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Originally published October 3, 2013 at 6:55 PM | Page modified October 4, 2013 at 2:30 PM

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State's McMorris Rodgers a fiery leader of GOP shutdown fight

Spokane’s U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers is a fervent critic of the president and the Affordable Care Act. Even in her conservative Eastern Washington district, that doesn’t always play well.

Seattle Times Washington bureau

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WASHINGTON — Of President Obama's many Republican critics in the House of Representatives, few can match Spokane’s Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers in fervor.

McMorris Rodgers, one of Speaker John Boehner’s top lieutenants, claims it’s Obama and members of his party, not Republicans, who are blocking efforts to end the government shutdown.

She slams Democrats for resorting to “incendiary and unconstructive” rhetoric, including likening the GOP to “legislative arsonists” and gun-wielding extortionists. She warned (and later retracted) that Obamacare jacked up insurance premiums by $7,500, sending families into panic

Even in McMorris Rodgers’ conservative Eastern Washington district, however, her fiery partisanship can go too far.

Thursday’s editorial in The Spokesman-Review, the 5th District’s largest daily, urged McMorris Rodgers and her fellow Republicans to halt their “demands for ransom.”

“Moderates of both parties are calling for an end to melodrama so Congress can take up the serious work members were sent to do,” the newspaper wrote. “Time to move on.”

McMorris Rodgers’ office did not respond to two requests for an interview.

Even constituents who once supported her have been turned off by what they see as McMorris Rodgers’ strident tone.

Tim Foster of Spokane voted for McMorris Rodgers in her first run for Congress in 2004 but hasn’t since. He said he’s bothered by her votes, among other things, to repeal or delay the Affordable Care Act three years after it became law, and her refusal to consider tax increases of any kind.

“I think her views are more in line with the tea party,” said Foster, who calls himself a fiscal conservative and social liberal.

McMorris Rodgers won her fifth term last year with 61.9 percent of the votes, the fourth widest margin among 10 House members from Washington. She has a bachelor’s degree from Pensacola Christian College in Florida and is deeply conservative. She opposes abortion, for instance, even in cases of rape and incest.

Foster, 45, owns Patriotic Motors, which converts automobile internal-combustion engines to run on battery electric power. He has met McMorris Rodgers and found her personable and willing to listen.

Foster once sold life and disability insurance. So he says he understands the concept of shared risks to reduce individual’s liability. That’s the foundation of Obamacare, which aims to get uninsured Americans covered, with taxpayer subsidies if needed.

“The tea-party attitude is, ‘If I don’t use it, I don’t want to pay for it,’” Foster said. “That’s a very selfish viewpoint.”

McMorris Rodgers chairs the House Republican Conference, making her the caucus’s No. 4 leader. She often appears on CNN, CNBC and other media outlets, offering alarming statistics she says explains the GOP’s aversion to Obamacare.

In an email to constituents in September, McMorris Rodgers said Obama promised to lower premiums by $2,500 for the average family. But she said premiums instead rose by $3,000 for families in Eastern Washington.

But the source for that figure — the 2013 survey by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and provided by McMorris Rodgers’ office — says family premiums rose from 2012 by 4 percent, or $629. Of that, $452 on average was borne directly by employers, not employees.

Then two weeks ago, on CNN, McMorris Rodgers upped that $3,000 claim to $7,500. Melanie Collett, McMorris Rodgers’ spokeswoman, later said the congresswoman misspoke.

Sean Murphy, assistant professor of health policy at Washington State University in Spokane, said health-care costs having been rising rapidly long before Obamacare — and likely won’t slow without the new law.

Some 14 percent of residents in McMorris Rodgers’ district lack health coverage. Murphy said he is optimistic that the Affordable Care Act will make Americans healthier and reduce unnecessary and wasteful spending.

“I think the Democrats are doing the right thing by standing their ground,” Murphy said.

Roger Bosky, a retired Social Security Administration employee and a Democrat, attended an August town-hall meeting in Spokane where McMorris Rodgers attacked the health-reform law as an unaffordable overreach by the federal government.

“There were many people who disagreed with her,” Bosky said.

Kyung Song: 202-383-6108 or ksong@seattletimes.com. Twitter: @KyungMSong

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