House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (left), Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (right) and Budget Chairman Paul Ryan have led a new generation of House conservatives, but their boldness has led to political problems.
Just over a year after their paperback manifesto hit bookstores, lawmakers calling themselves the “Young Guns” have brought their book’s vision to the Republican-controlled House, where they all hold key positions of power.
Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.), Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) and Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (Wis.) vowed to freshen the GOP’s image and fearlessly push an agenda of entrepreneurship, limited government, transparency and openness.
“We really felt that Washington had sort of fallen into a time warp, and we had to go about changing the way it does business,” Cantor said about the book “Young Guns: A New Generation of Conservative Leadership” during a panel discussion at Facebook’s Palo Alto, Calif., headquarters Monday.
But GOP control of the House has shown that governing is more difficult than writing a book. And the public’s growing anger at Congress raises questions about what the political effect of the Young Guns will be.
It was in part because of a successful candidate recruitment program also named Young Guns that last year’s elections ushered the GOP into control of the House in the first place.
Then, sticking to its promises, the House GOP in February allowed a free-for-all process on an early spending bill complete with a middle-of-the-night voting spree. Amid the chaos, tea party-inspired freshmen took repeated votes to cut spending on politically popular programs.
In April, House Republicans tied their political fates to Ryan’s ambitious budget. All but five of them voted for the plan, which included politically perilous cuts to Medicare and Medicaid.
The vote was an apex for the Young Guns, putting the GOP’s imprimatur on a plan that Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) had distanced himself from only a year before. Ryan, the “thinker” of the group, according to a Weekly Standard essay, reigned supreme as a next-generation intellectual leader of his party.
Cantor, McCarthy and Ryan have since helped push the GOP’s hard line on spending during the summer’s debt ceiling standoff. But eight months into Republican rule of “one-half of one-third of the government,” as Boehner has said, the fights are increasingly accompanied by political danger.
For instance, approval of Congress is dismal, easily surpassing the discontent that surrounded the passage of President Barack Obama’s health care law in 2009 and equal to the ratings during the 2007 Wall Street bailout. In August, Congress tied or sank below the lowest approval ratings ever in several polls.
Meanwhile, both Ryan and Cantor have become polarizing figures.
In a June Bloomberg poll, 23 percent rated Ryan unfavorably, making him the third least popular Republican nationally behind Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.