Addressing reporters by phone 15 hours into the federal government shutdown Tuesday, Rep. Bill Shuster, R-9th, said: "Nobody wants a government shutdown here - except, I think, the president of the United States."
In fact, at least one man has expressed support for the shutdown: Shuster's opponent in the 2014 Republican primary, Art Halvorson of Manns Choice.
While both Shuster and Halvorson have backed the same proposals and issued similar statements on the shutdown's root causes, their broader attitudes reflect differences already becoming visible among House Republicans as the federal closure grinds on.
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
Anyone trying to visit the Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site on Tuesday was greeted by this sign on the gated-off entrance.
"I think it's defining the heroes," Halvorson said of the budget showdown pitting President Barack Obama and Senate Democrats, who have demanded a "clean" funding resolution, against House Republicans, who have made government money conditional on delays and changes to "Obamacare," the federal health care program, the bulk of which took effect Tuesday.
"It's defining those who want to fix this country and those who are happy with the status quo. ... We've got to weed them out," Halvorson said. "We've got to separate the men from the boys."
As the shutdown continued through its first day and a riskier fight over the national debt ceiling approached, a few comparatively moderate House Republicans hinted that the battle wasn't worth continuing, at least not with their current tactics.
"Republicans fought the good fight," Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Va., said in a statement. "The fight continues but is not advanced by a government shutdown that damages our economy and harms our military. "
For the moment, however, most Republicans - including Shuster - have held fast, proposing alternatives but refusing to drop their demands for an Obamacare delay. In a floor speech and press statements Tuesday, Shuster attacked Obama for recently calling the president of Iran while refusing to deal with Republicans.
"This thing can be over in several hours, or at least a day, if the president is willing to sit down and come up with a compromise," Shuster said.
Over the weekend, before the congressional dispute reached its climax, Shuster announced that he would "vote to stop a government shutdown and delay Obamacare." Both parties could dispute who was truly working to stop a shutdown, but to Halvorson, mainstream Republicans' willingness to fight was brought on by pressure from a handful of more combative conservatives, many affiliated with the tea party.
"They're responding to the pressure by people like myself," Halvorson said of Shuster, Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, and their colleagues. "We did get it to shut down. We're forcing a crisis, if you will."
But while Halvorson called the shutdown "The Alamo" - a battle that would reveal the true conservatives - Shuster dismissed the suggestion that fissures were forming among House Republicans.
"We've been fairly united with the last couple of things we've sent to the Senate," he said, noting that a developing plan to approve piecemeal funding could get broad support from the party.
On Monday evening, a few Republicans broke from the party line on a proposal they considered too soft. On Tuesday, some in the party lashed out at colleagues who suggested Obamacare would have to be fought another day.
But even if the shutdown is resolved, Shuster noted, another dangerous deadline is just two weeks away.
"The big fight is coming with the debt ceiling," he said.
Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.