WASHINGTON -- Nearly every Republican in the House of Representatives repeatedly voted to tie funding for the federal government to a delay in or outright repeal of Obamacare during the most recent government funding battle. After the Senate said each time that it would not accept anything but a "clean" funding bill, the government shut down for the first time in 17 years.
One of the Republicans who voted with the majority in the House was Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa), a close ally of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). He has recently argued that the GOP's plan to attach a measure delaying Obamacare to a government funding bill would avert a shutdown, and he has said that the Democratic-controlled Senate was to blame for the mess.
But in August, Latham explicitly rejected the idea of holding up government funding in order to repeal Obamacare.
"I'm certainly not for any kind of government shutdown for any reason," Latham told constituents at a town hall meeting in Atlantic, Iowa on Aug. 27. "Especially, you've got people in the armed services overseas, their family’s at home and to cut –- shut down the government and not support our men and women in uniform and their families, the veterans, all of those types of things -- I think it would be irresponsible."
"Some people talk to me about because of the Affordable Care Act -- the president’s health care bill –- that if we don’t defund it, that we should shut the government down," he added. "To me that’s not being responsible because it will have a huge, negative impact on, like I said before, our people -- men and women in uniform, veterans, and the entire government."
At another town hall on Aug. 9 in Guthrie Center, Latham acknowledged that defunding Obamacare would be a longshot.
"The problem is, the Senate will never pick that up. The president would never sign it, and what you’re looking at is a shutdown of the government at the end of September," he said.
Latham is no stranger to government shutdowns; he served in Congress during the ones that took place in 1995 and 1996. At the Aug. 9 town hall, Latham explained why a shutdown in 2013 would be more destructive than the one orchestrated by then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) in the mid 1990s.
"I was there back in ’95 when we shut the government down for about three weeks, but remember that was a partial shutdown," he said. "Defense was funded. A lot of other agencies were already funded. This time nothing’s funded, so you’ve got people over in Afghanistan, their families at home here who will not get paid or support they need."
"I think it’s a whole different dynamic," he added. "Everybody talks about shutting down, you know? I’m sorry, but we’ve got people in the field fighting for us over there, and I think we have a moral obligation to support them."
Congress and President Barack Obama did come to an agreement to pay service members during the shutdown, but about 800,000 federal workers are furloughed and will receive back pay only if Congress authorizes it -- a prospect that is far from guaranteed.
Latham's office did not return a request for comment about his change of heart.
The congressman proposed a bill last month that would require payments for "important functions" of the government in the event of a shutdown. Priority items would include paying off interest on the national debt, food stamps, benefits for seniors, military pay and national security programs. It never came up for a vote.