.

Reid has pulled no punches in pointing out the discord has splintered factions of Republicans away from House Speaker John Boehner, while reminding that “Democrats stand unified … I’m not a one-man show over here.”

With little time left on the clock, Reid has only become more insistent in his demands that Boehner put a clean continuing resolution on the House floor for a straight up-or-down vote and stop trying to orchestrate new negotiating committees.

“We’ll go to conference on anything you want to go to conference on, we don’t care,” Reid said. “But first, you’ve gotta allow us to reopen the government and allow us to repay our bills.”

Heck brushes such warnings off as the scare tactics of an uncompromising Democratic leader.

“I think there’s plenty of time to lay out a framework on how to move forward to control our debt and our deficit while addressing the issues of funding governments and addressing the issues that are going to be associated with raising the debt limit,” Heck said.

But in Nevada, the consequences have already started. In a meeting with his cabinet, Sandoval warned that Nevada would soon run out of money to process unemployment benefits or cover food stamps, and that National Guard vehicles had already been grounded because of a lack of funds to pay for basics, such as gas.

When asked if he would take any public legislative steps to speed up a conclusion, Heck demurred.

“What I offer and where I have my discussions is with leadership behind closed doors ... I like to influence things behind the scenes,” Heck said, adding that he keeps engaging with his constituents.

“We send out our email blasts, we post our stuff on social messaging, you know, I explain where I am on the issue,” Heck said. “I have people that agree and people that disagree — that’s what happens when, as you imagine, you’re in a 50-50 district.”

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