Updated at 3:01 p.m. on January 7.
In their first foray into Capitol Hill politics, tea party freshmen discovered that experience--or lack of it--counts.
A House Rules Committee meeting on Thursday to discuss the bill that Republicans plan to offer next week to repeal President Obama's health care law provided freshly sworn-in tea party Republicans their first opportunity to strut their stuff in public. Reps. Rob Woodall, R-Ga., Daniel Webster, R-Fla., and one of the conservative movement's most highly touted stars, Rep. Tim Scott, R-S.C., are all new members of the powerful panel. (Although Woodall didn’t seek or receive any tea party endorsements during his campaign, he told National Journal “I love the tea party,” and he spoke at several tea party-affiliated events.)
Woodall was the first to stumble on the learning curve, eliciting an audible "not true" from a dozen or so Democrats packed into the room when he described the provision that extends parents' health insurance coverage for their children up to age 26 as a "free lunch." (Neither the government nor insurance companies pay the cost of the insurance; depending on the premium, either the parents or the employers do.)
Webster, following shortly after, chose to err on the side of caution: He limited his remarks to a question about how the Congressional Budget Office formulates its cost estimates.
But the novices were not totally cowed. Bantering with Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., about the Medicare "doughnut hole," Woodall sarcastically remarked that because Markey has trumpeted his seniority, he hoped to at least "learn something" from him.
It was just one of many catfights that marked the contentious hearing. After learning that two Democrats (Reps. Robert Andrews of New Jersey and Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida) had been left off the witness list, committee Chairman David Dreier, R-Calif., refused to hear them until all of the panel's Democrats took their seats. Not to mention the stir caused by missed swearing-in ceremonies.
The debut seemed to bode an interesting couple of years on the Hill—and not just for new tea party members.
CLARIFICATION: This report has been updated to clarify Rob Woodall's relationship to the tea party.
Meghan McCarthy contributed contributed to this article.