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In House, a band of new rebels

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Take Rep. Mike Pence. The two-term Indiana lawmaker shot to celebrity among conservative activists after standing up to pressure from the White House and GOP House leaders during an epic 2003 Medicare vote that stretched out to nearly three, bone-crunching hours. More than 70 conservatives signed a petition against the bill. In the end only 25, including Pence, voted to defeat it.

"He is one of those people who is respected because he will always vote his principles, as irritating as that may be to some of the Republican leadership in the House," says Richard Lessner, executive director of the American Conservative Union, which invited Pence to be the keynote speaker that winter.

A talk radio host before coming to Congress, Pence resists pressure with conspicuous grace. "He is animated by, informed by, and motivated by his religious faith and his conservatism," says attorney Greg Garrison, who took over Pence's show when he moved to Washington.

After only four years on Capitol Hill, the Indiana lawmaker was just elected to chair the influential Republican Study Committee. With about 100 members (complete headcounts are never released), the RSC is "the majority of the majority," Pence says, citing Speaker Dennis Hastert's formula that most Republicans must support a bill before it can move to the floor. He expects to have a say in what moves in the new Congress, and is signaling that Bush cannot count on a rubber stamp from House conservatives.

"House conservatives must rally support in Congress and the country for President Bush's agenda where it conforms to the ideals of limited government," he wrote last month. But they must also "undo" much of the 2001 campaign finance reform act, roll back the entitlement elements of the Medicare prescription-drug law, and reverse the federal role in education advanced in the No Child Left Behind Act, the president's signature domestic program, he urged. Unlike previous RSC chairs, Pence resigned his party role as deputy whip to avoid "serving two masters."

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