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OUTLIERS: Justin Amash, Jim Bridenstine, Paul Broun, Louie Gohmert, Tim Huelskamp, Walter Jones, Raul Labrador, Tom Massie, Mick Mulvaney, Steve Pearce, Steve Stockman, and Ted Yoho (from top left to bottom right)
Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Newscom; Sue Ogrocki/ap; Gregory Smith/AP; J. Scott Applewhite/AP; John Hanna/AP; Jacquelyn Martin/ap; Matt Cilley/ap; hanbdout; Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal/ZUMA press/Newscom; handout; Harry Hamburg/ap; Cliff Owen/ap (from t
OUTLIERS: Justin Amash, Jim Bridenstine, Paul Broun, Louie Gohmert, Tim Huelskamp, Walter Jones, Raul Labrador, Tom Massie, Mick Mulvaney, Steve Pearce, Steve Stockman, and Ted Yoho (from top left to bottom right)

Twelve worried men

Congress | A small group of House conservatives view the nation’s debt as a threat worth risking a political career to fight. Their decision may be bearing fruit

Issue: "The new urban frontier," March 9, 2013

WASHINGTON—When 12 House Republicans broke ranks and refused to support John Boehner’s second term as House speaker on Jan. 3, most pundits dismissed them as firebrand provocateurs who could accomplish nothing. Politico described them as “an eclectic group of rookies and backbench conservatives who live a largely-off-the-grid political existence, situated outside establishment and sometimes even mainstream conservative boundaries.”

But a closer look at these outliers, who nearly forced Boehner to a chaotic second ballot, reveals that they have something else in common: They nearly all claim to hold devout faiths. The congressmen who passed on Boehner include an Eastern Orthodox Christian, four Roman Catholics, five Southern Baptists, and a Methodist who said his family works “hard to abide by Christian principles.” In interviews with WORLD several of these lawmakers said their religious beliefs gave them the courage to stand by their convictions and step away from party discipline.

Many lawmakers have provided lip service to worries over the nation’s balance sheet. But these 12 lawmakers—Justin Amash, Jim Bridenstine, Paul Broun, Louie Gohmert, Tim Huelskamp, Walter Jones, Raul Labrador, Tom Massie, Mick Mulvaney, Steve Pearce, Steve Stockman, and Ted Yoho—saw the country’s debt problem as enough of a moral issue to act at the risk of their political futures. Beyond shared faiths, a look at the lives of three of these men reveals a history of taking on the establishment mindset—and sometimes winning. The last several weeks have shown that they might be winning again.

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Mick Mulvaney, who represents counties in northern South Carolina, saw the last minute Jan. 1 deal to avoid the fiscal cliff as a failure to the country because it raised taxes without including real spending cuts. A Roman Catholic in an area dominated by Protestants and a Republican in a district with a tradition of Democratic activism, Mulvaney entered politics as a double underdog. The lawyer turned real estate developer ran in 2006 for a statehouse seat that Republicans had never held in the state’s history. Mulvaney became the first, winning by 212 votes. In 2010, Mulvaney, by then a state senator, again decided to tackle long-shot odds.

At a Rock Hill, S.C., town hall meeting held by the district’s Democratic congressman, Mulvaney watched as more than 600 attendees booed and jeered while the lawmaker struggled to defend President Obama’s healthcare plan.

On the way home from the event Mulvaney called his wife.

“Honey, can I run for Congress?” he asked.

A long pause followed.

“Can you win?”

“Well, no.”

“Then you can run.”

There were abundant reasons why Mulvaney would lose: Rep. John Spratt had been in Congress since 1983, rising to the chairmanship of the House Budget Committee. Spratt had won some of his recent reelection bids by more than 25 percent of the vote. Mulvaney won the race by more than 10 percentage points, becoming the first Republican to represent South Carolina’s 5th Congressional District since Reconstruction.

Mulvaney also became the first Catholic member of Congress from South Carolina.

In 2011, he arrived in Washington armed with the belief that “debt for no good reason can be an immoral choice.” But he learned that borrowing money was Washington’s solution to its inability to make tough decisions: “The modern compromise in Washington is purchased, and it’s purchased with debt.”

The votes to delay the tough decisions led Mulvaney to prayer. In the spring of 2011 the House debated another stopgap measure to fund the federal government. He felt pressure from the Washington establishment: “They were slapping us on our backs and telling us we had great futures here if we just went along.”

A group of backslapped freshman lawmakers decided to gather in a room near the House chamber. For 10 minutes the lawmakers got on their knees and prayed, Mulvaney said, asking for guidance in a vote that would affect the future of their political careers as well as the country. When they left the room no one talked about how they were going to vote. Once on the House floor they all voted the same way: against more federal spending and against the establishment. “It was very moving to me that there was such a group of men and women here who had that much faith in their faith,” Mulvaney said.

Mulvaney, 45, says he will continue to force House votes on curtailing federal spending. Last month he offered an amendment to offset billions earmarked for Hurricane Sandy aid with a 1.6 percent across-the-board cut in discretionary spending. The effort failed, with lawmakers saying that Congress does not traditionally offset emergency spending.

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