Challenging first 100 days of 112th Congress

They were out to change the world, or at least the country and the Congress. The 96 freshman members of the House are made up of 87 Republicans and nine Democrats. So how did their first 100 days go? CBS News has been following a group of them since Day One. "CBS Evening News" anchor Katie Couric hears their Congressional Voices.


"This definitely has not been an easy time, but it's been a good time," said Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Mich.

Back in his home state of Michigan, Huizenga owns a gravel company and served as a state legislator. Now, three months into his first term in Congress, he says life in Washington is a whole new ballgame.

"To use a baseball analogy, they're pitching at your head. They're coming at ya, it's a big stage, and things are moving very, very fast."

How fast? In its first 100 days, the freshman class has navigated a national tragedy, military intervention in Libya, and narrowly averted a government shutdown.

Just days after taking their oaths of office, and while many were still learning the Capitol's maze of tunnels, a gunman opened fire at a Tucson, Ariz., shopping center, killing six and wounding a fellow member of Congress, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

Complete Coverage: Tragedy in Tucson

"My first reaction was pure shock," said Rep. Frank Guinta, R-R.I. "The fact that we had just been sworn in. That there's so much hope and optimism about this Congress and the awesome responsibility that we all share."

(Watch left : New members of Congress face tough challenges)

Many on Capitol Hill hoped the tragedy would usher in a new era of bipartisanship and civility.

"I think the tone changed for about two weeks and then I think after that we went back to the partisanship," said Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif.

Bass, who went from speaker of the California State Assembly to the lone Democratic freshman on the Budget Committee, says the feelings of unity after the Tucson shooting are long gone.

Efforts to tone down the rhetoric soon ran head-first into a bitter fight over federal spending.

"I think that's part of the combat that takes place in a legislative process," Bass said.

Florida's Rep. Allen West, an Iraq War veteran, walks the halls of Congress with his trademark military satchel. He campaigned on the GOP's Pledge to America, which included a promise of $100 billion in spending cuts this year. When the Republican leadership wavered on that amount, West and many of his Tea Party compatriots demanded it stand firm.

"You can't, you know, right out of the gate, lose your credibility," West said in February. "And I think they understood that. Because we really need the American people to know that they sent the right people up here to start taking care of the business of spending in Washington, D.C."

Congressional Voices speak out about Tucson shooting

The 87 new Republicans kept the pressure on, rallying on the Senate steps almost every day leading up to last Friday's spending deal. With that battle behind them, they've turned to next year's budget, voicing their support for a plan that would cut taxes and drastically reform Medicare.

Guinta said, "This is probably one of the most engaged budgets that has been produced by the House at least in the last decade, and I'm proud of that."

And what about the "Mighty Nine," as the small group of Democratic freshmen calls themselves?

They've had to face the reality of having considerably less clout than their conservative classmates.

"It's a frustrating process," said Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I. "I sort of expected when I got here that everyone would be focused on jobs and that the jobs agenda would be articulated by our Republican leadership in the House. There's been no jobs bill, no jobs agenda. We did NPR, we did Planned Parenthood, we did virtually everything but talk about jobs in the Congress."

And while some Democrats may think they have no clout, Speaker John Boehner needed dozens of them Thursday to pass the budget compromise. That's because 59 Republicans - including freshmen West and Huizenga voted no - because the cuts weren't big enough.