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. Todd

    Yet another fluff piece on the tea party.There is no difference to me between the tea party and a terrorist group.The republican party better start seperating themselves from the tea terrorist or they will be clumped altogether.Hopefully in the coming 3 years we can get rid of them.

    July 31, 2011 12:48 am at 12:48 am |
  2. Voxhumana

    The Tea Baggers are a rigid angry ignorant lot who don't believe in democracy. They don't believe in it, because the obviously believe that the minority should hold the majority hostage to their extreme and fringe viewpoints.

    July 31, 2011 12:51 am at 12:51 am |
  3. hellmut

    It is interesting to watch how 18% of Congress can dictate the terms. Certainly not a AAA polictical system!

    July 31, 2011 01:01 am at 1:01 am |
  4. Steve

    Like Woody Allen said, the TeaBaggers are a bunch of snarky mean-spirited proto-fascists. Tread on them? Hell yes.

    July 31, 2011 01:04 am at 1:04 am |
  5. Ralph

    These so called TPP/ Tea Party "Patriots" are actually SELFISH, FOOLS, who blindly follow dogmatic extremists because they've been told political hyperbole that "they" have been somehow cheated by the Democratic party. Unless these TPP's are in the top 2% in income, they will be slaughtered, (along with the rest of the country), by the extremist fringe of the Republican party if they get their way.

    Well TPP supporters, you are the same people who cheered Bush jr when he slashed taxes below the cost to operate the federal government, AND also went on a spending binge.

    And now the result of Bush's financial death spiral has become critical, and its time to "pay the piper". BUT bizarrely, the Tea Party wants to empower the same republican politicians who created this mess, to make it worse!

    July 31, 2011 01:30 am at 1:30 am |
  6. Jared

    The Tea Party has a good intention but All of us have to remember that they have no political experience and their education on national financial matters is low-moderate at best. Many are blindly jumping on a band wagon that they either know nothing about without knowing the facts first or politicians are simply doing it for votes. Reducing debt, lowering taxes, and cutting spending are all well and good but not when they only want demands, some which may be unreasonable, and not negotiation. There's a lot more to how things work with much larger pictures. Insisting on total intolerance toward opposition isn't how leadership works.

    It's not a bad idea in theory, but there is too much emphasis on intolerance and inflexibility and not enough toward finding common ground and negotiation. It's about keeping a country running and it's people taken care of – not about a "If I can't have it then I'll destroy it for everyone else," campaign.

    July 31, 2011 01:33 am at 1:33 am |
  7. OldManInTheMoon

    The tea part is doing what Osama could not. Tea Party members are traitors.

    July 31, 2011 01:59 am at 1:59 am |
  8. ajois

    Both Republican and Tea Party are going to pay for their extreme and unrelenting behavior next election. Their constituents have been hardened through the recession; I don't think they were spared. With little money in their hands, they can't afford cuts either. If they still insist on cuts, please make sure districts that elected Tea Party candidates get all the cuts they wish for – lop off their police forces, fire brigades, schools, pork findings, programs and projects and let them experience what the cuts really mean. Cut off their social security, Medicare, Medicaid and all other entitlements. They have asked for and they wish the same for the rest of us. Next districts should be the Republican ones, same surgical funding cuts should be enforced mercelessly as they have been throught this debate. All this Republican and Tea Party game has been to drive discussion and opinion to extreme and worse, bring president to his knees. If the president were to be white one, perhaps this extremism would be tempered and if republican, perhaps would not have existed at all. Not just dissing Obama, Republican and Tea Party has dissed Presidency which has never happened before during a budget talk. Balance, teamwork and compromise is what ultimately makes America, and extremism must be thrown out. Also, we got include the war withdrawal svings as part of the efict reduction because war sucked lot of fundings and indeed it can bankrupt the country as it did for Russia in Afghan war. We got to balance the budget, reduce deficit and debt – but this is not the time when economy is still anemic. Let the patient regain strength, then we can think of dieting..

    July 31, 2011 02:21 am at 2:21 am |
  9. Vicente

    What it shows is, if you let a bull loose in a china shop you should expect some broken plates.

    This temper tanrum over payments on the budget THEY VOTED FOR, has cost equity markets 700 billion dollars this week. The layoffs are probably just "acceptable collateral damage" to these nutters too.

    Teabaggers, your 15 minutes are up.

    July 31, 2011 02:22 am at 2:22 am |
  10. Mama Judy

    If amazing how many people have no idea what's happening in Washington BUT>>>when their social services are cut and pay is cut and their family and friends are loosing jobs, the cant afford food or gas, the educational support is cut; will hit the fan and the TEA PARTY BEWARE>>>>>America will come back.........with a vengeance.....but because of them many with suffer first.....The Lord will take care of us and help us combat those who take from the poor, the hungry,and the sick...he is always watching....

    July 31, 2011 02:33 am at 2:33 am |
  11. Mrmailman

    Tea Baggers holding the Republipukes hostage.....

    July 31, 2011 02:41 am at 2:41 am |
  12. gwats

    The tea party is toxic, divisive and Xenophobic. They will be a footnote come 2012, because the Country can't afford their nonsense.

    July 31, 2011 02:45 am at 2:45 am |
  13. wcnea567

    I agree with the old man in front of the capital holding a sign with "cut spending, reduce deficit and balance budget" on it. I hope he is not one of those clueless republicans. All he wanted on his sign were accomplished by Clinton, a democrat. Actually Clinton accomplished even more than he wants. Clinton accumulated a budget surplus when he left office. He inheritted a budget deficit of $290 billion/year from Reagan and 1st Bush(R). Bush Jr.(R) inheritted budget surplus of $250 billion/year but he successfully turned it into budget deficit of $1 trillion/year. He also successfully doubled our debt in 8 years.

