Jul 21, 2011 – 6:47 PM ET
WASHINGTON — Before the 2010 U.S. midterm elections, Joe Walsh was a two-time political loser who almost no one — excluding maybe his family and close friends — thought would win a seat in Congress.
Now the 49-year-old former American history professor and investment banker is among a group of first-term House Republican lawmakers who, arguably, wield more power over America’s debt crisis than the President of the United States.
Swept into office last November on a wave of support from Tea Party conservatives, Walsh, who represents Illinois’ 8th district, is one of 87 GOP freshmen whose opposition to a compromise over raising America’s debt ceiling risks pushing the U.S. government into default.
Call them uncompromising, or call them principled, this much is undisputed about the Republican newcomers: Without their backing, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives will have extraordinary difficulty getting the necessary 218 votes to pass bipartisan debt legislation before the U.S. reaches its $14.3-trillion borrowing limit on Aug. 2.
“These are people who are, deep down, anti-government. They sincerely believe the country is being spent into bankruptcy and they are prepared to take whatever action is necessary to reduce spending,” says Mark Rozell, a professor in political science at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.
“They see compromise as failure and potentially they can kill any deal if they stick together. They don’t see themselves as going along to get along. They think they came to Washington to change the world.”
The power wielded by the freshmen Republicans loomed large Thursday amid reports President Barack Obama and GOP leaders were closer to agreement on a deal to reduce the U.S. deficit by $3-trillion over the next decade.
White House spokesman Jay Carney insisted: “There is no deal, we are not close to a deal.”
In the past three weeks alone, the Tea Party-backed Republican newcomers have played a pivotal role in determining the outcome of negotiations to raise the U.S. debt ceiling. They forced Republican House Speaker John Boehner to abandon talks earlier this month with Obama over a $4-trillion plan to reduce U.S. deficits over the next 10 years, primarily because it included an increase in tax revenues.
They’re also fighting to kill a so-called “fail-safe” plan promoted by Republican Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell that would allow Obama to raise the debt ceiling in increments, arguing the $1.5-trillion in spending cuts included in that proposal are too modest.
Instead, they’re sticking to demands that any increase in the U.S. borrowing limit be tied to an agreement on a balanced-budget amendment to the American Constitution that would forbid future deficit spending.
“I believe failing to raise the debt ceiling carries consequences, but I believe that failing to permanently change the structure of the way the government budgets and spends taxpayer money carries much more dire consequences,” said Raul Labrador, an Idaho Republican.
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