With government shutdown looming, freshmen are the wild cards

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Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, March 1, 2011

In just two months, a freshman class of Republicans has found a way to run the House.

These 87 new members - who otherwise might have become foot soldiers for party bosses, or jittery pawns of their home-town tea party groups - have instead coalesced into a bloc with its own ideas and a headstrong sense of its muscle.

As Republicans and Democrats try to cut a short-term budget deal this week - and a more permanent one in coming weeks - the freshmen are the wild card. They have the power to derail the whole process. Again.

But even their own leaders don't know if they will.

The freshmen's willingness to do things their way stems from their hyper-confident vision of themselves, revealed in interviews in recent days with more than 30 members of the group. Many described their job as a "calling," a sense that their grandchildren, their country or their God needed them to make hard decisions to right the government's finances.

"We may be the last opportunity," said Rep. Michael G. Grimm (N.Y.), a former FBI agent.

But now, the difficult part.

In the escalating budget fight - and other battles to come - the freshmen will face the capital's hardest kind of decision: how to compromise on the issue they care about the most.

How much ground will the freshmen give before they defy the Senate and risk a government shutdown?

"I don't know," Rep. Joe Walsh (Ill.) said when asked how the newcomers would react if the Democratic-controlled Senate offered a spending bill with fewer cuts than theirs. "I don't know. I don't know. And I think most freshmen don't know."

This class of Republican freshmen - the largest for either party in at least six decades - includes nine women and 78 men. Their views are not all the same: Some have called for a more nuanced approach to spending cuts, while others have insisted that the House's bare-bones budget was not bare enough.

Many can recount the moment they realized they were mad enough to run for Congress.


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