ANALYSIS: Debt fight shows tea party's influence - so far
July 30th, 2011
04:00 PM ET
12 years ago

ANALYSIS: Debt fight shows tea party's influence - so far

Washington (CNN) - As lawmakers this weekend try to reconcile the two dueling debt bills in the House and Senate, one of the strongest forces they have to reckon with is the influence of the tea party lawmakers.

Their numbers are not overwhelming – of the 435 lawmakers in the House of Representatives, only 60 are members of the tea party caucus. Still, analysts say they have wielded outsized influence on the trajectory of the debt fight so far - but are also using tactics that could risk a backlash with the public.

Their influence was clear on Thursday night, when House Speaker John Boehner had to postpone a vote on his debt-ceiling bill. On Friday, Boehner added a balanced budget amendment requirement - a provision dear to conservatives - to assure the bill passed.

Of the lawmakers who forced the change, thanks to their willingness to vote "no," more than half were members of the tea party caucus, according to an analysis by the blog fivethirtyeight.

The change in the bill means that, in whatever negotiations ensue to reconcile the Republican bill from the House and the Democratic bill in the Senate, House Republican leaders begin from a more conservative starting point.

"The tea party has forced Speaker Boehner more to the right. That involves deeper spending cuts, and also support for the balanced budget amendment," Darrell West at the Brookings Institution said. "They have had disproportionate impact on the entire congressional debate."

West says it is their unity, their determination and their inflexibility that have allowed the tea party lawmakers to punch far above their weight.

Last fall the tea party captured political lightning in a bottle and helped elect dozens of new members of Congress. They came to Washington in January on the promise to shock the political system into spending less and cutting more.

Their unwillingness to compromise has changed the debate in Washington over the way the government handles its debt.

But now even Republican Sen. John McCain - a budget hawk himself - says they risk overreaching if they are unrealistic about never compromising. In a speech on the Senate floor this week, he warned them that "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 bizarro."

According to CNN senior political analyst David Gergen, tea party lawmakers may be playing with fire.

"It's one thing to be against high taxes, or against spending - but it's another thing to govern," he said. "They are now putting themselves in peril. The tea party could destroy itself, if it is not careful - if it is seen as taking us into default."

That peril might already be visible in public opinion surveys. Polling by CNN/ORC shows disapproval for the tea party has been steadily worsening, from 26% in January of last year to 47% now.

Analyst Darrell West says they may have overestimated their 2010 mandate from the voters, and taken debt-cutting far beyond what the public was looking for.

"The American public wanted a more balanced package, that even included closing tax loopholes and having higher taxes on people making over $250,000," he said.

West says many tea party lawmakers might not pay a penalty in their next elections because many come from safe districts. "But the Republican presidential nominee may end up suffering the consequences, because Obama certainly is going to tie that GOP nominee to the more extreme elements within the Republican Party in Congress."

Still, many tea party lawmakers seem to relish the fight, saying voters sent them to Washington on a mission, and come the next election, they will stand on their record. In the meantime, they say, they're more worried about reining in runaway spending than winning a popularity contest.

Filed under: Debt • Tea Party
soundoff (127 Responses)
  1. Michigan Don

    This budget debate is the latest installment showing where the GOP'ers sentiments lay: with the ricyh, the super rich and the mega super rich. If you worth is less than $1,500,000. forget it... you are not important (and are expendable) to the GOP.

    July 30, 2011 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  2. Jim

    We have made a tragic mistake in electing these individuals. What sounded good at the polls has manifested itself into a disfunctional government. We must undo this wrong at the first opportunity.

    July 30, 2011 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  3. Rick McDaniel

    The Tea Party is doing what their constituents want them to do. It is too bad that so few members of Congress do that. Most members of Congress, ignore what their constituents want, and that's part of the problem. You can't be a slave to your political party, and meet the expectations of your constituents who sent you there.

    It was interesting to note, that at least 10 of the House Dems voted against the Reid plan, as well. Good for them, for recognizing that the Reid plan was not good for the country.

    I have serious doubts that there will be a passable plan, but if there is one, I doubt it will happen by Tuesday night. It will take a few days of very serious backroom haggling, before anything acceptable will get past the House, because the House is not going to "lay down" for the Dems to continue their runaway spending, (which they really think will happen.)

