Jenny Beth Martin looked out on the rain-dampened crowd along Constitution Avenue and pointed over her shoulder at the Capitol.
“They heard us, but they’re not listening!” Martin, a tea party leader, told members of the movement that helped put Republicans in charge of the House last November.
The crowd booed.
Four months after the historic election, the populist force that helped drive Republicans to power is finding that its clout on Capitol Hill isn’t automatic.
What brings you out today, one tea party member was asked. “Saving our country, obviously.”
Sensitive talks over how many billions of dollars to cut from this year‘s federal budget have strayed far below the Republicans’ campaign promise to slash $100 billion. Rather than standing firm and allowing parts of the government to shut down until enough lawmakers came around, House Speaker John Boehner was doing exactly what the tea partiers thought they had elected Republicans to avoid: negotiating with President Barack Obama and Senate Democrats over spending cuts.
“Cut it or shut it!” chanted the crowd outside the Capitol on Thursday.
“I’m not talking about $5 billion or $6 billion or $10 billion. I’m talking about $100 billion,” said one tea party activist (seen in the picture above), speaking of the budget cuts. According to the AP, $10 billion has been cut so far.
Among those not balking were some of the 87 freshmen Republicans, who more than anyone in the House owe their seats to the tea party juggernaut.
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Buoyed by strong Tea Party support during his campaign, freshman Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) has arrived in Washington and says he’s determined to take significant steps to rectify the staggering U.S. deficit. Lee talked to Fox News on Sunday about his proposed constitutional amendment to balance the budget.
In order to propose such an amendment, several steps would need to be taken. The first option, which Lee says is the path he will choose, is for both houses of Congress to pass a two thirds majority vote. The second option would be a Constitutional Convention, which would also require a two thirds vote from state legislatures. The proposal would then need to be ratified.
When asked about cutting government programs, including those that could be lifelines for Americans, Senator Lee took a strong stance, saying “no program will be held immune from review” and that Congress needs to consider “categorical across the board cuts” regardless of a program’s perceived importance.
If the U.S. government’s budget functioned more like a typical American household, Lee says “the credit cards would have been “cut to pieces” a long time ago. While acknowledging that a serious reduction in spending would not necessarily help ease existing debt, Lee said its still time to start “paying off the bill. It may take time but we need to stop accumulating new debt.”
Speaking during his weekly internet and radio address over the weekend, President Obama called for bipartisanship among both parties in Congress, citing reduction of the budget deficit as a top priority.