Washington (CNN) - Spirited Tea Party activists, confident they staggered the Washington establishment with their successes in the midterm elections, showed off their new found influence Thursday at the first meeting of the newly formed Senate Tea Party Caucus.
"You're not here as a tourist, not as a visitor, but as stockholders. You're here with us today because we want you to be the board of directors of what's going on here in the Congress," Sen. Jim DeMint, R-South Carolina, told the 150 or so activists - famous for being grass roots outsiders - who showed up at a stately Capitol Hill hearing room to exchange views with the senators who make up the caucus.
"The seats we sit in the Senate every day are not ours,' DeMint told them. "They're yours and they're lent to us to speak for you – and we want to make sure we try to represent the constitution, our oath of office, and you. That we listen to you."
"This caucus exists not for the purpose of speaking for or on behalf of any one organization or any one citizen. It serves instead as an effective forum for which you and other constitution-loving, freedom-embracing Americans can communicate your ideas to members of the United States Senate," newly elected Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said.
DeMint credited the Tea Party movement with playing a role in the election of every Republican in the Senate. And there are several new Republican senators who closely identify with the group.
Still, the Senate Tea Party Caucus only had three formal members when the day started – DeMint, Lee and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, who spoke to the group about the importance of passing on the freedom and liberties guaranteed in the constitution to future generations, told CNN after the event that he would become the fourth member.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, a Tea Party favorite, said in a statement he is reluctant to join the caucus. "If all of a sudden being in the Tea party is not something that is happening on main street, but rather something that is happening in Washington DC, the Tea Party all of a sudden becomes some sort of movement run by politicians and it's going to lose its effectiveness."
DeMint defended the value of having senators represent the organization.
"What we want to try and do is make them feel like they're part of what's going on, remind them that we are listening. We didn't just get elected and going to forget about them. Keep them engaged in the process. Cause the key to having a more successful 2012 that did in 2010 is keeping people involved in the process," he said.
The meeting was billed as an opportunity for the grass roots activists to question lawmakers and press them to keep their campaign promises to slash government spending and reduce the massive debt. However, most of the nearly two hour session in a hearing room in the Hart Senate Office Building was filled with speeches from senators and other Tea Party organizers and only a handful of questions were answered at the very end of the event.
Activists were able to speak directly to the senators before and after the meeting, which had a campaign atmosphere. Some used the time to take pictures and get autographs. Others pressed specific policy arguments.
"What's to prevent us from putting forth $1.5 trillion worth of cuts," Lisa Miller, a Tea Party activist from Washington DC, asked DeMint.
Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pennsylvania, who won cheers for his proposal for a balanced budget amendment, told the audience it may not be as catastrophic as they may have heard if Congress doesn’t vote to raise the U.S. debt ceiling, suggesting there are other ways to avoid defaulting. He has introduced legislation that he says prioritizes spending so that debts can be paid without raising the legal debt limit.
"I think the most irresponsible thing that we can do as a Congress, the least grown up thing we can do, is just to raise that debt ceiling and continue business as usual mounting these massive deficits and debt that we have been running up," he said.
Tea Party Express Chairman Amy Kremer told the senators that Tea Party activists would be watching to make sure they stand by the principles that earned them Tea Party support.
"Each of these senators have been supported and elected by the Tea Party activists because of their principles and values of fiscal responsibility, constitutionally limited government and free markets," she said. "We ask that they stand on those principles with us and not waver even when it might seem it's the easiest thing to do."
Mike Kibbe, president of the conservative FreedomWorks organization, told the activists it was time for the Tea Party movement "to transition from a protest movement into a serious legislative machine" in order to repeal and replace the health care reform law, balance the budget, curb the powers of Environmental Protection Agency and protect taxpayer dollars from being wasted by the International Monetary Fund.