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. Vmax

    Not into the Tea Party's agenda..., but at least someone has the guts to push for a change.

    July 30, 2011 11:04 pm at 11:04 pm |
  2. John Brown

    This is the money I have been saving for years (social security and Medicare). I ear that and I think I have the right to get that money. If that's what Tea party want? So be it. Little people like me will remember. This tea party is not for American people. They are just like Al Qaida but even worse. It's better for them to sacrifice old people like me not getting my social security than do the compromise. They protect the rich so the rich won't be getting the tax increase. I just can't believe it. Thanks Tea party and Republican the party of Ronald Reagan. You really open my eyes and all the people who depending on Social security check every month. If I end up on the street next month because I do not get my check? I will campaign by myself in from of Wall Mart to let everyone know that you destroy little people like me.

    July 30, 2011 11:05 pm at 11:05 pm |
  3. And

    This just proves how uneducated our country has become. The very same Conservative Tea Party supporters that are against entitlement programs are the ones that collect Social Security, food stamp, unemployment benefits, health care, etc. How dumb can these morons be?

    And thanks to the tea party morons, lets not raise the debt ceiling until a budget cuts are assured. Let's continue to tank our economy and raise the already ballooned unemployment rate further by allowing our country to default. Great way to run our country to the ground even faster.

    July 30, 2011 11:10 pm at 11:10 pm |
  4. Juliet the Great

    I offer this poem to Congress as gift of what they have become "Ring around the Rosy, a pocketful of poises, ashes, ahses, we all fall down" the Black Plague

    July 30, 2011 11:18 pm at 11:18 pm |
  5. jeff george

    THe teabillies have no business holding our economy hostage. These mouth breathers seem to think that the debt ceiling has something to do with future spending, when in fact it has everything to do with the money we've already spent. THAT is why the world worries about us paying the bills for stuff we've already bought. I hope the GOP understands the ugly children they've given birth to.

    July 30, 2011 11:19 pm at 11:19 pm |
  6. opus512

    The only influence the tea baggers have is in the GOP primary system.

    July 30, 2011 11:25 pm at 11:25 pm |
  7. d

    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. YOU THINK?!!! they were not given a mandate to ruin our country, to hold it hostage! They were voted in out of fear from the majority of the people due to the recession...anyone on their right mind would not vote for these people Hopefully there is NO SAFE DISTRICT FOR THEM!

    July 30, 2011 11:26 pm at 11:26 pm |
  8. Brian Dodge

    The problem is that Boehner & McConnell aren't actually negotiating FOR the Grand Old Tea Party – we saw that when Boehner's own plan didn't have enough votes to pass until he gave into the far right. They're negotiating WITH them, not with Obama, 'cause without TP votes they won't be re-elected. I'm as hippy liberal as they come, but I will hold my nose and vote for Obama even though he's giving the GOTP damaging cuts to SS, Medicare, Medicaid, and other safety net programs – I'm smart enough to recognize digging out of the hole Bush's tax cuts and (off budget, which made his deficits look smaller) war spending created will require across the board sacrifices, and that half a loaf is better than none. The Tea Party/Bachmann ideologues can't see that making some compromise on taxes is better than tanking the economy, and will bite off their nose to spite their face. In fact, they already have; the 5% drop on Wall Street (which hurts the wealthiest 10% since they own 90% of investments) is a huge tax on net worth – and not a penny goes to pay for useful things – soldiers, highways, teachers, smart grid, Wall Street bailouts, etc.

    July 30, 2011 11:28 pm at 11:28 pm |
  9. Iris

    This is what happens when you elect one-note-Johnnies, with exceedingly narrow issue awareness, and who are desperate to keep their seats by doing the one thing they believe they were elected to do, to the point of idiocy.

    July 30, 2011 11:32 pm at 11:32 pm |
  10. Zoomie

    Tea Party = Subversive Group

    July 30, 2011 11:40 pm at 11:40 pm |
  11. Dennis, MIllbrae, CA

    I have read there are 60 Tea Party representatives, of the 435 members of the House. This is tyranny by the minority. The good news is the Tea Party has been exposed for what it is, a bunch of mindless children having a temper tantrum, and their caucus will be reduced in 2012.

    July 30, 2011 11:41 pm at 11:41 pm |
  12. mangoz

    This nation will live to regret the TeaParty...they care nothing about you or I only making a name for the sake of the party. They are the dream of the Bin Laden's in this world. They have caused a crack in our country far greater than any terrorist attack.

