And they have afforded Boehner remarkable leeway to negotiate a deal with President Obama to avoid a year-end “fiscal cliff,” even though many realize that a compromise would probably include the kind of concessions many promised to resist.
The new attitude of the freshmen has freed Boehner, allowing him to move against a handful of members in the kind of hardball politics he once disdained as old-school and counterproductive.
It also has allowed him to at least contemplate the kind of “grand bargain” with Obama — involving new taxes and spending cuts — that last year was considered likely to be an impossible sale among his own members.
“You can’t have every member of the conference trying to negotiate,” said Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Tex.), a freshman. “We elected Speaker Boehner to be our leader. We need to let him lead.”
Support for Boehner will not face a true test unless he brings forward a deal that would be difficult for Republicans. The speaker submitted a new offer to Obama on Tuesday, although he and the White House appear far apart on an agreement.
For now, many of the 87 GOP freshmen elected in 2010 — more than 70 of whom won reelection last month and will return as sophomores in January — are giving Boehner the benefit of the doubt.
“Speaker Boehner has a very hard job,” said Rep. Trey Gowdy (S.C.), one of the House’s most conservative freshmen. “I could not do his job, and I would not do his job. It’s easy for me, as the lowest level of the House, to criticize what others are trying to do. But I’m not going to do it.”
Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) called the new attitude “just common sense.”
“When you speak with one voice, rather than many voices, you’ll have a stronger hand,” he said.
It may be common sense, but it has not been the unruly House freshmen’s practice in the past two years of bitter spending fights.
During the 2011 debate over the debt ceiling, Boehner was forced to delay a vote on a proposal intended to outline the Republican Party’s position after tea party freshmen demanded that a balanced-budget amendment be added to the Constitution.
A spending resolution last fall was defeated on the House floor after conservative members, many of them freshmen, opposed millions in new disaster relief money not offset with other spending cuts.
And this time last year, House Republicans suffered a loss after Obama portrayed them as opposed to a Christmastime tax cut for the middle class, forcing the House to accept a two-month extension of the payroll tax holiday, which many freshmen opposed.
Through it all, Boehner, a low-key leader who often says he believes in letting the House “work its will,” generally tried to elevate members who were helpful to leaders but declined to punish the recalcitrant.