As their class president, Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.) knows the Republican freshmen better than most, and he says its members really are as ideological as they are portrayed.
His classmates, many of whom were supported by the Tea Party movement, will vote their convictions “regardless of the political consequences,” he said.
In a class marked by political novices, Scott, 41, stands out. He served for 14 years in Georgia’s state legislature where he burnished his conservative credentials.
He supported pro-life legislation, voted to allow judges to impose a death sentence even if a jury did not reach a unanimous verdict and, in 2010, sponsored a resolution directing the state’s attorney general to file a lawsuit challenging the federal healthcare reform law.
Still, Scott’s voting record indicates he is willing to work across party lines even on politically contentious issues.
In 2001, Scott bucked his party by working with Democrats on an issue that cut to the core of the state’s political identity — removing the Confederate battle flag from the state flag.
In 1956, in the midst of the battle over civil rights, Georgia incorporated the battle flag, also known as the “Southern Cross,” into the state flag. It became a controversial issue, as many viewed it a symbol of segregation, and others viewed it as part of the heritage of the South.
In 2001, Scott was the only member of the GOP to co-sponsor the bill to change the flag. Conservative groups vowed to use the issue to unseat him but failed.
“I am glad for what we did,” Scott said. “I did what I thought was in the best interest of my state and what I thought was right.”
After years in the state House, Scott set his sights on higher office. After contemplating a run for governor, he instead decided to run for Georgia’s 8th congressional district.
“This was one [a race] we as Republicans could win, and one I’d had an interest in,” Scott said.
In November, he beat Democratic Rep. Jim Marshall.
Despite being a junior member in a body of 435 members, Scott believes he will be able to effect greater change as a congressman than he could as governor.
“What we need to do is get the economy going overall,” he said, and the way to do that is by controlling federal spending, which is under the control of Congress.
In the coming months, the federal government will bump up against its debt ceiling, and Congress will have to vote to raise it or face what the administration calls a dire economic consequence.
Many of the incoming freshmen vowed to change the way business in Washington is done by controlling federal spending and limiting the size of government. For these members, a vote on the debt ceiling, which will decide whether the government can borrow more money, will test their ideological will.
Last month on ABC’s “This Week”, Austan Goolsbee, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, warned that failing to raise the debt ceiling will cause the United States to default and cause financial turmoil.
With the United States’s economy struggling to regain its footing following the recession, the threat of further economic damage might not be enough to get newly elected and fiscally conservative members to vote to increase the debt ceiling.
“If you have a vote to raise the debt ceiling and that is all it is, I think the bill will fail overwhelmingly,” Scott said.
To win the support of fiscal conservatives, any increase will have to have spending offsets, although Scott did not say how big the offsets must to be. Scott did say he would vote to increase the ceiling if the offsets are included.
As the 112th Congress moves ahead, the GOP will need to stick to its ideals and not stray from the promises it made to its base because Scott believes the GOP was given a chance to govern, not a mandate.
“It is not that we won, as it is that they lost,” he said.