In the defund-Obamacare fight, Tom Graves is ready for his close-up

After the Friday morning vote to make starvation of Obamacare the price for keeping open the doors of the federal government, most of the 233 House Republicans who threw down that gauntlet gathered in a U.S. Capitol anteroom to cheer their leaders and demand the Senate follow their lead.

Tom Graves stood at the fringe the raucous group until Jeb Hensarling of Texas beckoned. “Hey, Georgia, come on up here,” the Texan called – a shout overheard by my AJC colleague Dan Malloy.

So the congressman from Ranger took his lanky, aw-shucks frame closer to the podium – and the TV cameras. He ended up three feet to the right of House Speaker John Boehner. Which was fitting, given that Graves was one of the firebrands who have put Boehner and his lieutenants on their current path.

Only days earlier, Boehner had announced that language from Graves’ “Defund Obamacare Act” would be part of Friday’s stopgap funding package. Graves credited an August immersion in his 14th District in northwest Georgia, which can now be considered ground zero in the defund-or-bust movement.

“My resolve was intensified. And I brought that intensity back to Washington D.C. and made it very clear to our leadership that I was very resolute on this issue,” Graves said in a phone interview shortly after the House floor vote.

Rather than head home on Friday, Graves remained in Washington to become part of the weekend effort to persuade the American public that he and his GOP compatriots aren’t the “anarchists” that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says they are.

And that blame for a federal shutdown should now be borne by President Barack Obama and the Democrats who control the Senate. It’s a high-profile gig for a member of Congress who first came to Washington in 2010.

“There’s no need for (a shutdown). No reason for it. We’ve passed a measure that keeps all areas of the government open, with the exception of one provision – the president’s health care law, which is harmful to everyone,” Graves said.

Our conversation was a warm-up for an appearance later in the evening with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, and a Sunday spot on ABC’s “This Week.”

The congressman pointed to Home Depot’s Thursday announcement that the Atlanta-based company would end the limited health insurance coverage it extends to 20,000 part-time workers, directing them instead to the health care exchanges that will become effective on Oct. 1.

Even billionaire Warren Buffet, the congressman said, is now calling for a scrapping of the Affordable Care Act.

Expect some adjustments to those talking points. Some insurance experts say benefits under Obamacare might be “richer” for those part-time Home Depot employees. And a spokeswoman for Buffett denies that the billionaire ever said any such thing about the Affordable Care Act.

Then there was the Wall Street Journal editorial from earlier this week, which reflected a growing uneasiness within the business community. The newspaper didn’t declare the House Republican strategy to be anarchic. Just suicidal. “Kamikaze missions rarely turn out well, least of all for the pilots,” it declared.

You could hear the congressman shrug over the phone. “Editorials are just that. They’re editorials. They’re opinions,” he said.

The one message that Graves had down pat spoke to GOP unity. Many House Republicans this week have fumed over an apparent reluctance by Republicans in the Senate – including tea party stalwarts Ted Cruz of Texas, Mike Lee of Utah, and Marco Rubio of Florida – to fully commit to an all-or-nothing approach when it comes to the elimination of Obamacare.

But not Graves.

“I’m confident that Senate Republicans will put up a very strong and valiant effort to continue doing what we’re united around,” the Georgia congressman said “Certainly, the media – in D.C., in particular – enjoy the intrigue of palace drama. But in my district, they could care less about who’s BFF with who.”

We are now nine days from a federal shutdown that seems more and more certain. Some House Republicans are eyeing the next congressional fight – this one over an increase in the debt-ceiling – as a second possible venue for a defund-Obamacare fight. But Graves said this is the one that matters, simply because of the date.

“There’s just a sense of urgency about Oct. 1, because that’s when, officially, the implementation (of Obamacare) kicks off – the opening of the exchanges,” Graves said.

I asked the congressman if Republicans feared that, once Americans waded into the new health care system, familiarity might decrease suspicion. ”Not so much that,” Graves said. “I do not wish harm on our constituents. If we can prevent them from continuing to feel the difficulties of this law, then that’s what we have a responsibility to do.”

Other Republican members of Congress might bend in the next nine days. Graves has no incentive to join them.

Last week, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee announced it would launch a grassroots “robocall” campaign to urge 27 “vulnerable” House Republicans not to shut down the government in the fight over Obamacare.

Not a single one of the targeted Republicans was from Georgia.

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