'World News' Political Insights: Tea Party to Get Washington Welcome - For Now

Tensions on debt, spending will challenge Republican unity in new Congress.

WASHINGTON, Jan. 2, 2011 -- For a fresh-faced batch of outsiders that ran against Washington, Washington is going to be a welcoming town this week.

The question will be how long those good feelings last -- with tensions already emerging both inside and outside the newly empowered Republican Party.

The first week of the new Congress will be one of vindication and celebration for the tea party.

The historically large freshman class was promised a seat at the House leadership table; the new arrivals will actually have two such seats when John Boehner becomes House speaker on Wednesday, in addition to three spots on the Steering Committee.

Want a commitment to the Constitution? The House will have the document read aloud, in its entirety, on the first full day of the 112th Congress.

And the first major act of the new House majority will be to approve a package of procedural reforms that take much of their inspiration from the tea party crowd. They include a new requirement that all bills spell out their constitutional justifications before they're brought up for votes, plus a rule that new spending must be offset with cuts elsewhere in the federal budget.

But this party won't last forever. Looming votes over raising the debt limit, cutting spending and how to attack aspects of the Obama agenda will strain ties between the new members and veteran Republicans who have committee chairmanships and leadership posts because of their victories.

The lame-duck session of Congress -- when President Obama was able to score a series of unexpected legislative victories after reaching key compromises with Republicans -- already laid bare some of the fundamental differences that are likely to pit tea partiers against establishment Republicans going forward.

Though the tax agreement was widely viewed as a victory for the GOP, many tea party activists maintain that Republicans should have insisted on permanent extensions of the Bush tax cuts, rather than settle for a two-year compromise.

The START treaty with Russia was approved by the Senate over the objections of incoming freshman, who pleaded with both parties for the issue to be held over for the new Congress.

And tea partiers saw House Republicans name several new chairmen whom they view as part of the problem with government spending, rather than the solution. That list includes incoming Appropriations Committee chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., dubbed the "Prince of Pork" for his past proclivity for securing "earmarked" special projects for his district.

The vote on raising the debt limit is widely viewed as the first major challenge facing GOP leadership. All involved acknowledge that defaulting on the nation's debt is not a viable option, yet dozens of new members of Congress vowed to oppose all new borrowing, as a means of forcing spending cuts.

But past experience suggests that unexpected issues will arise even sooner than that.

One big one that looms is how to seek to undo items approved by the last Congress. Votes to repeal health care or financial reform won't strike laws from the books. But control of the purse strings provide plenty of other avenues for achieving similar goals, sometimes through controversial means.

After an election season when tea party challenges to the establishment became the norm, Republicans are already used to the ways new organizing energy can both help and hurt the party. Boehner and his team have gone out of their way to accommodate the new members of Congress, with freshmen set to play a larger role than in any previous session.

For Republicans who have been shut out of power in Washington for the past two years, any majority -- even a tenuous one -- is clearly preferable.

But for a party that's taking the long view, while hoping for more success in 2012 and beyond, management of its own new members will help define the future.