The Tea Party's Accomplishments in Congress So Far

Not all of them have offered bills, but they've pushed the House to the right

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The large class of freshmen House Republicans has a lot of clout because of their numbers--87 of them--and their connection to the party's activist base--many of them are Tea Party-certified. What have they done with their power in their first six months in office? Three of them haven't offered a single bill, The Hill's Cristina Marcos and Bob Cusack report. Five others--plus one Democrat--haven't been the main author of any bills. One of the bill-less, Georgia's Austin Scott, is the president of the House freshman class.

And they could be on the cusp of losing their power, Politico's Marin Cogan reports, because they're insisting on no tax increases in the deal to raise the debt ceiling--Democrats demand new revenues--and they're demanding a tough balanced-budget amendment that would require a two-thirds majority to raise taxes, which many lawmakers feel couldn't even pass the House, let alone the Democratically-controlled Senate.

Tea Partying lawmakers are credited with getting House Speaker John Boehner to back away from a bigger $4 trillion deal to cut the deficit in favor of a package with smaller, $2 trillion ambitions. And they didn't have to have a big confrontation with Republican leaders to make it happen. Still, Cogan reports, "the members run the risk of marginalizing themselves by staking out a position that makes it impossible to vote for any final deal." Democrats tell Cogan that they think Boehner knows he can't pass legislation without "close to 100 Democratic votes," Rep. Gerry Connolly explained. And many of the Republican freshmen didn't know about the $4 trillion proposal until they met with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner in June.

But the freshmen have still been able to push the House rightward, The New York Times' Nate Silver explains. GOP n00bs are a little bit more conservative than average--they vote the liberal position 6.8 percent of the time, compared to GOP veterans' 7.5 percent of the time--but they tend to be from more moderate districts than the veterans. By Silver's analysis, "80 percent of the first-termers are more conservative than you'd 'expect' based on knowing how the veteran Republicans are voting."

Why is the freshman class more conservative? Silver offers a few reasons: Republicans got a bigger share of the popular vote in 2010, and the most motivated voters last fall were more conservative. Plus, the freshman haven't had to defend their seats yet. "Consider the last time that Republicans made gains of this magnitude, which was in 1994," Silver writes. "That year produced 73 freshman Republicans in the House of Representatives. How many of those 73 freshmen are still serving in the House today? Only 7 of them. By comparison, there were just 13 freshmen Democrats elected that year. But 6 of the 13 are still serving."

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