Amid Budget Standoff, GOP Freshman Faces Home District

Last year, New Hampshire Republican Rep. Frank Guinta defeated a MoveOn liberal to ride a Tea Party wave into Congress. Guinta, a former mayor of Manchester, said he was focused on the deficit and limited government. True to form, he voted to cut even more discretionary money from the GOP's pared-down budget — a plan even 92 Republicans rejected. How's that working out for him in New Hampshire? What does it say about the upcoming budget showdown?

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When Congress returns to Washington next week, lawmakers will be faced with the big problem they left behind: The standoff over this year's budget. The Senate has yet to pass any plan for 2011 and House Republicans are digging in their heels for deep spending cuts, partly because of the influence of freshmen Republicans like Frank Guinta.

NPR's Audie Cornish visited his district in southeastern New Hampshire.

Unidentified Woman: Hi. How are you folks?

Unidentified Man: Okay. Just sign in?

Unidentified Woman: Did you sign in already?

Unidentified Man: No.

Unidentified Woman: Okay. Yeah, if he can do that here, that'll be great.

AUDIE CORNISH: It's nearly April, so of course it's snowing in New Hampshire. But still, nearly 150 people turned out to a town hall meeting in Plaistow with freshman GOP Congressman Frank Guinta.

Unidentified Woman: And if you have a question that you'd like to ask the congressman, you could just put the area of concern on that side.

Unidentified Man #2: Okay, great.

Unidentified Man #1: We just want answers.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CORNISH: Guinta's district reflects the political trends of the last few years. It went blue in '06 and '08 with a MoveOn antiwar progressive, only to swing back into the red column with the victory of a Tea Party-backed fiscal conservative, Frank Guinta.

Representative FRANK GUINTA (Republican, New Hampshire): My position is this. I'll be responsible to taxpayers. I don't think our country should default on our obligations. But we shouldn't have these obligations in the first place. The spending that we have is excessive.

CORNISH: Guinta is a junior member of the House Budget Committee in a year that's already mired in budget showdowns. He and other Republicans have been back in their districts, trying to explain why they're cutting less spending than they pledged in their campaigns.

Rep. GUINTA: When I come back, I explained why we're in the CR process, and what that means and what percentage of the budget that is.

CORNISH: You think constituents are getting that? It's not easy to...

Rep. GUINTA: No, it's not and I think the constituents that are coming to events like this and asking the questions, yes, they walk away with a better understanding. However, I'm still hearing that they want to see further reductions. And, quite frankly, that will happen as scheduled, with the budget coming out in April.

CORNISH: Congressman Guinta and the other GOP freshmen voted but failed to cut another $22 billion in the House budget bill. On this night, he praises House votes to try and repeal or defund the health care law. But it's not enough for this attendee from Hempstead, who identified himself as John.

JOHN: You had a chance this month to pull 105 billion from ObamaCare, defunding it by voting no on the continuing resolution. You did not. This would only shut down nonessential government services and you didn't stand your ground. You now seem to me to be a typical Washington politician.

CORNISH: At the same time, when Guinta touts his votes on cutting spending by eliminating earmarks, Bob Perry of Strafford walks away unimpressed.

Mr. BOB PERRY: Until very recently, the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard was funded through earmarks. So without earmarks, the Portsmouth Naval shipyard, it would not exist today. And that's, you know, at least 2,000 jobs. Nothing is simple. Nothing is cut and dry. There are consequences to everything that we do.

CORNISH: And Perry, too, is part of a constituency that Guinta can't ignore, because Democrats have already put New Hampshire's District 1 near the top of their list of House seats they're targeting to take back.

Audie Cornish, NPR News, Manchester, New Hampshire.

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