WASHINGTON North Carolina Republicans Robert Pittenger and Richard Hudson are among 67 new members 29 Republicans, 38 Democrats being sworn into the U.S. House of Representatives today.
Their first week on the job will involve celebrations, setting up new offices and avoiding any embarrassing missteps.
But Pittenger and Hudson are also bracing themselves to inherit looming challenges left over from Tuesdays congressional deal to avert the fiscal cliff, which they say failed to address the countrys most critical financial problems.
As the first UNC Charlotte graduate to be elected to Congress, Hudson will don his green Niners alumni tie for Thursdays ceremony. Hudson, a former congressional chief of staff from Concord, defeated incumbent Democratic Rep. Larry Kissell in November to represent the sprawling 8th District.
Pittengers four children will likely have to draw straws to see who gets to sit with their mother, Suzanne, for the Thursday ceremony inside the House chamber. Only two family members can attend.
Pittenger, of Charlotte, and Hudson have spent much of the past month attending orientation meetings, hiring staff, and setting up district offices.
Pittenger has hired 18 people, including four former staff members of retiring U.S. Rep. Sue Myrick. Pittengers 9th District includes south, west and north Mecklenburg County, western Union County and half of Iredell. His hires include chief of staff Brad Jones, who previously was an aide for Myrick, and district director Robert Becker. For incoming freshmen, one of the most anticipated traditions is the lottery for office space held for new members of the House.
Newcomers get last choice of office space, but both Charlotte-area representatives fared well, particularly Pittenger.
When lottery numbers were chosen to determine which offices freshmen would occupy for the next two years, Pittenger drew No. 4.
He picked Room 224 on the second floor in the Cannon House Office Building. The three-room office with royal blue rugs and tan curtains is just down the hall from Myricks office. It formerly belonged to U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry, who moved into the Rayburn House Office Building.
Hudson drew No. 19 and picked an office on the fourth floor of the Cannon building. His view includes the interior courtyard and a parking deck, but he likes that the lobby is a little wider and can fit a more comfortable couch for waiting constituents.
I had the walls in my office painted Carolina blue, he said.
Learning the ropes
The two freshmen will find the U.S. House a bewildering place, said Ross Baker, a professor of political science at Rutgers University.
As freshmen, they will have little influence, he said. But as part of the majority Republican Party, they will rank ahead of the freshman Democrats in the hierarchical chain.
One key to success is landing committee assignments that are connected to their constituencies, Baker said.
Both North Carolina members have gotten desirable assignments. And they are helping each other.
His classmates elected Hudson to serve as a leader on the steering committee, which helps makes key committee assignments. Considering Charlottes importance in the financial sector, Hudson said a pet project was getting Pittenger on the Financial Services Committee one of a handful of exclusive committee assignments that rarely go to freshman.
Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling gave me a very thick manual to study, Pittenger said.
Hudson was assigned to Agriculture, Homeland Security, and Education and Workforce committees. The 8th District extends from a small portion of Mecklenburg County to Davidson County and east to Robeson County.
Major issues loom
The objective for all new members is to be able to understand and take over their new roles immediately. Since the November election, theyve been immersed in training sessions, including classes on ethics rules, setting up an office, and handling payroll.
Pittenger and Hudson also traveled with members-elect to Cambridge, Mass., and Harvards John F. Kennedy School of Government where professors led talks on the economy and workings of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
The new staffs wont have much time to settle in.
Tuesdays last-minute budget deal left behind a host of follow-up issues. Pittenger and Hudson called the bill irresponsible. They now see themselves inheriting even greater challenges, such as the severe across-the-board spending cuts Congress put off for two months.
Hudson said the legislation further delays dealing with the countrys spending and debt problem and completely ignores the national jobs crisis.
Pittenger called Tuesdays vote a nonanswer.
We must greatly reduce spending and not follow the path of Greece and much of Europe, he said. We are straightening pictures while the house is burning down.