House GOP Freshmen Could Bring Debt Ceiling Disaster

Financial markets and newspapers worldwide are getting fitful and skittish over whether the House of Representatives will do the right thing on debt.

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There are 87 of them running loose in the House—and for the 80-plus that have never served in Congress before, this is their first rodeo. Meet the House Republican class of 2010, mostly a sea of white male Christian faces. For they are coming to call very soon.

Get out your best Tea Party sets, everybody.

[Check out a roundup of GOP political cartoons.]

Typical among them is Rep. Stephen Fincher, a folksy Methodist farmer from Frog Jump, Tenn. He represents the Jeffersonian yeoman farmer dream, which is mighty sweet, but we're not not living in Jefferson's world. Many identify themselves as "small business owners," the secret code among the faithful. They are no friends to government itself, the more they can squeeze and starve the federal budget—which means you and me, Grandma, and Social Security—the happier they will be.

In short, they are first Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton's worst nightmare, after his fateful duel with Aaron Burr. Two centuries later, we are living in Hamilton's world of mighty commerce, centralized government, and interdependence among nations, like it or not. This becomes more relevant as the days tick toward the summer fun around here—the vote to raise the debt ceiling limit. Class? [Read the U.S. News debate: Should Congress raise the debt limit?]

Seventy-eight are men, and only two are African-American. Roughly one quarter of the class has done military service; one, an Army colonel named Christopher Gibson, teaches politics at West Point. Allen West, an outspoken Florida congressman, saw his Army career end in Iraq over his firing a gun into a barrel during an interrogation of an Iraqi policeman. Very nice. Jon Runyan of New Jersey is a former NFL player. And don't run into rancher Rep. Kristi Noem out on the highways of her home state of South Dakota, where she has been stopped for speeding and given more than 25 citations, according to South Dakota press reports. Joe Walsh, an Illinois congressman and Tea Party activist, is a quick study before the lights and cameras of the chattering class.

As the nation draws ever closer to the debt ceiling, the usual practice of raising the roof by an act of Congress becomes all the more urgent as financial markets and newspapers worldwide get fitful and skittish about the restless House of Representatives doing the right thing. They sense this crowd is different from the rest—the only thing is, they don't know how right they are. Roughly one third lack any prior legislative experience. In addition, several knowledgeable and respected members of Congress, such as defense expert Ike Skelton of Missouri and conservative "Blue Dog" Gene Taylor of Mississippi, were displaced. [See a slide show of 6 consequences if the debt ceiling isn't raised.]

President Obama's outing on the links with House Speaker John Boehner did nothing to quell quivers of fear. I'll tell you why: Obama is dealing with Boehner in a gentlemanly game of golf as if he expects the 87 new Republican House freshmen to follow their leader and act like reasonable men—and a handful of nine women. But just as racial and ethnic diversity is not their strong suit, nor is respecting the ways and means of Washington. They've made their scorn of Obama apparent—they'd be happy to see him fail, even at the country's cost. But it's not clear Boehner can control this Tea Party class. [See a slide show of 6 ways to raise the debt ceiling.]

Florida gave us seven members of this class. Ohio, Illinois, and Pennsylvania, the Rust Belt states that often (not always) bleed blue, contributed five each. The mandate the Class of 2010 rode in on had a wide geographical base. Plainly put, this wave is not at all a Southern thing, or even a regional thing. Thirty-five states sent a new Republican representative to the House in 2010.

That means that we are really in this thing together. The 87 House troublemakers, they are us.

  • Read the U.S. News debate: Does the U.S. need a balanced budget amendment?
  • See a slide show of 6 ways to raise the debt ceiling.
  • See a slide show of 6 consequences if the debt ceiling isn't raised.
  • Read the U.S. News debate: Should Congress raise the debt limit?