    July 31, 2011 02:55 am at 2:55 am |
  14. Anonymous

    the tea party idiots ,the most stupidest thing i ever seen.

    July 31, 2011 03:01 am at 3:01 am |
  15. Anonymous

    i forgot onlly republicans can type and post inpolitaly correct things.

    July 31, 2011 03:04 am at 3:04 am |
  16. JehseaLynn


    ALMOST TWO HOURS AGO, I POSTED an educated, well thought-out comment. I hold two Bachelors Degrees, one of which is in Political Science; I also hold a JD, or Juris Doctorate, a law degree. Clearly, I am "qualified" to comment, although it might not reach the lofty heights of scatalogical commentary favored by Banasy, Superhiro, and many other regular posters the MODERATOR(S) allow in. The moderators frequently allow me as well. As there are ZERO other posts, and I am a QUALIFIED poster, and my post was ON TOPIC, NON-OFFENSIVE, and did not contain any curse words, I can only deduce, logically, that, since the moderator has HAD AMPLE TIME TO REVIEW MY COMMENT, IT IS CLEAR MY COMMENT HAS NOT BEEN POSTED BECAUSE THE MODERATOR DISAGREES WITH MY VIEWS.


    PLEASE advise, at the email above listed, the name and address of CNN'S registered agent for service of process.

    Thank you.

    July 31, 2011 03:07 am at 3:07 am |
  17. MrManhattan

    The Teabaggers are the political equivalent of suicide bombers: They don't care if they self-destruct after one term, as long as they cause as much damage to the country as they can first.

    July 31, 2011 03:07 am at 3:07 am |
  18. Tony FL

    Imagine for just one second, the President suggesting that our country should default on its debt obligations. I can almost hear the wretched screams of "incompetence" and "wants to ruin America" from the right. But for the ignorant baggers the suggestion of America defaulting is an actual pledge they've signed to an equally demented third party (Norquist). Just picture this – an ignoramus' writ over the American Constitution! Media seems to be willing to extract some rather questionable entertainment value out of the fact that an alarmingly large segment of our own society is so uneducated and vile as to wish default and ruin on the rest of us. An ignoramus' writ over our country's interests! I thought the CIA, FBI and NSA were meant to look into precisely this sort of thing...

    July 31, 2011 03:08 am at 3:08 am |
  19. rannan3

    Isn't it ironic, when the 2010 Midterm elections are fading from some( ie, Dems ) memories, that Dems. now point to the Tea Party representatives and brand them obstructionist, uncompromising, radical, extremists, economic terrorists, et al.
    And what principals are the Tea Party Reps. standing firm on, that are so 'radical ?? Limiting the size of government, stop raising taxes, and keep more of the the $$ in the hands of the workers who EARNED IT !

    Yep, in Washington speak, that's high treason !

    LONG LIVE THE TEA PARTY - finally, representation in Washington for WE, the People !

    July 31, 2011 03:08 am at 3:08 am |
  20. Tony FL

    Imagine for just one second, the President suggesting that our country should default on its debt obligations. I can almost hear the wret.ched screams of "incom.petence" and "wants to ruin America" from the right. But for the ig.norant bag.gers the suggestion of America defaulting is an actual pledge they've signed to an equally dem.ented third party (Norquist). Just picture this – an ig.noramus' writ over the American Constitution! Media seems to be willing to extract some rather questionable entertainment value out of the fact that an alarmingly large segment of our own society is so uneducated and v.ile as to wish default and ruin on the rest of us. An ig.noramus' writ over our country's interests! I thought the CIA, FBI and NSA were meant to look into precisely this sort of thing...

    July 31, 2011 03:09 am at 3:09 am |
  21. Anonymous

    I guess the GOP have heard how the U.S. is taking a hit in public opinion internationally, the stock market and dollar fell, all the countries who hold U.S. debt are biting their nails and the country has been the topic of discussion about politics. this is because a small group of law makers held the country and its economy hostage and the U.S. has become a puzzle and a joke.

    July 31, 2011 03:13 am at 3:13 am |
  22. sann60

    When their individual districts lose necessary federal funds for necessary services (funds that – to quote Article 1, Section 8 of the constitution, help provide for the "common defence and general welfare" these TeaParty Representatives and Senators may just find they are no longer so popular among their constituents. They have behaved in the most unDemocratic and unAmerican way, by obstinantly refusing to compromise and putting the Good Faith and Credibility of the United States at risk, which could very well cost all Americans a heck of a lot more in increased interest rates than a two or three percentage point incresae in the tax rate for the billionaires and mega corporations would have cost. I am an Independent and will work fervently to help defeat any and all TeaParty Republicans in the future.

    July 31, 2011 03:43 am at 3:43 am |
  23. MagaliaDave

    The Democrats are selling out the senior citizens of this country to the blood sucking tea baggers !!

    LET IT ALL BURN! The GOP cannot dump on the senior citizens in this country with impunity!!

    The Washington Politicians better not vote to cut Social Security by one nickel – I worked 45 years for my benefits and, as one of the Seventy-six million American Baby Boomer children that were born between 1945 and 1964, we are going to shove your excessive sugar daddy Bush tax cuts right up your tea bag.

    Grandpa is mad as hell, packing an M1 Garand, and not afraid to use it !!

    July 31, 2011 03:51 am at 3:51 am |
  24. Brian Smith

    no, the battle shows the Tea Party's ignorance.

    July 31, 2011 04:15 am at 4:15 am |
  25. alvinjh

    The Tea Party has made a great difference and a good one. Thank you for giving voice to our concerns.

    July 31, 2011 05:09 am at 5:09 am |
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