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Tea Party Leverage Fading in Spending Talks? Tea Party Leverage Fading in Spending Talks?

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Tea Party Leverage Fading in Spending Talks?

Today's rally was supposed to be a blockbuster affair, but may not live up to its billing.

Tea Party members hold a Tax Day protest in 2010 in Washington, DC.(Liz Lynch)

photo of Billy House
March 31, 2011

Today’s noontime rally on the west side of the Capitol by one of the nation’s largest tea party umbrella groups—the Tea Party Patriots—once carried the promise of being quite a raucous get-together.

It may be that some of the air is now out of that balloon.

If organizers have their way, the event featuring Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., and Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tex., will be a watershed “Come to Jesus” moment, influencing GOP lawmakers to hold fast to the full $100 billion in spending cuts they promised while campaigning in 2010.

 

But House and Senate leaders appear to be closer to reaching a spending deal to avert a government shutdown late next week that would bring about significantly less in spending cuts for the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends on September 30. The latest descriptions from congressional aides put a possible deal on cuts at $73 billion after Vice President Joe Biden said on Wednesday that negotiators were now "working off the same number" from President Obama’s fiscal 2011 budget request. In terms of actual cuts from current spending levels, that would be about a $33 billion reduction.

And as a result, the rally may be shaping up to be an exercise in venting and frustration. It may also serve to buck up Republican hard-liners, who are learning how campaign promises don’t always translate into the realities of governing.

Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio., declined to even discuss the Tea Party Patriots rally on Wednsday, pursing his lips and refusing to speak when asked what its potential impact might be on the ongoing negotiations with Senate Democrats.

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., took to the Senate floor on Wednesday to say Republicans shouldn’t cave to tea party pressure, in part by pointing to a CNN poll showing that the movement is now viewed as unfavorably as the Democratic and Republican parties.

Mark Meckler, the national coordinator for the Tea Party Patriots, said in an interview with National Journal that he was uncertain what to expect in terms of turnout. He emphasized that the events outside the Capitol are just one part of a coordinated effort, with people “across the country calling their congressman.”

“We don’t measure success by the number of people at rallies,” said Meckler.

But, he said, “There are two things we are trying to do.”

First, “show that our support is behind” those lawmakers who are “actually trying to make significant cuts,” and send a message to other lawmakers that they “better get serious about it,” said Meckler.

Asked if those efforts to exert pressure included targeting Boehner and House leaders, he said: “I think we are frustrated with them,” adding that “our main outrage is with the Democrats.”

That appeared to be a softening of the tone that pre-rally e-mails sent out by Tea Party Patriots leaders to supporters that seemed to be more directed at House Republicans.

Those messages read: “They pledged to us that they were going to cut $100 billion in spending this fiscal year, so far they have failed to follow through on that pledge,” and, “We sent them there to be BOLD and yet their actions are showing otherwise."

Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, among those who want GOP leaders to stick to their demands for a $100 billion cut in discretionary spending, said he is appreciative of the rally, and its timing.

“I think they need to be here to have our backs,” he said. “It’s the right of every American citizen to petition their government for the redress of their grievances. And the deficit levels and over spending we got right now is a grievance for a whole lot of people—myself included.”

Gohmert, who will be among those addressing the rally, said he hopes that the demonstration can still have some impact on the the spending negotiations.

“I’ll appreciate their coming. People coming up here has made a difference,” said Gohmert. He noted the tea party demonstrations held amid the debates over the new health care reform law, saying, “Their showing up the times they did delayed the implementation of the monstrosity.”

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