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. mary

    It is frightening and nauseating that a small group of people could influence enough republicans to essentially push an agenda of such harm onto the American people..
    the only other time in our recent history that I can think of that his was done, was The Nazi's under Hitler..
    And the damage this wlll do will not be forgotten in the next election. I know of many republicans that are frightened to vote republican now. And it is frightening to think that, in this country all it takes is a stubborn un yeliding agenda, and possibly a whole of of money. And the freedoms so many of fought for.. Are gone.. When the minority strategize to rule the minority.. Mind boggling. Anger provoking and I'm afraid will lead to a a uprising. I hear much anger from the people ..

    July 31, 2011 05:16 am at 5:16 am |
  2. mary

    Typo.... 'when the minority strategize to rule the majority'....

    July 31, 2011 05:18 am at 5:18 am |
  3. yu

    They scare Sarah Palin, they don't want get fired

    July 31, 2011 06:11 am at 6:11 am |
  4. donna

    We,need more jobs and lest taxs or lower taxs si we can keep our homes and keep familys together.

    July 31, 2011 06:20 am at 6:20 am |
  5. donna

    We,need more jobs and lest taxs or lower taxs so we can keep our homes and keep familys together.

    July 31, 2011 06:21 am at 6:21 am |
  6. Monique Petty

    The tea party is not considering that any relationship that lacks compromise in tough times is not a relationship that is going to last very long. And to make the Republican candidate look bad because 60 of 435 are trying to bully the majority is just dumb. I like to weigh all my options in electing officials, but I'll vote democrat and indendent for certain if they don't get with it and understand how real business is handled.

    July 31, 2011 06:22 am at 6:22 am |
  7. Yianni

    So many things are screwed up in this country. Government pay is out of control, government pensions are dished out at taxpayer expense like Halloween candy, all members of the us congress miraculously become millionaires (most couldn't do it in the private sector, like John Bonner), corporate welfare, international welfare, cronyism legislation dishing out money for pet projects, and on and on and on.
    It is complete lunacy to make a stand only on programs like social security and medicare, especially since these programs haven't lost a dime yet. I'm a 60 yr old man who makes about $20,000 per year (no benefits), I will never see retirement, and hell I'd kick in an extra $1,000 a year extra to fix the crumbling infrastructure in this country and put people back to work (like construction workers who probably won't see a rebound in the housing market for 10 more years). It won't kill me, yet idiots in congress think taxing millionaires for such a second stimulus will kill the economy. Newsflash! It's already dead! Better to fix the infrastructure and give people jobs who will also pay taxes than sit around and do nothing.
    Heck, what ever happened to innovative thinking by our supposed best and brightest who we have elected to Congress. Maybe they just aren't all that smart.

    July 31, 2011 06:29 am at 6:29 am |
  8. chris

    The outrage of these tea party folks would seem more genuine if they had expressed the slightest peep of anger when George W Bush was throwing trillions away in quagmire wars. It seems insincere now that they are complaining only when someone with an ideological difference is in power. You can't pretend to be fiscally conservative only when it suits your ideological goals. That is the height of hypocrisy.

    July 31, 2011 06:32 am at 6:32 am |

    Teabaggers have lied constantly since 2009. Those lies are coming home to roost. Snooki Palin really wants Bachmann's money and media attention since her movie tanked because it was a lie.

    July 31, 2011 07:04 am at 7:04 am |
  10. taylor

    they will be gone shorly, bye bye wacko's!!

    July 31, 2011 07:07 am at 7:07 am |
  11. Big Tex

    Hey Tea Party, If you are going to be conservative be conservative. In other words, more people might take you seriously if you weren't so LIBERAL to corporations and special interests. You might also have some ground to stand on if you were energizing prior to the end of the 2008 election. After, this excercise with budget cuts and the debt ceiling; a lot of working stiffs who supported you in the 2010 election will realize what they have done. They will realize that they nearly took this great country down simply because they supported you and your rich and corporate interests due to them being angry that a black guy was elected President. Their is no denying that. These voters whom you duped now realize that all the talk about taxes and regulation wasn't about them. They were oh so close to losing an eye to see things clearly.

