The throngs of protesters who braved the cold and rain to gather on Capitol Hill on Thursday for the Tea Party Patriots’ Continuing Revolution Rally had a slightly different message than the movement-loyal members of Congress they came to see.
“Cut it or shut it!” a group staked behind the podium sang out, urging lawmakers to stick to a promised $100 billion in budget cuts – a number that Democrats who control the Senate consider unacceptable. When Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., suggested a victory in avoiding a government shutdown, a fervent rally-goer said to cheers, “We will if we have to!”
House members were far less enthusiastic than their audience about the prospect of the government closing its doors. “Nobody wants a government shutdown.” Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., told reporters before taking the stage.
Pence, a longtime tea party favorite who is laying the groundwork for a gubernatorial campaign, reasoned that the fired-up crowd wasn’t demanding a shutdown, which would mean a furlough for federal workers and a suspension of government services.
Rather, he said, they “want us to draw a line in the sand. We can’t really know what is possible in the form of an agreement until we pick a fight,” Pence contended. “We need to run this thing all the way up to the line and see what the best offer’s going to be, both for the administration and for liberals in Congress.”
Lawmakers at the rally laid advance blame for any shutdown at the Democrats’ door. “The Democrats admit it,” Bachmann said. “They’re the ones rooting for a government shutdown. Now the cat is out of the bag.”
Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said that President Obama is the one behind the stalemate. “He’s hidden behind the scenes like the Wizard of Oz, pulling the levers, and [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid is protecting him,” the Iowa Republican told National Journal in an interview.
Republicans “want to keep the government open,” King insisted. But he said he would be resolute on starving the president’s health care law of funding -- and dare Obama not to make a deal. The president would be “the ultimate narcissist not to do so,” King said.
“So we let the president decide,” he said, “and if he believes that this signature ‘Obamacare’ legislation is more important to him ... let him make that decision. The court of public opinion will eventually decide that we don’t want a government shutdown, and they will side with us.”