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The beauty of unruly Republicans

By Gloria Borger, CNN Senior Political Analyst
  • Gloria Borger: Republicans in D.C. are behaving like Democrats
  • She says the GOP is contending with assertive new voices
  • The internal conflicts may come to a head over budget, spending, she says

Editor's note: Gloria Borger is a senior political analyst for CNN, appearing regularly on CNN's "The Situation Room," "AC360°," "John King, USA" and "State of the Union."

Washington (CNN) -- So Republicans are now in charge in the House, and they're having some growing pains. It seems that their new flock is filled with independent sorts who may listen to their leaders, but still go their own way.

A revolt over a vote to retrieve some money from the United Nations? You bet. A refusal to approve an extension of George W. Bush's Patriot Act (acting in cahoots with Democrats, no less)? Yep. And, behind closed doors, arguments for more budget cuts than the leaders think is prudent, or doable. Who do these new guys think they are, anyway?

Truth is, it's refreshing. After years of marching in lockstep against the Democrats, it seems that the new GOP majority has something it didn't bargain for -- independent thinkers. It's not that they're right; they're mostly not. But they do believe they came here to do something, leaders be damned. So no more robotic unanimity. It's almost as if the GOP has morphed into a bunch of unruly Democrats.

It's enough to make the new House speaker cry. "We have been in the majority four weeks," John Boehner declared, as if he is keeping count of each rewarding moment. "We are not going to be perfect every day."

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Um, I guess not. Especially when Boehner gets the news that two-term GOP Rep. Christopher Lee has been advertising himself half-naked on Craigslist. Given the photo, the response from women could not have been any faster than the response from Boehner: Lee resigned in about a nanosecond.

That was easy to fix. Now comes the tough stuff, in both the budget and the upcoming vote to extend the debt ceiling. If you think Republicans have been fractious this past month, just wait. Boehner has 87 new members, each of whom came to D.C. to cut government -- and many of whom are willing to do it at the risk of their own re-election. In other words, they're telling their leaders that the notion of compromise has no appeal whatsoever.

"We need some people to throw up flares," the anti-tax impresario Grover Norquist tells me. "It's healthy." Otherwise, he says, you "get into settled orthodoxies."And, he predicts, "This is not some permanent logjam."

Maybe not. But how about this: House budget-cutters announce their $40 billion in proposed cutbacks and the new folks say it's not enough. They want the $100 billion they promised to the voters. Never mind that the results could actually be unpopular -- layoffs of police officers and cuts in education and medical research, for example.

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That, of course, is what the Democrats are banking on. While President Barack Obama's new budget next week is going to contain cuts that are unpalatable to much of his base, it's not going to cut as deeply as the new GOPers would want. And their bet is simple: when the public actually sees what the GOP wants to cut, it will balk.

To make matters worse, the House Republicans are the only big game in town right now. GOP presidential wannabes may be rushing to Washington to speak to conservatives this week, but they're not exactly rushing to declare their candidacies. So the de facto GOP spokesmen come from Capitol Hill, and that's always dangerous.

Especially when important matters -- like raising the national debt ceiling -- are at hand. The newcomers say they won't do it, unless they get budget cuts alongside it. But what will be enough?

"If the president refuses to cut as much as we want" there could be trouble, says Norquist. "There's co-ownership of this. Remember, the president voted against raising the debt ceiling when he was a senator. He played games with the bill when it came up."

Sure looks like history is about to repeat itself.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Gloria Borger.