Miffed at the inability of Republicans to deliver on promises of deep cuts in federal spending, tea partyers will converge on the Capitol on Thursday to warn both parties about political repercussions if they don’t act.
The “Continuing Revolution” rally comes amid a drawn-out spending debate that is testing the ties between GOP leaders and the tea party movement, which Republicans acknowledge helped push them to victory in last year’s elections, but which now wants to see its support translate into major legislative victories.
“We expect to see a bunch of frustrated, angry patriots who want to see serious cuts to government spending,” said Mark Meckler, co-founder of the influential Tea Party Patriots. “I think it’s a huge gut check. This is a way for us to judge them and see how serious they are and to prepare for the 2012 election.”
Republicans seized control of the House in the November elections after promising to repeal President Obama’s health care overhaul and pledging to chop non-defense discretionary spending back to pre-stimulus 2008 levels, saving $100 billion in the first year.
Since then, the House GOP has passed and sent a health care repeal bill to the Senate, but Republicans have walked back their targeted spending cuts to $61 billion and are considering a compromise deal offered by Senate Democrats that would cut only about $30 billion.
The mere possibility of that has drawn the ire of Mr. Meckler, leaders from other branches of the tea party movement, and conservative lawmakers who say anything short of the $100 billion in cuts that were promised will be considered a failure. They plan to drive that message home at a rally featuring tea party favorites, such as Reps. Michele Bachmann, Minnesota Republican, and Mike Pence, Indiana Republican, at the Robert A. Taft Memorial just north of the Capitol complex.
“I just know that every time people have come up here, it has made a difference,” said Rep. Louis Gohmert, Texas Republican, alluding to the rally. “I hope it will push our leadership to doing what we promised we would do.”
Senate Democrats are trying to widen the divide between tea partyers and Republican leaders, arguing that House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, must decide between responsible government and tea party demands for deep cuts.
“It’s obvious that he has a difficult situation on his hands. I don’t envy him. He’s getting a lot of pressure from the tea party to dig in his heels, even if it hurts the country and shatters our fragile economic recovery,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat. “What’s worse, the country doesn’t much care for the tea party.”
With negotiations reaching a critical stage, Vice President Joseph R. Biden met with Senate Democratic leaders to urge them to strike a spending deal that keeps the government funded through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year.
If no deal is reached, the government would shut down on April 8. Top congressional leaders in both parties have said that is not an acceptable outcome.
But some tea partyers and conservative lawmakers say a government shutdown might be the best way to convince lawmakers from both parties that now is the time to close the spending spigots and get serious about the nation’s annual trillion-dollar deficits and soaring $14.3 trillion national debt.
“The idea that the Democrats think it is reasonable to offer up less than 1 percent of the budget in budget cuts — Americans, I think, are ready to shut down the government over something as insulting as that offer,” said Andrew Langer, president of the Institute for Liberty.
Mr. Langer, one of the rally’s scheduled speakers, said “the $30 billion in cuts is not only nothing, it is an insult to every American who is hungering for meaningful change in D.C. Even $61 billion is an insult. Americans have wanted change for three election cycles and fighting to get to 1 percent of the budget is an insult to all of these people.”
Some lawmakers said House Republican leaders at least need to contemplate a shutdown in order to go head-to-head in negotiations with Mr. Obama.
“I think the Republican leadership and the Democratic leadership have all come to the conclusion that it’s more likely the president would win out in that scenario, because they seem to be informed by the single experience in 1995. Therefore, I think the Democrats wanted to initiate a shutdown because they have a Democratic president who would win this,” said Rep. Steve King, Iowa Republican, a tea party favorite who says his chief goal is to defund the health care law.
Mr. King said he is making his case to Republican leaders, but said they are “not yet” open to the idea of a shutdown.
“There is a coming confrontation between the House majority and Barack Obama,” Mr. King said. “If Republicans should decide that we’re going to avoid a shutdown, the net result will be the president of the United States will get everything he’s willing to fight for.”
Caught in the crossfire from tea partyers and Democrats is Mr. Boehner.
While still negotiating with Democrats, he has intensified his criticism of them, arguing that the House has already passed a bill, while the Senate has not.
“Now the Senate says: ‘We have a plan.’ Well, great — pass the damn thing, all right? And send it over here, and let’s have real negotiations, instead of sitting over there and rooting for a government shutdown,” he said.
The tussle over the current year’s spending is likely to spill into broader fights over the budget for 2012, and whether to raise the national debt limit — two debates that are expected to kick off early next month and are likely to be front and center at Thursday’s rally.