Wednesday, Nov. 12: After a primary, runoff, general election and more than 19 months of campaigning, I am finally in Washington, D.C., for orientation for representatives-elect of the 114th Congress. I actually came up late in the afternoon the day before after participating in Savannah’s Veterans Day Parade at the invitation of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank whose mission is to formulate and promote conservative public policies.
Last night, along with 15 other conservative freshmen, I spoke with Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) about the importance of maintaining our conservative values and promoting a conservative agenda during our time in Washington. Today is packed with meetings starting bright and early at 8 a.m. as I have interviews with prospective staff members.
At lunch I attend another briefing with the Heritage Foundation, where we hear from former senator Jim DeMint, who now serves as its president. Afterwards there are more staff interviews and one with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution before I attend a reception honoring newly-elected members.
Thursday, Nov. 13: We start our orientation in earnest today as our morning session begins at 8 a.m. with a program explaining our members representation allowance, the budget given to each member of the House with which to run our offices. The majority — 70 percent in most cases — of this budget is personnel costs and therefore these hires are very important.
I am very fortunate to already have in place three of my most important positions — chief of staff, district director and scheduler, which gives me a leg up on most other freshmen. One thing that quickly gets all of the freshmen’s attention is the rule that if you exceed your MRA in any given year, you are required to pay any overage with personal funds. And to think I have been in favor of a balanced budget amendment all this time, when all we really need is to require individual congressmen to cover any overspending with their personal funds!
Later in the morning, I attend a meeting of the G11 group, which is comprised of the nine Republican representatives and two Republican senators from Georgia as we meet at least once a week to discuss items of interest to our state. Next year this will be known as the G12 group, since we picked up another Republican House seat during this last election.
After lunch we have a GOP organizing conference meeting, where more than 45 of the incoming Republican freshmen are introduced and we elect leadership for the 114th Congress. Most of the leadership races are uncontested, resulting in the re-election of Speaker John Boehner, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Majority Whip Steve Scalise and Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers. The only contested leadership race is for policy chair, which is won by Rep. Luke Messer from Indiana. We also elect our freshman class officers today with Rep.-elect Ken Buck from Colorado being elected as our class president.
Friday, Nov. 14: This morning we have a panel discussion on “If I knew then what I know now” with four veteran members of the House, who share their experiences, both good and bad, with the freshmen. Afterwards we go back to a GOP Organizing Conference where we spend most of the day debating and voting on amendments to the Republican House rules.
Having served in the Georgia legislature for the past 10 years has given me invaluable experience with many of these processes and, although the people are different and the numbers are greater, the issues we debate are largely similar. Members of leadership, particularly the Speaker, carry much influence over the direction of the caucus.
Also today, we adopt a map combining different regions of the country in order to get as much balance as possible in committee assignments. These assignments are decided by the Steering Committee, which is made up of 32 members with representation from each of the 13 regions, members of leadership and certain committee chairs. Each member of the Steering Committee gets one vote with the exception of the Speaker, who gets five votes and the majority leader who gets two votes.
Saturday, Nov. 15: Our only meeting this morning is the Legislative Process Overview Seminar, where the various legislative processes are explained. Again, I find my service in the Georgia General Assembly to be advantageous here; however, some rules are obviously different and differentiating these will take some time. We are also prepped on proper protocol for speaking on the House floor during debate of a bill and the voting procedures. Our orientation continued Monday morning and will last through Wednesday.
Buddy Carter is the U.S. House of Representatives member-elect for Georgia’s 1st District.