'World News' Political Insights: Earmark Debate Awaits Freshmen in Congress

VIDEO:New GOPers Loyal, but to Whom?
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Orientation for newly elected members of Congress takes on a new meaning when a class comes to town dedicated to reorienting Washington -- and taking a party along with them.

The largest and perhaps least predictable class of soon-to-be freshman House members in generations arrived in Washington today for formal training sessions on how to serve in Congress.

They delivered the Republican Party the majority. But they had barely hit the ground before they made clear that their loyalties extend to a different party.

"I had a lot of Tea party support in my district," Rep.-elect Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., told ABC News today. "I represent the whole district [in] Illinois, but they're very passionate about it and they're going to hold us accountable."

"Our friends in the Tea Party are patriots," said Rep.-elect Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn.

"The Tea Party has been a very active movement across this country," said Kristi Noem, just elected as South Dakota's sole House member.

"They are going to be an influence," she said. "They helped a lot of different candidates get elected across this country, and I think they are going to continue to communicate with us as we do our work."

In what could be a sign of tension to come, a national tea party group, the Tea Party Patriots, accused the Republican Party of seeking to undermine its training session this weekend by scheduling its own events to welcome newly elected members of Congress.

The tea partiers in the class of 2010 arrived at this moment on the promise of not accommodating the old ways of doing business. This fact, more than the rightward political leanings of the vast majority of the new members of Congress, will give this group more sway than any class of freshmen that's preceded it, including the Contract with America class that stormed into Washington in 1995.

The first test for the new tea party class in Congress will come in their first week in town, before they're even sworn in to their new posts in January. They will miss out on the big debate this month over whether and how to extend the Bush-era tax cuts, but they'll be on hand for another debate of major spending consequence.

Both the House and Senate Republican conferences will vote this week on whether to impose immediate bans on "earmarks," the special projects members of Congress insert into spending bills.

Earmarks have long been favored by members of both parties, with members of the House and Senate appropriations committees particularly keen on preserving congressional power to direct money to favored causes.

Though earmarks' impact on overall federal spending is nominal, they carry outsized symbolic importance. And -- critically from the perspective of a White House that's looking for new political footing -- it pits even some veteran Republicans against their colleagues.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is among the staunch defenders of earmarking, casting the practice as an appropriate use of legislative power over spending that would otherwise be controlled by the executive branch.

Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., is leading a quest to ban earmarks despite McConnell's stance. He'll be joined by the new tea partiers in his caucus, and he has an unlikely ally in President Obama.

The president has chosen earmark reform as one of his first post-midterm causes. In his weekend radio address, Obama signaled that he'll seek to put a halt to the practice.

"As we work to reform our budget, Congress should also put some skin in the game. I agree with those Republican and Democratic members of Congress who've recently said that in these challenging days, we can't afford what are called earmarks," the president said.

The White House knows well that the issue pits Republicans against themselves. It will be the first of several areas where the president seeks out ways to build unusual coalitions inside Congress that peel some Republicans off from their leadership.

The new tea party members of Congress arrive at a time of intense attention on the issues of federal taxing and spending that they care about.

But, as the initial recommendations from the co-chairmen of Obama's deficit commission made clear, little consensus exists in either party over how to proceed.

The uncertainty provides an unprecedented opportunity for the new members of Congress to shape the debate in the coming months and years. Yet their influence will be strained by internal party tensions that will continue, as an unwieldy group of new members meets old ways of doing business.

ABC News' Mary Bruce contributed to this report.

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