(CNN) - Don't be fooled by the tiny turnout at the tea party rally on Capitol Hill Wednesday. The conservative movement doesn't much need rallies anymore. November 2010 changed all of that.
Boasting powerful leaders inside the Senate and big numbers in the House of Representatives, the tea party just might show the world how it might govern come August 2, the nation's deadline for raising the debt ceiling.
"We've got to stand strong. We can't let down the people who elected us last November," Senator Jim DeMint said at Wednesday's rally.
DeMint and newly elected tea party backed Republican Sen. Rand Paul are brushing off Obama administration warnings of a "catastrophe."
"This is an artificial crisis. The President has created and concocted a crisis," Paul told reporters.
Both DeMint and Paul are signaling they may be willing to take debate over the debt ceiling past August 2, if a balanced budget amendment is not attached to a final deal.
Other leaders in the movement, such as Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain, argue no increase to the country's debt limit is necessary.
"I don't believe that the debt ceiling should be raised. I don't believe that the debt ceiling has to be raised," Cain said in an interview with CNN at the rally.
The comments by tea party leaders put them squarely at odds with House Speaker John Boehner who has warned repeatedly he doesn't want to see the nation default on its obligations.
"No one wants to default on the full faith and credit of the United States government," Boehner said at a July 22 news conference.
But Cain, the former CEO of Godfather's Pizza, insists the country could simply pick and choose which bills to pay and just do without any borrowed money until permanent cuts to government programs can be made.
"We've got enough money in the treasury to pay the interest on the debt, pay the soldiers and their families, pay Social Security recipients, and pay Medicare and Medicaid," Cain said. As for other federal agencies, Cain said "you put everything else on the table."
Asked whether the government faces a potential shutdown if the debt ceiling isn’t raised by August 2, Sen. Paul put it a different way. “Government in transition,” he called it.
Tea party activists at Wednesday's rally proposed the immediate closing of whole federal agencies.
"You do that by cutting things you don't need like the Environmental Protection Agency," Washington D.C. tea party organizer Joanne Abbot said. "Just think of all the money that we would save. It doesn't do anything," she added.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney warned there are consequences, noting defense contractors that provide ammunition to U.S. soldiers might not get paid. "It's a Sophie's choice, right? Who do you save? Who do you pay?" Carney asked.
The President found an unlikely ally in his former campaign foe, Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, who took to the Senate floor Wednesday to blast newly elected tea party leaders in Congress.
"To hold out and say we won't agree to raising the debt limit until we pass a Balanced Budget Amendment to the constitution. It's unfair, it's bizarre," McCain said.
"And maybe some people have only been in this body for six or seven months or so really believe that. Others know better," McCain continued.
Not all tea party leaders are standing in the way. Rep. Allen West, R-Florida, has indicated he would support Boehner's final plan to raise the debt ceiling.
Still, the tea party's ability to influence the current debt talks signals the conservative movement has transitioned somewhat from grassroots activism to real political power.
A recent CNN/ORC poll found only one percent of Americans are "active members" of the tea party movement.
The activism has moved to the halls of Congress.
"We have a President right now who is destroying what makes this country great. We have a moment in time right now to fix it," Rep. Joe Walsh, R-Illinois, said at Wednesday's rally.