    Only if the Dems get real, about cutting spending, will anything truly pass. The negotiations so far, have clearly exposed, that Obama wants to continue his spending, to the tune of 2.5 trillion, in the next year. That is simply unacceptable, and the House is not going to accept that level of spending.

    July 30, 2011 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  4. GI Joe

    Backlash? You Betcha!!

    Everyone I've talked to this past week (Rs and Ds) have said they finally understand the deceit and lies spread by those funded by Rove, Koch Brothers, Armey, and the likes. The NOW realize that the "little" people were lied to and voted for something that is far more sinister than what was presented to them.

    Backlash? You ain't seen nothin' yet!

    July 30, 2011 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  5. 4merRepubCT

    The Terrorism Party should be renamed the Traitors Party – for violating the oath they took to protect the country and the Constitution. How can anyone possibly believe that destroying the U.S. and global economies is a good thing for anyone? Is this really what they were sent to Washington to do? Is this really what their constituents are waiting for?

    July 30, 2011 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  6. ABM

    They are a cancer to this country. Everyone has an opinion but they have taken it to the extreme. The lies and misinformation are just the beginning.

    July 30, 2011 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  7. Martin T

    The Tea Party will turn out to be the worst thing to ever happen to American Politics this century, perhaps EVER. These radicals are not going to stop until they ruin our economy, force their ideology on everyone, and cause America to lose it's ranking as the world's ONLY Superpower. Nice work, Teabaggers. We should toss them all in the Boston Harbor where they belong.

    July 30, 2011 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  8. America Shrugged

    I'm absolutely sick hearing about the Teaparty. They are nothing but corporate backed ideologists who want to destroy what is left of our economy, and do it off the backs of those who can least afford it. Vote em out in 2012. And a side note to all Democrats that sat on their butts last Nov? Happy Now? Hope you don't make the same mistake in Nov 12.

    July 30, 2011 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  9. The Greedy Old Pigs have declared class war on US!

    The GOBP and their teatard goose-steppers are political terrorist hold the US and the world economy hostage to further their cult of "we help the greedy, not the needy." 2012 is gonna make 2006 and 2008 look like a walk in the park. This is cult disguised as a party, and Americans realize now how vile and un-American they are.

    July 30, 2011 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  10. SecedingfromTexas

    Listened to some Republican and Democrat commentators talking on this very subject: Words from both consisted of
    "political terrorists", "extortionists", and "they have poisoned the political waters for years to come". These men are
    smart, able to sit side by side and disagree, and both are appalled at the weakness of Boehner and his inability to
    lead. Hopefully the old adage, "the higher they fly, the harder they fall" will be their undoing, but it takes votes and
    that is a tough row to hoe in Texas.

    July 30, 2011 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  11. John

    If you don't want to destroy America ,than you better not elected any more Tea Party People at all. I mean for President Or In Congress ,or In the Senate and even your state GOV. If you do we with all be sorry. The Tea Party are out to take America back to the 1950 or be later. They want us to go back and lose everything we had to right for until now. That way the Big Business and the Rich get RICHER AND FASTER. All you all way heard from the Tea Party and the Republican Party they don;t want to rise taxes ,because It would hurt small Business. So what they think It going to do To small Business If America Credit Rating Is drop and they have to pay higher Interest on any money they need to borrow. This doesn't seem to brother the Tea Party Or the Republican Party. You have the Tea Party saying not to rise the dept ceiling, and Michele Bachmann have even say this and she running for President. So you should know what will happen If she ever win ,she will destroy America.

    July 30, 2011 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  12. T'sah from Virginia

    TP: [Their unwillingness to compromise has changed the debate]
    But sooner or later, mark my word, they will no longer dictate...
    ...on how this country should run – By their views alone??
    When their views are far-RIGHT and far-RIGHT is not the THRONE!!!

    SIXTY in the HOUSE of four hundred and thirty-five
    Should NOT rule this country under their strict connive
    When some of them are “crooked” with debt at their back door
    One of them even owes child support of $100,000 or more!!


    July 30, 2011 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  13. carrotroot

    The Republicans ABSOLUTELY MUST be voted out next year, they intentionally put the credit worthiness of our country at harm to get exactly what they wanted. This is un-ethical, un-democratic, and must will be corrected in November 2012.

