WASHINGTON — When President Barack Obama complains about House Republicans unwilling to compromise on a deficit reduction package, he's talking about Rep. Jim Jordan, a former wrestling champion from Ohio who is becoming a driving force in the debt debate on Capitol Hill.
Jordan's district is right next to Speaker John Boehner's in the western part of Ohio, but ideologically, he is miles apart from the Republican leader.
As Boehner and his lieutenants scrambled Tuesday for votes for the speaker's latest debt bill, Jordan announced at a news conference that he opposed the package, and he boldly predicted the speaker didn't have enough Republican votes to pass it. Tuesday night, GOP leaders postponed a vote planned for Wednesday as they worked to rewrite the package.
"If you look at this, it's about a $7 billion reduction in spending from what we're currently at," Jordan said. "We advocated something much more than that."
Boehner's plan promised spending cuts in excess of $1 trillion over the next decade in exchange for raising the debt ceiling by a slightly smaller amount. It also would establish a committee of lawmakers to recommend additional budget savings next year in exchange for extending the government's borrowing authority through 2012.
"We also have real concerns about the commission, the idea that on a 12-member commission, six Democrats and one Republican decide they want to raise taxes, you can't keep that off the floor," Jordan said. "It comes to the floor, and then there's a potential tax increase."
A member of the House for only four years, Jordan, 47, won the chairmanship of the Republican Study Committee, the conservative voice of the GOP caucus, after the party wrested control of the House from Democrats in last November's election. With more than 175 members, the group includes a majority of House Republicans.
On Wednesday, Jordan apologized to House GOP colleagues in a closed-door meeting after a staffer at the RSC got a little too aggressive in his opposition to Boehner's debt plan. The aide had sent an e-mail to conservative groups, urging them to lobby wavering Republican lawmakers against the plan. The lawmakers weren't happy about being targeted.
Jordan has never been shy about pushing his party to the right. He gets high marks from conservative groups for his strong record of opposing abortion and higher taxes, stretching to his days in the Ohio Legislature.
"It's what Ronald Reagan is all about, it's what our party's all about: a strong defense, lower taxes, less spending, traditional values," Jordan said in an interview. "That's what we fight for every day."
He sees his role as helping Boehner and the entire House GOP stay true to conservative values.
"I want to help the speaker," Jordan said. "I think he's got a tough job, and like a lot of Americans, we're praying for him."
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., is often cited as the leader of the conservative wing of the House Republican caucus. His power, however, is bolstered by members like Jordan, who work daily to rally other conservatives, including an 87-member freshman class that is eager to make its mark.
Jordan and his compatriots were a driving force behind the bill that the House passed last week that would slice federal spending by $6 trillion and require a constitutional balanced budget amendment to be sent to the states in exchange for averting a threatened government default after Aug. 2. The Democratic-controlled Senate quickly killed the measure with a procedural vote.
Jordan's unwillingness to compromise, however, rubs some fellow Republicans the wrong way.
"My experience with things that don't bend is that they break," said Rep. Steven LaTourette, a fellow Republican from Ohio, who represents the northeastern corner of the state.
LaTourette, who supports Boehner's debt plan, said he admires Jordan for standing up for what he believes in. But, he added, "I think it's harmful to the country and it's certainly harmful to the speaker's attempt to move legislation."
Jordan grew up in western Ohio and was a four-time state wrestling champion in high school, losing only a single match in four years. He went on to wrestle at the University of Wisconsin, where he won two NCAA titles.
He's not a big man – Jordan wrestled in the 134-pound weight class in college and doesn't look like he weighs much more than that now. He's outwardly friendly and quick with a smile, but he doesn't back down from a political fight.
"The reason I got into politics was to affect the things I care about, the things I think the families I get the privilege to represent care about," Jordan said. "I'm going to fight for those things. I'm going to do it with a smile on my face, I'm going to do it in way that helps our party, but most importantly, I'm going to do it because I think it helps the country."
Obama says Republicans like Jordan are why the government is in danger of defaulting on its obligations next week.
"History is scattered with the stories of those who held fast to rigid ideologies and refused to listen to those who disagreed," Obama said in a national address Monday night. "But those are not the Americans we remember. We remember the Americans who put country above self and set personal grievances aside for the greater good."
Jordan shrugs off Obama's attempts to vilify House conservatives.
"I would look at it this way: If standing firm for a common-sense plan, if the president's got a problem with that, we'll, I don't know how I'm going to help him," Jordan said.