Baltimore, Maryland (CNN) – One of the top leaders of a conservative grassroots organization that helped elect Tea Party backed candidates in last week's midterm elections says now is the time to turn political promises into policy initiatives.
Matt Kibbe is president and CEO of FreedomWorks, a group that has organized many of the high profile Tea Party movement events over the past year and a half, and in this election cycle, the group poured millions of dollars into efforts to help elect many Tea Party backed Republican candidates for Congress.
I spoke to Kibbe Friday as he wrapped up a two day retreat in Baltimore for around 25 incoming federal lawmakers who were elected in last week's midterms. I started by asking him what was his message to these new lawmakers when they take office in January?
Kibbe: I think we all shared the burden of responsibility to turn political promises and campaigns into actual policy initiatives. How do you go from just opposing bad policy to pushing good policy, and what are the specific steps it takes from taking an idea an turning it into a legislative initiative, gaining co-sponsoring and connecting that inside initiative to the outside force of grassroots that can help legislators get their jobs done.
Steinhauser: There were two new polls that came out in the last 24 hours and in both a majority of Americans say they want to see congressional Republicans and President Barack Obama compromise, and the surveys indicate that a majority of the public feels that compromise for the sake of improving the nation is more important than sticking by your core beliefs. Is this message a little different from the mantra of FreedomWorks and the Tea Party movement?
Kibbe: I don't think it makes sense to compromise on a bad idea. If these young Republicans step up with a whole new set of ideas, ideas about balancing the budget, ideas, ideas that are positive steps toward patient driven health care, then you can have a serious conversation between competing ideas. I don't think just splitting in half the president's notion of government run health care is what the voters mean when they talk about compromise.
Steinhauser: Many Tea Party backed candidates not only ran against Democrats, but also against the establishment in our nation's capitol, which includes Republicans. Do you see any conflict between the incoming lawmakers who have been backed by you, backed by other tea party groups, and the establishment Republicans who control the apparatus?
Kibbe: Well I suppose there will be at some point, but the momentum is coming from the amazing impact that Tea Party activists and Tea Party ideas had in this election. This massive freshman class which is very unified on those same ideas those same values, as bringing the whole center of gravity towards this agenda of fiscal responsibility, stopping government run health care. So I don't see any conflict at all, and everything I've seen come out of this House leadership is very consistent with what we talked about, and I think it's an opportunity to take some of these bold ideas and put them on the House floor.
Steinhauser: A lot of ideas I assume are in the works, but in reality, with the Democrats still controlling the Senate, with a Democrat in the White House, there may not be a lot of movement on some major issues that need to be addressed over the next two years. Are you worried that
the voters who helped elect these new lawmakers that you invited to this summit will either sit out the next election or maybe vote against these new Republicans if they're not satisfied?
Kibbe: I think the first idea is to actually offer positive ideas in legislative form and build coalitions of support inside and outside for those ideas. The president has an opportunity to come back to the middle like Bill Clinton did after his electoral rebuke in 1994. We're hoping he does that and it's hard to imagine balancing the budget without the president at least getting away from the tax and spend positions that he's had. But I think voters are savvy enough to understand that this is a step process, we need to take positive steps, and if the president chooses not to come back to the middle, then 2012 becomes a referendum on what the voters want. Do you want fiscal responsibility, do you want less government, do you want less control of government in our health care, or do you want more of what the president's proposing?
Steinhauser: I would assume there will be a lot of big legislative battles ahead in Congress, between the White House and Republican lawmakers, over the debt ceiling, health care, you name it, energy policy, there's gonna be a lot of issues debated over the next two years. Your organization was very involved in the campaign. How involved will you be in the legislative battles ahead?
Kibbe: I think the role FreedomWorks can play in this whole process is one, how do you translate ideas into actual legislation, how do you gather co-sponsors, how do you do all that hard work of legislating? I think leader Armey (FreedomWorks Chairman and former Republican Majority Leader Dick Armey) brings some real experience to the table on questions like that, and our other job is connecting those legislative entrepreneurs on the inside with the grassroots momentum that will help them convince their colleagues that this is the right way to go."