There are unmistakable signs that a hard core of House Republicans will push a conservative agenda and confront President Obama with renewed aggressiveness this year.
One indicator is that, despite intense pressure to knuckle under, a majority of House Republicans—151 legislators—voted against the budget deal that was passed on Tuesday night, largely with Democratic votes. A minority of House Republicans—85—voted for it.
In the process, the die-hard conservative majority broke with their leader, House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, who supported the deal, and sided with their majority leader, Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, who opposed it.
Now conservatives are promising more clashes with President Obama and the Democrats over a range of other issues, including the federal borrowing limit. GOP legislators are threatening to refuse to increase the $16.4 trillion debt ceiling as a way to force the president to accept deep cuts in costly entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security. This showdown will probably occur in about two months.
Brent Bozell, president of the conservative advocacy group ForAmerica, says Republicans in Congress know they must prove they are serious about cutting spending or they risk primary challenges in 2014. The key for them is "to truly fight in the coming battles," Bozell tells Politico.
Adds Dan Holler, communications director for Heritage Action for America: "There is really a good core there ready to fight the next battle." He was referring to the 151 Republicans who rejected the budget deal, which increased taxes on the rich.
Most House Republicans will be stubborn about resisting compromise for two reasons, GOP strategists say.
First, many fear intraparty primaries from the right that could deny them renomination in 2014. They come from safe districts in general elections but are vulnerable to conservative challengers in such primaries.
The second reason is that so many House Republicans come from districts that voted against President Obama in 2012, so the incumbents won't feel a compelling need to move Obama's way on the issues. David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report found that of the 234 Republicans elected on November 6 (who are about to take office), only 15 represent House districts that Obama won. They will have little political incentive to compromise with a president who is unpopular back home.
Some conservatives see the House as the last line of defense against liberal excess, and this also is boosting the resolve of House conservatives not to cave in the next time they get into a showdown with the White House.
Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog "Ken Walsh's Washington" for usnews.com, and is the author of "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He can be reached at email@example.com and on Facebook and Twitter.