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.
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Other amendments to the House budget bill also offered a more nuanced portrait of House freshmen.Skip to next paragraph
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•Thirty GOP freshmen broke with the majority of their party to increase funding for the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program by $298 million.
•Twenty-four GOP freshmen voted to preserve post-9/11 firefighter-hiring grants.
•In a move that surprised labor activists, 25 GOP freshmen voted with Democrats to block a tea party-led amendment to strike $233.4 million in funding for salaries and expenses at the National Labor Relations Board, which investigates unfair labor practices.
•Breaking with many conservatives in their own ranks, 36 GOP freshmen opposed an amendment that would have cut $70 million from the Department of Energy's renewable-energy programs.
These expressions of partisan independence were possible because, in many cases, House Speaker Boehner has not leaned on members of the Republican caucus to vote as a unified bloc.
"The hardest part about all the amendments was that they came so many at a time," said freshman Rep. Mike Kelly (R) of Pennsylvania, who voted to protect funding on all these items, after consulting the needs of his district. "Trying to research them and come up with what we thought was best for the district – that's the hard part."
A car dealer in Butler, Pa., Mr. Kelly opted to run for Congress in 2009 after the Obama administration's Auto Task Force announced plans to shut down more than 1,900 dealerships, including Mike Kelly Chevrolet-Cadillac Inc. The freshmen are bringing a lot of practical experience to the table, he says.
"A lot of what's standard practice here would never work in the outside world," he says. "People don't trust their government because the Congress has packaged too many bad things and sold them with good things. My feeling is: If it's so good, why doesn't it stand on its own?"
But he says that he's open to compromise on what to cut and how quickly to do it.
“We're going to cut the size of government, we're going to reduce spending, we're going to start to get this deficit under control,” he says. But it has to be done with care. "I should probably lose another 30 or 40 pounds, but I can't do it by this weekend.”
Still, many freshmen insist that the fights to come on the FY 2012 budget and raising the national debt limit will be tougher, and a government shutdown harder to avoid.
"If we can't get people [in the Senate] to change their mentality when we're at the edge of a cliff, so be it," says Congressman Stutzman, the former Indiana state legislator. "The government is going to shut down sooner or later. [Without cuts], the government is going to implode. We can make changes now, or the natural laws of economics are going to make them for us."
Many freshmen report that they are getting heat from constituents on the glacial pace of change in Washington.
"When I'm back home, tea party folks are telling me: 'You're not doing enough and doing it fast enough,' " says Rep. Blake Farenthold (R) of Texas, a lawyer and former disc jockey who owns a computer consulting firm. "I've got to be able to go home and look at the folks who voted for me and say: 'I got the best deal for you that I could.' "