    July 31, 2011 07:24 am at 7:24 am |
  12. Mark Palasz

    Being so inflexible with such a critical issue has such an irrational flavor. Irrationality is usually a sign that something hidden, a lie, a plot, dishonesty. Irrational positions are either seen in the minds of the demented or limited, or in rational people being paid to be irrational. Who's paying them? "No new taxes" for who? I don't think they are irrational. They know what they are doing. CSI always looks for motives to find the perpetrator. I doubt if the motive is to help the American people. I think the motive is money, good old fashioned greed.

    July 31, 2011 07:33 am at 7:33 am |
  13. dgates275

    The Tea Party didn't drive the debt fight, it was the ratings agencies. The Tea party plan was lame (only 1 trillion over 10 years (that about a 2.5% reduction compared to the current budget). The gang of six plan was 4 times more aggressive.

    Tea Partiers are dangerous, naive political neophytes.

    July 31, 2011 07:56 am at 7:56 am |
  14. The_Mick

    People are seeing the Tea Party for what it is: a bunch of self-appointed leaders who hold no caucuses or conventions, select positions which sound cool and appeal to the unknowing, collect and funnel "anonymous" donations on to bizarre candidates like Sharron Angle and Christine O'Donnell, and claim they represent a huge number of people, most of whom are easily-led ignoramuses.

    July 31, 2011 08:14 am at 8:14 am |
  15. BuggyWhip

    Elect hockey moms as legislators and this is what you get.

    July 31, 2011 08:16 am at 8:16 am |
  16. Mike in SA

    We wouldn't even be having this discussion if not for the Tea Party. It would just be business as usual spend, spend, spend, debt ceiling raise, debt ceiling raise, debt ceiling raise in Washington were it not for them.

    July 31, 2011 08:17 am at 8:17 am |
  17. Mike

    The Tea Party don't even understand the argument, for them and their Fox news followers it is a bunch of talking points. The actual percentage it costs to service the current debt as compared to the GDP is under 1.5% down from 3% under Clinton's era. The cost of the debt is low because the economy is so much larger and interest rates are low. Think of it like having a mortgage on a home. To argue we should have no debt is like saying no one should borrow money. It's how capitalism works and they are supposed to be all for that!

    July 31, 2011 08:23 am at 8:23 am |
  18. Greg Gilbert

    Having a poll that shows the majority of Americans want taxes raised on someone else is like financing a study to see if smoking is harmful to your health. I mean really...Duh! Luckily even Democratic legislatures know there are consequences to raising taxes especially on those in the range of small business owners. I'm not surprised that the Tea Party has been getting more negative numbers when all I read about it on CNN is nothing but negativity.

    July 31, 2011 08:24 am at 8:24 am |
  19. scott

    I say yea for the Tea Partiers sticking to their promises. If getting this countries spending in line is going to be tough then I say man up now on my adult shoulder and not sticking it to our children!

    July 31, 2011 08:25 am at 8:25 am |
  20. Trz

    I don't follow these things closely enough, but didn't the newest member of the House, from up state New York, come from a safe district? Is it possible that the ideologes on the extreme right that can't see their way to govern might have have stirred a real interest in electing people that can?

    July 31, 2011 08:27 am at 8:27 am |
  21. NoTags

    I believe the number of tea party members in Congress will be seriously diminished in the 2012 elections. People who voted for these members really didn't understand where the stood, now they know. Their true colors have been shown and they will go down in 2012.

    July 31, 2011 08:27 am at 8:27 am |
  22. Ron

    So, what the article is saying is that the Tea Party is the only reason we are even talking about living within our means to begin with. Thanks Tea Party, you'll get my vote any place I can give it.

    July 31, 2011 08:31 am at 8:31 am |
  23. jstmyview

    One thing about the Republicans and Tea Billy's, if they aren't Inbreeding they are Infighting. You Bet Cha...Fer Sure.

    July 31, 2011 08:38 am at 8:38 am |
  24. Emma

    I hope those guys in the picture aren't taking any social security or Medicare.

    July 31, 2011 08:40 am at 8:40 am |
  25. jstmyview

    Tea Billy's are just another form or Republican. Thier agenda is all about Guns, Babies, Gawd and always and Evil Agenda against the Middle Class.

    July 31, 2011 08:40 am at 8:40 am |
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