On the budget, House GOP's fiery freshmen reveal a pragmatic side
They held budget negotiators' feet to the fire, but the GOP House freshmen also proved to be flexible. Too, their voting record for their first 100 days in office is less monolithic than many had expected.
A fired-up Republican freshman class – closing in on its 100th day in office this week -- gave House Speaker John Boehner (R) of Ohio a club to use in tough talks last week over a government shutdown, but they also delivered a surprising degree of flexibility, when needed.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Before Congress’s smackdown over FY 2011 funding, reviews of the 87-member class almost all painted the same portrait: The freshmen are tea partyers. The freshmen seek to cut government spending at all costs. The freshmen hold the speaker "hostage” and would drive the legislative process off a cliff, rather than compromise their principles, Democrats said.
With a shutdown looming, many GOP freshmen reinforced the idea that they are here precisely to shake things up. Quipped freshman Rep. Allen West (R) of Florida: "Why would I want to compromise with the incompetent, inept people who got us into this fiscal situation in the first place? And you can quote me exactly on that."
But interviews and an analysis of voting patterns in the new Congress suggest that the Republican freshman class is more diverse and pragmatic than its reputation allows.
Only 14 joined the 57-member House Tea Party Caucus, for instance. And only 33 voted for the starkest deficit-reduction plan yet forwarded in Congress – an amendment that would have returned federal spending to fiscal year 2006 levels. Moreover, GOP freshmen have sided with Democrats to block budget cuts to firefighters, the National Labor Relations Board, and renewable energy programs.
As negotiations over FY 2011 funding heated up, 21 freshmen broke with leadership on March 15 to refuse to back another stop-gap measure to avoid a government shutdown. It was time, they said, for a deal for the full year – or a fight. The measure passed, with help from Democrats. But when Speaker Boehner asked for his caucus’s support for yet another stop-gap measure on Friday, all but two freshmen switched course to back him.
Many freshmen credit the willingness of the GOP leadership team to reach out and listen to their concerns. All the debate and votes over FY 2011 spending gave freshmen a voice.
"A lot of people give us credit for lots of things, but we have been very spread out on our voting," says Rep. Kristi Noem (R) of South Dakota, a farmer, rancher, and former assistant majority leader of the South Dakota House.
In an unusual move, Speaker John Boehner tapped her to be one of two liaisons to GOP leadership from the freshmen class.
It's not easy representing her class, she adds: "But what we all agree on is that we should cut spending."