WASHINGTON — After one month in office, freshman Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington state said the biggest challenge has not been in dealing with Democrats.
"A bigger challenge ... for me right now is the interaction with the folks in my party who've been there for a while," she said. "I suspect this is something that most of the freshmen are working through. It's like salt water and river water. I don't mean to say it's negative, but there's a point where it hits. And everybody's figuring out where everybody else fits."
As she adjusts to her new job and colleagues, Herrera Beutler has hired 11 staff members, signed on to her first legislation, given her first speech on the House floor and hosted her first town-hall meetings in her district in southwest Washington state.
She said she's ready now to get serious about cutting spending, returning to pre-stimulus 2008 levels, even if that means a reduction of almost 20 percent, as proposed by House Republican leaders. She said she's not expecting to win any popularity contests.
"It's not going to be easy," said Herrera Beutler, 32. "People are going to get things cut that they like or prefer."
But she said sacrifices are required now to reduce the amount of national debt passed on to future generations.
"Saying no at any point is never easy," she said. "But we have to go back to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout (levels of spending.) We actually need to go back beyond the 2008 levels, but this is the first step."
Herrera Beutler, who returned to Capitol Hill Tuesday after spending last week in Washington state, said it "gets a little frustrating and a little thick in DC." But she said she loves her new job and that she gets refreshed and energized by spending time with her constituents.
After sounding them out during a series of meetings in seven counties last week, Herrera Beutler said she believes a majority of her constituents want her to make tough decisions necessary to drastically cut spending. She said concerns about spending the economy dominated her constituent meetings last week.
Herrera Beutler, who's serving on the House transportation and small business committees, said she is not ready to vote to increase the national debt next month unless it's accompanied by a plan to sharply reduce spending.
"The jury's out on it for me," she said. "I would need to see a distinctive change to our spending structure. I need to see something ... To just do it again, without changing anything, is irresponsible. It is borderline amoral. I mean, we're talking about passing on massive debt to new generations."
Herrera Beutler, one of 96 House newcomers, said that many of the new freshmen are ready to act more boldly than veteran Republicans to cut spending, and she said that's what's causing some tension in the majority ranks.
"There's a lot of folks in my class who have never served," she said. "And they've left their businesses, they've left their families to come, and it's go-big-or-go-home. They've left to come to put us on the right course, so their approach may be a little different than some who've been serving for a time. So it's not that I sense a discord or disunity. There's just always going to be bumps when you're meshing that many new folks."