Class of '94 Mellows

January 24, 1997

Class of '94 Mellows

By David Baumann

They arrived on Capitol Hill in late 1994, throwing rhetorical bombs and defying their leaders. But two years later -- with a re-election run behind them -- the House GOP freshman class of 1994 has mellowed somewhat, a key leader of the erstwhile revolutionaries said this week.

"When you first get in, you have to kick the system to get it moving," Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., vice president of the 1994 Republican freshmen, said in an interview. Souder said that between 1992 and 1994, President Clinton's positions on a variety of issues -- ranging from gays in the military to education reform -- energized conservatives.

"We were yelling 'Stop!' " Souder said. "He went across every conservative hot button and ignited a conservative group." Now, Clinton has moved rightward, Souder contended -- adding that if the president "is talking our language," the sophomores will hold their fire.

In addition, Souder said, the closer Republican-Democratic split in the House will allow fewer freshmen to rebel against the leadership; while their ranks were thinned somewhat by the 1996 election, there are still 58 Republicans remaining from the Class of '94, down from the original 73. "We can see that we don't have as big a margin," he said, adding that if a handful of Republicans "go south," the GOP can lose a bill.

"We didn't get here by being lousy politicians," he declared.

Souder also said that with new-found seniority, the sophomores will not be as close-knit as they once were. "We won't be as unified," he said, contending the GOP's new emphasis on committee work and the sophomores' new seniority on panels will result in less bloodshed on the floor and more work being done quietly in committees.

Souder warned, however, that if issues go "in the wrong direction, you will see the old freshman class." Already, the legislators are warning GOP leaders that House Republicans must deal with the new sophomores' position that the Social Security trust fund be taken off-budget if party leaders want those House members to vote in favor of the balanced budget constitutional amendment.

But, by and large, the new sophomores will try to strike a positive tone, Souder explained. "We stopped the liberal trend," he said. "We have to articulate what we want to replace it with."

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