A Bitter End for House Republican Freshmen

Ben Terris
January 2, 2013

It's not the end note that the members of the freshman class of House Republicans could have imagined when they were sworn into the 112th Congress two years ago.

Here was one of the largest GOP classes in memory, steadfast in its determination to shake up the nation's capital. Two years later, its members watched as Congress ratified a deal backed by President Obama that allowed taxes to increase for affluent Americans--the first significant income-tax hike in two decades.

“If this is how we end the 112th Congress, it will disappoint every member of the class,” said freshman Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., as he munched on Cheetos and walking alone after a GOP conference meeting on Tuesday. “This is exactly what we came to change, problems like this.… We came here to make big bold changes, and at the end of the day, for whatever reason, we frittered away most of the energy that sent us to here in 2010.”

In reality, the promise from those 87 fresh faces never matched their accomplishments. For Republican freshmen, the past two years have been marked more by disappointment than success. 

Many of the new members vowed not to raise the debt ceiling without big cuts in the federal budget. It was raised anyway. They argued that the payroll-tax holiday that was enacted to combat the recession should not be extended into 2012 without offsetting budget cuts. It was extended by unanimous consent in the House as 2011 came to an end. They argued that the people's business should be done in the open, not in backrooms. But they watched, largely on the sidelines, as House Speaker John Boehner negotiated with President Obama, followed by Vice President Biden striking a deal with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Old-school Washington.

To add insult to injury, the House Republican leadership stripped committee assignments from a few of the loudest members of the class, including Huelskamp.

After its boisterous start, the freshman class ended up redefining success.

“We’re here under a Democratic president, and our job for the most part was going to play defense against what he was going to do,” class president Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., said on Tuesday. “I think we were pretty effective at doing that.”

A class whose goal was to keep things from happening; that's a far cry from shaking up Washington. 

Certainly no member of the GOP freshman class, tea party or otherwise, would consider taxes going up on anyone part of a success story. But the good news for the vast majority of them is that on Thursday they become sophomores, having been reelected in November.

“It’s going to be awful,” Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla., said about coming to grips with the reality that the GOP couldn’t stop the tax increases. “There’s no easy way out of this, no pleasant way out of this, but how else are we going to learn from our mistakes? One of our mistakes was entering into sequestration. We gave a $1.2 trillion debt-ceiling increase for $1.2 trillion in cuts, and we aren’t even getting those cuts.”