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House GOP freshmen set to storm Hill as 112th Congress opens
The office nameplates are posted, key committee assignments doled out and the staff members are - more or less - in place. For the history-making class of freshmen who flipped the House from Democratic to Republican control, now comes the hard part: governing in opposition to a president intent on his own re-election.
Halfway through Barack Obama’s presidential term, the new Republican lawmakers causing the hubbub on Capitol Hill this week say they are focused on a mandate to cut government spending and debt, create jobs and roll back the Democrats’ signature health care overhaul. Less clear is how they would do that in a political culture that many of them derided on the campaign trail, against experienced but vanquished Democrats energized against any effort to undo their list of legislative accomplishments.
Some new Republican lawmakers debut from perches of outsized power, such as a trio of rookies selected to serve on the House committee that controls the federal purse strings. Others arrive in groups with expertise, such as the gaggle of doctors and one dentist who won their seats in part by campaigning against health care reform.
Despite the call for fresh faces on Capitol Hill, the new Republican majority includes political veterans, such as five former House members returning for service and a number of former congressional and White House aides.
There are Democrats in the freshman lineup, too - nine of them, who will be led by ousted Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California after she surrenders the gavel on Wednesday to Ohio Republican Rep. John A. Boehner.
“We put the car together, we’ve got the wheels on, we got the steering column in place,” said Rep.-elect Bill Huizenga, Michigan Republican, one of 85 freshmen Republicans to be sworn in Wednesday. “It’s time to start the engine and start the journey.”
It could be a bumpy ride for three House freshmen who were elected on a pledge to cut federal spending but drew assignments to the prestigious Appropriations Committee. That’s because the committee’s culture is all about spending money, not saving it or cutting back on spending.
“I’m sure there will be some frustrating moments for some of the new folks, but the will is there,” said Rep.-elect Kevin Yoder, Kansas Republican.
Mr. Yoder and Reps.-elect Alan Nunnelee of Mississippi and Steve Womack of Arkansas all arrive with experience doling out public dollars. Mr. Yoder and Mr. Nunnelee served as appropriations chairmen in their state legislatures, while Mr. Womack served as mayor of Rogers, Ark., for a dozen years.
Their appointments to the vaunted panel were the GOP’s acknowledgment of the voter anger and distrust against the sometimes self-preserving way members of Congress chose to spend federal dollars. Republicans also voted to extend a ban on “earmarks” that directed money toward home-state projects.
But the party also appointed a past “prince of pork,” Rep. Hal Rogers of Kentucky, to chair the panel after he disavowed earmarking.
With health care looming as a major partisan battleground again, the half-dozen new GOP doctor-representatives - all intent on rolling back Mr. Obama’s health care overhaul -are getting outsized attention.
Few groups can claim as much credibility on the issue, and they’ll have help. The new members already have met with the House’s Republican “doctors caucus” about the idea of overturning the overhaul, though talks have not progressed to much detail, participants said.
Mr. Obama has promised to veto a repeal if it reaches his desk. Even so, Republicans say they will try to starve the overhaul of funding and dismantle it piece by piece.
Short of a full repeal, it’s not yet clear that the group is united on which parts of the law to try to cancel.
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