Has the tea party sold out? House freshmen aren't who they seem.

A report by the arch-conservative Club for Growth undercuts the notion that freshmen House Republicans are unified – and uniformly committed to the most stringent tea party ideals.

Chris Butler/Idaho Statesman/AP
Freshman Rep. Raul Labrador (R) of Idaho, seen here in Boise, Idaho, has accumulated a perfect 100 percent on the conservative Club for Growth's voting scorecard.

The Republican freshmen are often lumped together as a uniform horde of Capitol Hill raiders, fiscal barbarians hammering on Washington’s gates. They sent the country to the brink of default by refusing to raise the debt ceiling; they throw sand in the gears of any legislative proposal that isn’t taking an ax to government spending.

At least that’s the conventional wisdom. But the arch-free marketeers at the Club for Growth think it just isn’t backed up by the freshman’s voting records, according to a study released earlier this week.

“The liberal media likes to pretend that these Republicans have fought for fiscally conservative policies, but the facts don’t support their thesis,” said Chris Chocola, the president of the Club for Growth.

The survey shows a few interesting things about the House freshmen.

First, the freshmen class is not a rubber stamp for the most conservative proposals. 

Only 14 of the 87 freshmen signed a pledge to never raise the debt ceiling unless Congress enacted a conservative-favorite budget plan known as Cut, Cap and Balance. A majority, too, voted against the most conservative House budget proposal, forwarded by Republican Study Committee

Second, they look a lot like their more tenured peers. 

The freshman horde averaged a 71 percent rating on the Club for Growth’s voting scorecard; the average Republican in Congress pulled in a 69 percent.

Put another way, only 18 of the 46 sitting members of Congress with lifetime scores of higher than 90 percent on the Club for Growth’s scorecard are freshmen (40 percent). That’s only a smidgen higher than the freshmen class’s overall representation in the Republican caucus (36 percent). 

Third, despite this political breadth, the freshman class has offered up an outsized number of the caucus’s most conservative members.

Six of the eleven members with scores of 99 percent or higher are freshmen: Reps. Justin Amash of Michigan (100), Tim Huelskamp of Kansas (100), Raul Labrador of Idaho (100), Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina (99), Joe Walsh of Illinois (99), Marlin Stutzman of Indiana (99).

To understand what this means for Election 2012 and beyond, you need to understand who the Club for Growth is.

At the top of their freshman report, they’ve got a speedometer-shaped dial with four different icons.

At 20 miles per hour, you’ve got Democrats. At about 45 m.p.h., you’ve got RINOs – Republicans In Name Only. At 65 m.p.h., regular ol’ Republicans. At 85 m.p.h., the the Gadsen flag (“Don’t tread on me”) that is the hallmark of the tea party. And somewhere around “Can my Subaru really go that fast?” on the bottom right is the Club for Growth.

Raise the debt ceiling? Forget it. Roll back discretionary spending to 2006 levels? Yup, they’re for it.   

Financially, the club is as hardcore as they come.

And it doesn't see its work as anywhere near done.

By putting out a report highlighting that Congress has been far from overrun by proponents of the Club’s free market policies, the group puts an emphasis on what has to happen next: Winning more races.

In this cycle, for example, the club poured money into taking out moderate Sen. Dick Lugar (R) of Indiana and then helped damage the candidate blessed by the Republican establishment in the GOP’s Nebraska Senate primary. (An upstart with tea party credentials emerged victorious, although not the candidate preferred by the club.)

The job of remaking Congress, according to one of the most influential activist groups in Washington, has a long way to go.

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