By Ben Terris
With 89 of them, it's no surprise that the freshman class of House Republicans has made its mark on the 112th Congress. The tea party surge that brought many of them to Capitol Hill has played a crucial role in Washington's sputtering attempts to work out a budget. But anyone who thinks of the new members as a voting bloc has never been their class president. That honor belongs to Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga. Scott says it's not his job to try to round up votes for leadership; the fact that many of the "independent thinkers" of his class can't really be arm-twisted, he says, is one reason he's proud to be one of their leaders. Edited excerpts from the interview follow.
NJ How would you describe the freshman class?
SCOTT I will tell you this: For the first several weeks, the average member of the press would refer to us as the "anti-Obama" class of tea party Republicans. That's just not true. First of all, we never are derogatory about the president as a man. We just don't like his policies. I think of us as a group of independent thinkers. We are not a bloc vote, and the class has never wanted to be a bloc vote. That was never the direction we envisioned going in.
NJ You don't think of yourselves as a "tea party" class?
SCOTT I really don't. We obviously have members that are part of the Tea Party Caucus and members that aren't. I'm a conservative Republican, and I'm not a member of the Tea Party Caucus, but I have very good friends that are.
NJ Are there differences between your beliefs and those at the core of the Tea Party Caucus?
SCOTT I think it would depend on which member of the tea party you talk with. Put it this way: I don't think we can balance this budget in 12 months; I don't think we can close the $1.5 trillion deficit in 12 months. We've got to be more transparent and honest with the general public.
NJ Has leadership asked you to help them line up votes?
SCOTT I don't get called in to the office to whip votes. Whipping is their job. If they are not getting the votes they want, I'm happy to tell them what the frustrations are with the issues.
NJ You expressed frustration with the formation of the super committee as part of the debt-ceiling negotiation. Why?
SCOTT I voted against it. I know those men and women have a lot of responsibility and a lot on their shoulders, and I respect them for their service. I just think there's a reason we have 435 members of the House and 100 members of the Senate. If we got back to that regular process in Washington, we might accomplish more.
NJ That kind of sounds like you are proposing "business as usual" as a solution.
SCOTT I can see how it sounds like that. What we've got right now is a stalemate that is holding back the economic growth of the country. What my people want is to get Washington out of the way and have Americans get back to work. Right now there are too many people with a take-it-or-leave-it attitude, my way or the highway. If you go through the regular process of the House and Senate passing companion bills and then try and work out differences in the conference, maybe we can get something done.
NJ What has been the biggest impediment toward accomplishing what you want?
SCOTT I had heard that we as a class would be able to have meaningful dialogue with this president. We've tried to make this happen again and again, but the president keeps ignoring our requests. It's been very frustrating that we can't sit down with him.
NJ You think you could work with him?
SCOTT Absolutely. He constant-ly says we won't work with him, but we passed his trade agreements within 10 days of him giving us the language. We would have passed them back in March if he only presented them to us. He stood up at the State of the Union and he talked about lowering the corporate tax rates, closing corporate loopholes. I and others stood up and clapped for that. We were ready and willing to work with him on that, and he is yet to give us a proposal on this.
NJ What's been the toughest part about being in Congress?
SCOTT The time away from the family is the hardest part of the job. I have a little apartment in D.C., and I have to tell you, I'm happy when I get to go home to Georgia. My wife and I are also talking about whether we can afford the apartment or not. If not, I guess I'd sleep in my office like a lot of my colleagues do. I know it works for some, and others it doesn't. Let's just say I hope I can keep the apartment.
This article appeared in the Saturday, November 5, 2011 edition of National Journal.