When the 112th Congress convenes Jan. 5, many familiar faces will be gone from the Capitol's hallways, replaced by newcomers sent by angry voters eager to shake up Washington, D.C.
The incoming class of freshmen lawmakers is enormous by historical standards, and mostly Republican. Of the 435 House members, 96 were newly elected Nov. 2 and 87 of them are Republicans. In the Senate, 13 of the chamber's 100 members are new arrivals, all but one of them Republican. "Our election represents one of the strongest statements from the American people in the history of our country," incoming Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., told
The incoming class of freshmen lawmakers is enormous by historical standards, and mostly Republican. Of the 435 House members, 96 were newly elected Nov. 2 and 87 of them are Republicans. In the Senate, 13 of the chamber's 100 members are new arrivals, all but one of them Republican.
"Our election represents one of the strongest statements from the American people in the history of our country," incoming Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., toldThe Washington Examiner.
Scott, the freshman class president, won his House seat much like many of his fellow newcomers: by defeating a Democratic incumbent. Scott beat four-term Rep. Jim Marshall, a moderate Democrat who, like so many others this year, was rejected largely because voters linked him with what they perceived to be an overspending, overreaching federal government run by Democrats. Scott arrives knowing that voters don't want more of the same.
"We are well aware that we need to get to work immediately to stop Washington's spending spree and get this economy turned around," Scott said.
Republicans in November took 63 seats away from House Democrats, recapturing the majority they lost in 2006, and picked up six seats in the Senate, narrowing Democrats' hold on that chamber. By comparison, the so-called Republican Revolution of 1994 yielded 54 new GOP seats in the House and eight in the Senate.
Unlike past years, however, dozens of the Republican freshmen come to Washington carrying the banner of the Tea Party, whose members want a smaller, less intrusive federal government that spends less, a philosophy underscored by their demand that Congress repeal President Obama's new health care reforms.
Tea Party activists aren't just sitting back now that their candidates have won. They say they intend to hold accountable the new lawmakers they helped elect, particularly when it comes to reducing government spending.
"What I want them to accomplish is nothing short of a nonviolent revolution," said Tea Party Patriots co-founder and national coordinator Mark Meckler. "What we expect them to do is absolutely go in and turn Washington, D.C., on its head. We are looking for them to evolve away from the ruling elite and back to the people and back to the states."
Some political experts say the Tea Party's expectations may be too high.
"To some extent, the belief that the freshmen are wild-eyed radicals might work to their benefit by rattling the Washington establishment," Claremont McKenna College political science professor John Pitney said. "In the end, though, I don't think they are going to shut the government down. For the most part, these are sensible people and they realize that such a move would ultimately backfire."
House and Senate GOP leaders have already signaled plans to give the freshmen a greater voice than in the past.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, sent a strong message that he is taking the newcomers seriously when he recently reversed his long-standing support for earmarks, which are budget provisions that lawmakers insert into massive spending bills to fund pet projects with little or no public scrutiny. McConnell now backs a two-year ban on earmarks that was spearheaded by Sen.-elect Rand Paul, another Kentucky Republican who was backed by the Tea Party and whose candidacy McConnell once resisted.
"This is only the beginning," Paul said when asked about other changes the new GOP senators would push in the Senate.
McConnell will likely be forced to make more concessions to Paul and other GOP newcomers if they form their own caucus under the Tea Party banner. Such a voting bloc would make it even more difficult for Republicans to cut deals with Democrats and the White House, particularly when it comes to spending issues.
In the House, the sheer number of new Republicans -- they now account for more than one in three of all House Republicans -- will make the freshmen a powerful force. Typically, House freshmen have the least power on Capitol Hill and are relegated to minor committees. But not in this Congress.
Incoming House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, created two new openings on the ultraexclusive elected leadership committee that meets privately to set the GOP agenda. The freshman class chose Tim Scott, R-S.C., and Tea Party favorite Kristi Noem, R-S.D., to fill those positions.
Boehner went even further, creating three openings for freshmen on the powerful House Republican Steering Committee, which elects all other committee chairmen. Todd Rokita, R-Ind., Joe Heck, R-Nev., and Pat Meehan, R-Pa., were picked by fellow freshmen to fill those positions.
Boehner also appointed at least one freshman to each of the top committees, including Appropriations, Judiciary, and Ways and Means.
"Look, this was a year like no other, and we have a freshmen class like no other," Boehner said. "This was a political rebellion against a Washington that wouldn't listen to the American people. House Republicans get it. We're going to keep listening to the American people and bringing their voice to Washington. Our new members, who are serving in leadership and on key committees like never before, will be a crucial part of that."
Five-term Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., a staunch earmark foe whom Boehner recently elevated to the Appropriations Committee, said he welcomes the freshmen's demand for change.
"This place has a way of breaking you in," Flake said. "So, the tougher they can come in and the harder line they can have, all the better."
Rep.-elect Tim Griffin, R-Ark., said it is up to the incoming class to ensure that the culture of Washington changes.
"It's not enough to change this law or that law," Griffin said. "You really have to change the way things operate and you have to do it not by changing personalities. You have to do it by changing some of the structure."
One such change Griffin favors is a new House rule that would dock the pay of lawmakers if they fail to complete budget bills on time, as was the case this year.
The freshman class, he said, is also determined to repeal Obama's health care reforms.
"I would say that probably 90 percent, if not 100 percent of Republican freshmen are going to be committed to repealing the health care law," Griffin said.
But on that issue, the freshmen are likely to find that the reality in Washington is that it's not easy to change Washington, Claremont McKenna's Pitney warned. After all, Democrats still control the Senate.
"The one thing you can predict with absolute confidence is they are not going to get everything they want," Pitney said. "But they are probably going to get a lot more than the typical freshman class."