Will the GOP “Dirty Dozen” Block a Debt Limit Deal?
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The Fiscal Times
January 16, 2013

House Speaker John Boehner has struggled to lead his Republican majority in the face of challenges from a hard core of conservative newcomers who are demanding a much harder line against President Obama and the Democrats on spending cuts, and tax and entitlement reform. 

This is a blow to Boehner who once exercised considerable independence in his talks with Obama and Democratic leaders. Boehner had to pull back from deal making over the fiscal cliff after some conservatives complained they were being sold out. Even Boehner’s proposed “Plan B” solution to the fiscal cliff – extending generous Bush-era tax cuts to everyone except millionaires – wasn’t good enough for them and had to be tabled.

Most of these far right conservatives were swept to office in the wave mid-term election of 2010 or in last November’s election, although a few have been around for a lot longer. After Boehner and other GOP leaders grew frustrated with their frequent criticisms and votes against the party line, Boehner threw down the gauntlet.  He stripped four of the lawmakers of prized committee assignments

But the rebel lawmakers struck back when Boehner stood for reelection as Speaker before the full House: All 12 voted present, stood silent or cast their votes for other candidates.  Boehner narrowly won reelection over Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, but only after promising to toe the line more to satisfy House conservatives.

The question now is how much clout does this "Dirty Dozen" of Republican defectors have within the caucus to block a deal on raising the debt ceiling?  The stakes this time around couldn’t be greater: The U.S. could default on its debt and drop another notch on its once perfect AAA bond ratings. That could make interest rates rise on our debt, costing even more than the current $360 billion a year. You know the rest—the government shuts down; government workers are furloughed; Social Security recipients worry that they won’t get their monthly checks; veterans don’t get paid.  It’s a self-made disaster. 

Obama has said he would not allow the Republicans to once again hold the debt ceiling “ransom” to extract their demands. Yet some of the Republican newcomers are willing to risk a crisis to force Obama to agree to deeper cuts in government spending. “We’ve raised the debt ceiling seven times in the last ten years and it hasn’t resolved the [spending] problem,” said freshman Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla. “The only thing it’s done is made us go more in debt."

Here are thumbnail sketches of these House rebels.

Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.) – The 37-year-old veteran won election in November with strong backing from the Tea Party by toppling five-term incumbent Rep. John Sullivan in the 2012 primary. Bridenstine, a former Navy pilot, is a staunch conservative who favors low taxes and minimal government regulations, and favors repealing Obamacare. He’s against gun control of any kind and supports a human-life amendment to the Constitution. Troubled by Boehner’s handling of the 2011 debt ceiling deal and his fiscal cliff negotiations, Bridenstine voted for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor to replace Boehner as Speaker. 

Rep. Steve Pearce (R-N.M) – .Pearce, 65, has served in the House since 2002 and is a member of the Financial Services Committee. He’s a Vietnam Veteran who flew combat missions. He voted for Cantor for Speaker because he believes “Speaker Boehner is taking us in the wrong direction.” Pearce voted against the Senate’s fiscal cliff bill because it “did nothing to address Washington’s spending problem” and believes Congress should not raise taxes while the economy is still recovering. “The President is deceiving Americans by promising new taxes can help, while in reality they won’t scratch the surface of our mounting debt.”  he said

Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.)The newly elected conservative freshman from South Florida   defeated Republican Rep. Cliff Stearns in the 2012 GOP primary. Before coming to Washington, Yoho, 57,  was a veterinarian and small business owner. He voted for Cantor over Boehner for Speaker after complaining about the speaker’s handling of the fiscal cliff talks. Yoho says, "What we have is a spending problem in this country and that’s what we need to address.”

Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.) – Broun, 66, another veteran, first won election in 2006. He sits on the House Homeland Security Committee and the House Committee on Natural Resources and is chairman of the Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee for the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. Like the others, the staunch fiscal conservative was angered by Boehner’s handling of the fiscal cliff talks and voted for former Rep. Allen West for House Speaker. He called the fiscal cliff deal a “mockery out of a very serious spending addiction that has crippled our country’s livelihood and taken a toll on the American people.”

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.)Gohmert, 59, earned a reputation as a tough law-and-order judge before he was elected to Congress in 2004. He was appointed by Gov. Rick Perry to serve one term as Chief Justice in the 12th District Court of Appeals. He currently sits on the House Judiciary Committee and the Natural Resources Committee. Gohmert, who voted for Allen West over Boehner, explained it this way: “We can’t be about business as usual. It’s time for a change at the top.” He voted against the Senate’s fiscal cliff bill because he said it didn’t address “Washington’s biggest problem: massive overspending.”

Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) Amash,  32, was swept into office in the House wave election of 2010, and since then has clashed with the House GOP leadership. Prior to coming to Washington, he served in the Michigan House of Representatives.  Amash was one of several Republicans recently stripped of prized committee assignments after voting out of step with the leadership. In voting against the fiscal cliff legislation, he said, “The federal government’s refusal to live within its means is immoral. I cannot in good conscience support burdening our children and grandchildren with another $50 billion of debt.”  Amash voted for Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, over Boehner for speaker.

Washington Editor and D.C. Bureau Chief Eric Pianin is a veteran journalist who has covered the federal government, congressional budget and tax issues, and national politics. He spent over 25 years at The Washington Post.