S.C. congressmen made splash in debt debate

The StateAugust 8, 2011 

The approval rating of Congress was in the single digits in late July, and U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy was walking — hesitantly, he says — through a Spartanburg grocery store near his home.

“You’re afraid to leave your home when you see numbers like that,” Gowdy said. “You’re afraid the people who think that are the people who live around you.”

Gowdy and the three other S.C. freshman members of Congress, all Republicans, had just defied pressure to support a plan by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to raise the country’s debt ceiling. And they weren’t sure how the folks back home felt about their defiance, which, critics said, risked crashing the American economy.

That, Gowdy says, is when it started.

A clap on the back from one shopper. A nod and thumbs up from others. Scattered applause as Gowdy maneuvered his cart down the aisle.

“They came up and said, ‘Don’t give up. Stay strong. We support you,’ ” Gowdy said last week. “I don’t know what party affiliation they were. I don’t know if they backed the Boehner plan. But back home in South Carolina, I think people respect standing on principle — even if they may disagree with the underlying vote.”

The defiance of House leaders by Gowdy and his fellow freshman congressmen — all relatively young, all fiscally conservative Republicans — only added to their growing national reputation as a tight-knit, Tea Party-true group, intent on cutting the size and debt government.

Over the past two weeks, the four — Gowdy and U.S. Reps. Jeff Duncan of Laurens, Mick Mulvaney of Indian Land and Tim Scott of North Charleston — stuck together in opposing Boehner’s plan and even the final debt-ceiling compromise that passed the House and Senate, in spite of their “no” votes. The four say that final deal does not go far enough in cutting costs or ensuring an early vote on a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution.

Critics say they acted foolishly, unnecessarily putting the country’s AAA credit rating at risk and also threatening the cost of borrowing to consumers — on everything from auto loans to credit cards to mortgages.

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