Two of Minnesota's Republican congressmen are getting pressured as Congress struggles with a budget plan and the federal health care law.
Tea party conservatives want U.S. Reps. John Kline and Erik Paulsen to cut spending and kill the federal healthcare law, which they have long derided as "Obamacare."
At the same time, Democrats see an opening amid the talk of government shutdowns and defaults.
The fiscal battles in Washington are as much about fights within the Republican Party as they are about disagreements between the two parties.
While the party is firmly united behind the idea that the healthcare law should be repealed, its establishment and grassroots wings are divided over how to undo the law.
Both Kline and Paulsen have conservative voting records, but they also often vote with GOP House leaders who have had to make compromises with Senate Democrats and the White House that have left the 2010 Affordable Care Act largely intact.
“He can pretend he's a conservative, but I don't know what's conservative about voting to increase the debt ceiling and voting to increase the budget each year.”Jake Duesenberg, East Metro Tea Party
Neither is affiliated with the tea party movement that's threatening a government shutdown if the federal health care overhaul isn't delayed.
Jake Duesenberg recently started the East Metro Tea Party that includes members in Minnesota's 2nd district, which Kline represents.
Duesenberg said the party's grassroots have been disappointed with congressional Republicans' record on cutting spending, balancing the budget and repealing the healthcare law.
"I've been fooled before," Duesenberg said. "I'm not going to be fooled again."
Although deficits have fallen and the government's discretionary spending has been cut, Duesenberg said that is not enough. He has decided that Kline, a military aide to former President Ronald Reagan, isn't up to the job.
"He can pretend he's a conservative, but I don't know what's conservative about voting to increase the debt ceiling and voting to increase the budget each year," Duesenberg said.
So far, Kline has one Republican challenger, David Gerson, whom Kline soundly defeated last year.
Another warning to the two Republicans came from the other side of the Twin Cities in Minnesota's 3rd District, with Paulsen represents.
"Either they're going to come out and they're going to start voting the way their constituency wants them to vote or their constituency is going to stop voting for them," said Joe Arwood, a member of the West Metro Tea Party.
While Arwood might be referring to general election voters, his statement is probably more accurately applied to delegates to the GOP's endorsing conventions, many of whom are tea party supporters.
They're the kind of voters who pay closer attention to the news and vote in primary elections at much higher rates than most people, said Carroll Doherty, an associate director at the nonpartisan Pew Research Center.
"It gives them a strength beyond their numbers in some cases," Doherty said.
Pew's most recent survey showed that tea party supporters were the only group of voters who would prefer a government shutdown to some kind of compromise that would leave the health care law intact.
But the pressure on Kline and Paulsen isn't coming only from the right.
In last year's election President Obama narrowly won in both of their districts, which means they represent plenty of Democrats and independent voters. While both congressmen won re-election by safe margins, Democrats think they could be vulnerable next year. They recently launched a small scale effort against Kline and Paulsen on the shutdown using phone calls and Facebook ads.
A shutdown would make for a potent political issue against Republicans next year, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee press secretary Emily Bittner said.
"This is the most basic example of failing to govern, of failing to keep the government open so that essential services continue to be provided to the taxpayers who are paying for them," Bittner said.
Neither Kline nor Paulsen responded to interview requests.
Many Republicans are critical of the hardball, tea party-inspired tactics on these budget bills, saying that they risk hurting the GOP.
Linking government funding bills to demands that the healthcare law be repealed or delayed is a distraction, said Mike McFadden, who is running for the Republican nomination to take on Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken next year.
Instead, McFadden repeats a refrain being muttered regularly these days by members of the Republican Party's establishment wing.
"The way that we replace Obamacare is by winning elections," he said.