The class of Republican candidates fighting to come to Congress for the first time are vowing aggressive measures to cut government spending and to repeal the president’s health care law.
“You can only have one top priority and mine is to control federal spending,” said David Harmer, running against Democratic Rep. Jerry McNerney in California’s 11th district.
“The first bill I would introduce, if elected to Congress, would be aimed at instituting a federal spending cap,” said GOP candidate Dan Benishek, leading in polls in the race to take the open seat in Michigan’s 1st district.
The next House of Representatives is likely to include dozens of these freshmen, who will have been elected in a wave of voter dissatisfaction with Washington.
In promising spending cuts, though, the freshmen will be facing off against difficult odds.
President Obama will wield a veto pen; Democrats may retain a majority in the Senate and will keep their ability to filibuster.
But even bigger than these obstacles is Washington itself. It has managed to absorb such promises for many years.
“Washington is like a sponge. It absorbs waves of change, and it slows them down, and it softens them, and then one morning they cease to exist,” Newt Gingrich, the leader of a similar Republican wave in 1994, once famously said.
This time, insiders expect two major differences.
First, the incoming freshman themselves are likely to demand more. Many candidates, especially those affiliated with the Tea Party, share less affinity with their party than their ideals. For instance, two GOP candidates have pointedly declined to back House Minority Leader John Boehner for Speaker of the House, which he stands ready to take if Republicans retake the House.
Some are expecting – and hoping – for an early fight between the newcomers and the GOP’s leadership to set the proper tone.
“I think there should be, and I think there will be a fight that the new insurgents can win to demonstrate their newness, their autonomy and the leadership’s willingness to learn from the new guys. I think it’ll happen anyway, but if it didn’t happen, they should schedule it,” said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform.
Second, the Tea Partiers could just as easily turn on Republicans if they are seen as insufficiently committed to their ideals.
“I think what’s gonna be different about this cycle is that generally speaking people get all worked up going into an election, and get involved, and they turn out, and they vote, and then they go home. I don’t think they’re going home after this election,” said Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council.