    July 30, 2011 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  14. dd

    Anyone think the rebups did this on purpose? let the tp railroad this whole prosess so they would take the blame from the american people?

    July 30, 2011 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  15. Pras

    What about the influence of Martians and other aliens? Oh may be Blackbeard and Billy are also involved?

    July 30, 2011 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  16. Doug

    Check out the Bachmann threads, just like the Palin ones CNN injects its liberal bias by choosing the absolute worst photo they can. There are 25 frames per second of video, they click frame by frame, finding that tenth of a second where the Repubican female looks the worst, totally sexist as Democrat always are, yet these two wonderful patriotic ladies of integrity still look better than the Democrat women, it is because Palin and Bachmann don't have that Democrat hate in their eyes like a Pelosi or Shultz who leave no secrect their National Socialistic desires for their opposition, every American right of center.

    BTW, any lib want to address Obama and his lib-bots hypocrasy of voting against raising the debt ceiling when Bush was President? An extention through 2013 so it is not an election issue, thus politicizing such a serious issue that affects all Americans, basically asking for an extention in length for political purposes that no Republican ever got nor would have the indecency to ask for. Nope, just lies and attacks against the Republicans who are trying to do right by all Americans.

    July 30, 2011 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  17. DVoice12

    It is very sad to see the Bushie Loyals (aka tea party) still trying to destroy America. Haven't they done damage already???
    Since the GOP took over the House, unemployment has risen and our economy has stalled. Their so called conservative policies have not created one job. They are just in it for the super rich.

    July 30, 2011 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  18. thomas

    Somebody needs to explain to the TEA PEOPLE , That when GW Bush wrote a blank check for two wars that cost this country over three trillion dollars, that made a few people very wealthy. We are paying the installments for our mistake !

    War only makes a few rich , others pay the bills and die !
    Look at Mitt Romnys, five sons they never served in the military.
    Freedom Fry s are high in saturated fat ,War is costly and our freedom isn't for sale !

    The Tea baggers want to cut back on life boats , at the same time they charted a corse into a iceberg !
    IT TAKES TIME FOR A BIG SHIP TO TURN , especially when the last commander and chef tried to scuttle her, then abandon ship !

    July 30, 2011 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  19. dd

    That is what is wrong with both the tp and republicans every where they think The PEOPLE gave them a manadate to force thier ways on us. they were sent to govern and for balance! to bad they do not know how!!! oh yes and again where are the jobs you promised? that is what got them eledcted and they have done Nothing there either!

    July 30, 2011 05:07 pm at 5:07 pm |
  20. Jesse

    The Tea Party exemplifies Pogo's famous line "We have met the enemy and he is us." Who needs Al-Qaeda when the Teapublicans are destroying America from within with their myopic and arrogant non-compromising ignorance?

    July 30, 2011 05:16 pm at 5:16 pm |
  21. mcduffymckay

    What the Tea Party has shown is not so much influence, though it's clear they've pretty much hijacked what's left of the Republican Party, but rather a willingness to commit even treason in order to achieve their goals. In spite of the fact that the results of a default would clearly be significantly damaging to the country (and thus their fellow citizens), the Tea Party zealots were advocating precisely that–until they forced Boehner to modify his non-starter of a bill even further. They're dangerous, don't let their lunacy fool you!

    July 30, 2011 05:19 pm at 5:19 pm |
  22. mike geiger

    The tea party has proved they are a bunch of clowns and unfit to govern

    July 30, 2011 05:32 pm at 5:32 pm |
  23. Tony 140

    Good for them!!!!!! They are holding both big spending Democrats and Republicans accountable for this mess. This is why we voted them in.

    July 30, 2011 05:57 pm at 5:57 pm |
  24. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    Americans want Democrats and Republicans to work together and it's time for Congress to kick the behinds of the Tea Baggers, if they won't, we will in 2012. Republicans don't go down with the Tea Party.

    July 30, 2011 06:13 pm at 6:13 pm |
  25. MAhole

    GOP = Get Obama Party.

    What a disgrace.

    July 30, 2011 06:25 pm at 6:25 pm |
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