House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has been the face of the GOPs spending and debt efforts, but several freshmen are working closely with the leadership team to craft policies.
House GOP leaders have given their freshman class a major role in setting the Conference’s fiscal policies, putting Congress’ newest Members at the center of the spending and debt fights that will consume Washington for months.
While Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) has been the public face of the GOP’s spending and debt efforts and set the overall message, behind the scenes Speaker John Boehner’s (Ohio) leadership team has been working closely with several freshmen to craft spending, budget and debt reduction policies.
With 89 members and representing about a third of the GOP Conference, this year’s freshman class is also united philosophically around reducing government spending and debt and has used that to leverage a powerful role in policy development.
“I am very impressed with how sophisticated this freshman class is,” said Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), who along with Chief Deputy Whip Peter Roskam (Ill.) and Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (Wis.) has been holding “listening sessions” with freshmen on the budget, the debt and a continuing resolution to keep the government funded.
Those sessions were intended to provide a basic education to new lawmakers on the intricacies of how the House sets spending and budget levels, but they have quickly become a forum for freshmen to influence the party’s strategy and policy.
Rep. Michael Grimm (N.Y.) said he has been “pleasantly surprised to see just how open the leadership is to allowing the freshmen to take the lead on some things. I expected, to a certain extent, to have a battle on my hands.”
Grimm said that when he arrived in Washington, D.C., earlier this month, he anticipated leadership would say, “‘Sit down and look pretty while we tell you how things work here.’ And that’s not how it’s been at all.”
Rep. Sean Duffy (Wis.) said the meetings have helped Members better understand the financial problems facing the nation but have also been a venue for expressing their concerns.
Ryan “is able to lay out to the freshman class what happened with the debt limit,” Duffy said, while “the freshman class gets to dial in and say ... ‘We can’t vote for a debt limit increase’” that doesn’t include significant spending reductions and other reforms.
The meetings have also provided leadership a better understanding of what the freshman Members will and will not support.
McCarthy said he takes insights from the freshmen back to the Republican leadership. Understanding where the freshmen are is critical for leadership, McCarthy said, since “we’re in a better position to know where our Conference is.”
The relationship has already had a direct impact on specific GOP policies, Duffy and others said.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.