    July 30, 2011 11:52 pm at 11:52 pm |
  13. sweetwater

    I have a few questions. 1. Since when did this country need a "Super Congress" to know the difference between spending within your means and spending out of control! ? 2. Since when did the "Tea Potty" think they were "The peoples Potty"? 3. And last but not least, just what makes the wealthiest so high and mighty that they, can't or won't, support the country that made them wealthy? Can the 2 seperate Republican enities explain these?
    Just exactly what country are they serving? I know it can not be America! They are traitors, liers, and they call themselves faith based. These biggots are self serving with NO intentions to serve this country but only those outside of the lawmakers rhelm to make themselves more rich off the working peoples back. What a disgusting group of trash to represent this Country!

    July 31, 2011 12:05 am at 12:05 am |
  14. cath

    its just not the tea party that has to worry its the whole gop have some balls and tell those loons(tea partiers) justice shall rule not their ideas they want to shove down our throats. its like who are they to try to run us come one people wake up and let govt.know that they arent running it they are there FOR THE PEOPLE not their own agendas have all govt officials not get paid for all the time they have wasted and fine them ITS THEIR JOB. take away thier insurance and make them live like the rest of us they want to take everything away that we put in and worked our butts off for and have them live like they want all us to do not perks no free anything pay for ins like WE do no pentions no ss no tax breaks nothing and see how much longer run their mouths and want the job. JOHN BOEHNER your acting like a kid grow up i come from your state and you are a disgrace have a backbone and LISTEN to the people and calling names and tantrams is not adult YOU WORK FOR AMERICAN VOTERS not the tedious party this is way past old and who else on here thinks that if they cared theyd play nice. could say alot more but all this is giving me a headache and i wish we could impeach the whole lots of them who dont get along and work together.

    July 31, 2011 12:09 am at 12:09 am |
  15. Mikey

    Hopefully the American people realize that the tea bagging tea party has been a ancer in the House of Reprenativea since they were elected. They have turned the house into a GONGSHOW. Next year the American people need to kick the tea bagging terrorist out of Washington. Then bring those terrorist up on charges of treason. That is what happens when you sell you soul by signing a pledge cut spending, and to shrink the size of government at all cost. That's why you shouldn't make promises that you can't keep. KICK THE TEA BAGGERS OUT!

    July 31, 2011 12:10 am at 12:10 am |
  16. rukidnme

    I resent this TeaParty group holding this country hostage and ruining not only our economy but the global economy. I can only imagine what the rest of the world thinks. I'm embarrassed for us. It's pathetic... period.

    July 31, 2011 12:10 am at 12:10 am |
  17. Alex

    The tea party is ruining the country. Demanding a balanced budget and discretionary government spending is crazy. Just who do they think they are?

    July 31, 2011 12:12 am at 12:12 am |
  18. cath

    said i left duplicate msg but i didnt and i wrote all that for nothing thanks for nothing NOT.couldnt stand the truth in with the gop??????

    July 31, 2011 12:13 am at 12:13 am |
  19. John in Cal

    A friend asked me what you should do with a used teabag. Throw it out.

    July 31, 2011 12:19 am at 12:19 am |
  20. Lenny Pincus

    They are mad with power.

    July 31, 2011 12:21 am at 12:21 am |
  21. Chaos

    If anyone needed an example of ho idiotic these teabaggers are, this debacle is a poster child display.

    July 31, 2011 12:21 am at 12:21 am |
  22. pat carr

    The faster the Teatards's power is gone, the better for us.

    July 31, 2011 12:31 am at 12:31 am |
  23. WilliamDB

    One can only hope that the tea party's days are numbered, and that America will soon wake up to the fact that they represent the dumbest of the dumb Americans. They don't even understand the issue of the debt ceiling (that it's about debts CURRENTLY OWED), but oh are they ready to murder over it. These are the pitchfork mobs you were warned about in history class; the world has always had them, but the US is losing control to them. Fight back folks, before these people destroy our Country.

    July 31, 2011 12:32 am at 12:32 am |
  24. DYBO

    They will pass a last minute bill because they want to be re-elected and want to go home and rest waiting for their big check and know that they have the best medical coverage available. Isn't America great?

    July 31, 2011 12:38 am at 12:38 am |
  25. John J. Puccio

    "Debt fight shows tea party's influence." No. The debt fight shows the Koch brothers' influence on politics, government, and the economy. Disgraceful.

    July 31, 2011 12:41 am at 12:41 am |
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