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. independent

    When will Rep Boehner recognize that he is third in line to the Presidency. That he is supposed to represent the American people in the House, not the Republican Party. He needs to broker bills in the House that have a chance of passage, with amendments, through the Senate ...up to the President's desk. If he doesn't do this, he is not a Speaker, he is a political hack.

    July 30, 2011 06:25 pm at 6:25 pm |
  2. A Real Patriot

    The Tea Party is good for slogans and crazy person rallies, but they know nothing, nor do they care to know anything, about governing.

    They are a fringe of crackpots who lazy Democrats and angry Independents allowed into the halls of power in 2010.

    Now we are seeing the consequences of giving the keys to the most impressive government on the planet to a bunch of whining, self absorbed adolescents.

    Have we learned our lesson? I dearly hope so.

    July 30, 2011 06:36 pm at 6:36 pm |
  3. beth

    The tea party says they were sent to Washington so it would not practice "business as usual". After the way things have been going, I think most Americans would find "business as usual" a welcome relief.

    July 30, 2011 06:43 pm at 6:43 pm |
  4. Ron

    They have 18 months of influence left. Then, they will disappear into the night never to be seen again. Republican extremists will have to invent another group, but no one will fall for it. Did you hear that "no labels"??

    July 30, 2011 06:58 pm at 6:58 pm |
  5. john

    "Debt fight shows tea party's influence – so far" a doh!! what kind of idiots wrote this? The tea party is controlling the whole thing. but thanks cnn for noticing? by the way the world is round, the sky is blue and we are in the year 2011 o and "Saturday comes after friday" hey maybe I could write for CNN lol thanks CNN your sooooo informative.

    July 30, 2011 07:01 pm at 7:01 pm |
  6. Mario

    I used to vote Republican, but will not in the future. I am so ashamed of how the far right wing is acting. They seem to want to be dictators. And, for Walsh to say he does not want more debt put on his kids and grandkids is outrageous, especially since he hasn't paid child support to his 3 children and owes them over $117,000.00.

    July 30, 2011 07:40 pm at 7:40 pm |
  7. Randy, San Francisco

    The GOP could have gotten more in terms of tax and entitlement reforms if it had not allow itself to taken hostage by the newbie Tea Party hobbits. Instead of a major victory for Speaker Boehner, a compromise deficit bill will be shaped by Senators Reid and McConnell and Representative Pelosi. The newbie Tea Party hobbits shot themselves in the foot by marginalzing their own leadership and antagaonizing the majority of American voters with their rigid ideological stance.

    July 30, 2011 08:02 pm at 8:02 pm |
  8. ThinkAgain

    How do all the teabaggers afford to ride around in half-million dollar tour buses, attending all these rallies? Are they all retired folks, spending their SS checks and savings on this?

    Or are they simply just the Koch Brothers response to the genuine grassroots movement that elected President Obama and voted in Democratic majorities in the House and Senate in 2008?

    I mean, really, how do these teabaggers afford to do all this?

    And better yet, for all their lip-service to "the will of the people," why is it that ever since President Obama was elected, the Republicans have done everything they can to block him and the Democrats? Wasn't President Obama and his policies the "will of the people"?

    Why are Republicans such hypocrites?

    And why do people still vote for them?

    July 30, 2011 08:49 pm at 8:49 pm |
  9. Tex71

    In 1932, the Nazis were a minority party with wacky ideas nearly identical to the Tea Party set. In 1933 they took control of the government and spent the next 12 years leading Germany deeper into madness and evil, with damage done to humanity that will take millenia to heal. It seems too many Americans have already forgotten enough to come this close to repeating the mistake of allowing a group of radical right-wing extremists lie, bully, and terrorize their way to power. Let us throw them out like the garbage they are while we are still ahead.

    July 30, 2011 09:17 pm at 9:17 pm |
  10. James in Dallas

    They pack more punch because of their unyeilding stupidity. Their 15 minutes are almost up. They may not lose much in the next election, but Obama is sure to be reelected, and he will wield a LOT more power in the next term because he won't have to worry about getting reelected.

