By Marin Cogan
It was a study in contrasts: While Washington was abuzz Tuesday with news that the seemingly moribund Senate Gang of Six might be riding to the rescue with a bipartisan breakthrough on the debt limit, more than a dozen House Republican freshmen took an activist-style bus run down Pennsylvania Avenue to make demands on the president to show them his deficit-reduction plan.
As the bipartisan Gang of Six proposals gained momentum and the president seemed ready to jump on board, some in the vocal class reflected their deep distrust of the institutions warning of an economic Armageddon -- not just the White House and Wall Street but their own party in some cases. And while they said they're sticking to their principles, they also may be taking themselves out of the final phase of negotiations.
"There is no reason to call this thing a default, the issue is whether to have an increase in the debt ceiling," said Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks, a freshman who sometimes notes that he studied economics at Duke University. "There will not be a default of our credit unless the president decides on his own to breach our obligation to our creditors -- that's an entirely separate issue from raising the debt ceiling, but nevertheless the president has acted like not raising the debt ceiling is equivalent to a default. It is absolutely not equivalent to a default to our creditors."
If Congress fails to find a deal to raise the debt ceiling before Aug. 2, the freshmen said it won't be their fault -- it'll be the president's responsibility.
Tennessee Rep. Diane Black wrote a letter last month signed by 77 freshmen asking for a detailed plan from the president. New York Rep. Thomas Reed, who led the protest Tuesday, followed up this week with a letter signed by 65 of his colleagues and took it to the White House.
The freshmen also joined Alabama Rep. Robert Aderholt in another letter to the president last week asking him to prioritize Social Security, military benefits and interest payments on the debt if leaders didn't reach a deal by Aug. 2. The president said last week he couldn't promise Social Security payments would be made in the event of a default.
"I have a challenge for the president. I dare him, I double dare him to even think about cutting Social Security for the people who collect it, and dealing [with] the pay for the military," Pennsylvania Rep. Tom Marino said. "The Republicans are not going to cut Social Security. We're going to make sure that it's out there and it's out there on time."
But the freshmen aren't just attacking Obama -- they're targeting some in their own party.
Freshman Illinois Rep. Joe Walsh circulated a letter he said was signed by roughly 50 members asking the House GOP leadership to "publicly disavow" the last-ditch debt-limit proposal pitched by Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, vowing not to bring it up for a floor vote "in any form."