    July 30, 2011 09:33 pm at 9:33 pm |
  11. No Hope; Just Fighting

    The reason these 60 clowns have great influence is because of all the stupid pledges that the republicans have signed. Now I bet all of them are having pledge remorse since 2010 elections are coming up fast and the public is going to remember this fiasco. Good luck spinning this one.

    July 30, 2011 09:45 pm at 9:45 pm |
  12. mucklucky

    If they continue to withhold FICA (social security) and they do not make payments, then we would have taxation without representation. I believe the original tea party had a good solution for such...

    July 30, 2011 10:02 pm at 10:02 pm |
  13. marty

    The Tea party IS instrumental in taking us into default. They have become the most crass, insensitive, one minded, inflexible group of adults who seem to demonstrate actions not in keeping with their oath of office. They seem cult like in their actions and, if not challenged, can be quite detrimental to American society.

    July 30, 2011 10:04 pm at 10:04 pm |
  14. Jeff,nm

    Seems their numbers have dwindled since it was discovered that Boehner and their republican cohorts is trying to eliminate
    social security and medicare, before they raised the debt ceiling. They were all punked.

    July 30, 2011 10:08 pm at 10:08 pm |
  15. MSfromCA

    The Tea Party is just the Libertarians under a new name and is funded by super rich people. You think they have your best interests at heart? Of course not. Don't fall for their BS.

    July 30, 2011 10:09 pm at 10:09 pm |
  16. John

    Surprised the Hackers haven't united against the Tea Party Website yet.

    July 30, 2011 10:24 pm at 10:24 pm |
  17. Frank

    This headline should read "Battle Shows Tea Party's Ignorance." The Tea Party is uninformed, racist, reactionary, and a real and present danger to the notion of the common good for all American citizens: young, old, rich poor. Shame on them all.

    July 30, 2011 10:26 pm at 10:26 pm |
  18. shelby

    The Tea Party is just a bunch of racist KKK, without the mask and white sheet! They have proven because of the bill they refused that Boehner and Obama had and they refused, that they are in this fight to take the country over the edge because they hate Obama so deeply.

    Doing it for the country? BULL!

    July 30, 2011 10:33 pm at 10:33 pm |
  19. Rob

    The tea party caucus has definitely left a mark on DC but their inability to fly under the radar has changed peoples" views of them. What started as a good idea (living within the means for a gov't) has now changed to a book tour (palin and bachmann)

    July 30, 2011 10:43 pm at 10:43 pm |
  20. Positive

    Vote out all Republicans iin 2012, especially the members of the Tea Party!!!

    July 30, 2011 10:43 pm at 10:43 pm |
  21. Don

    I've had to hold my tounge to stop myself from telling a lot of people who thought the Tea Party was the greatest most patriortic thing ever from saying "I told you so.".

    July 30, 2011 10:46 pm at 10:46 pm |
  22. Mike Palevo

    Cut spending, Reduce Deficit, and balance budget. Dems like to spend your money. Listen, President Obama is a spending monster. And that's an understatement! He is the reason the Debt ceiling must be raised. This guy likes to give money away, or spread the wealth as he says. Shut him down! Take his check book! Close his account! $770 billion went where, and did what?????

    July 30, 2011 10:54 pm at 10:54 pm |
  23. George Bush

    What are the Republicans trying to do? Cut medical benefits for the elderly? Who votes for the Republicans mostly? The elderly. So, it deserves the dumb elderly fools, who vote based on their racial and religious bias! Now they will have to go and beg in front of a church or in front of the house of the richest white guy in their neighborhood.

    July 30, 2011 10:54 pm at 10:54 pm |
  24. slavedriver

    It looks as though people who keep their word are now bad. This country is way off track.

    July 30, 2011 10:56 pm at 10:56 pm |
  25. bob

    here is the key thing: It's all about 2 percentages.
    What does the tea party want in terms of spending % to total revenue..18% , 15% or 0 % what is their real number, no government or some government. what expenses do they really want

    The other is tax revenue %. Currently lowest in the past 10 years. Do they not want any tax at all ? no expenses. We really need to know this to determine if they want to fix the spending or destroy the country

    July 30, 2011 11:02 pm at 11:02 pm |
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