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'Tea party' group plans D.C. rally for budget cuts

Tea Party Patriots contends that Republican lawmakers are not making good on their promise for deep cuts in the federal budget. The group says it will organize a rally at the Capitol next week to express frustration with GOP politicians whom its activists helped elect.

March 25, 2011|By Kathleen Hennessey, Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington — A national "tea party" group is trying to hold Republican lawmakers' feet to the fire on the budget just as leaders from both parties prepare to crank up negotiations on a deal to avoid a government shutdown early next month.

Tea Party Patriots, an umbrella group that links local tea parties online, says it will organize a rally at the Capitol next week to express frustration with GOP politicians whom its activists helped elect. In an email to supporters sent Wednesday, the group claims that Republicans are not making good on their promise to dig deep into the budget and are poised to cave to Democrats on spending.

"We sent them there to make tough decisions, to be leaders, and yet they are timidly passing mediocre spending reforms as if they are avoiding conflict with the Democrats," the email said. "We sent them there to be bold and yet their actions are showing otherwise."

The attack highlights the looming challenge for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who will return to Washington to the dual tasks of negotiating a budget deal with Democrats and finding a way to sell the deal to tea party-aligned lawmakers in his conference.

For nearly a month, House Republicans have been in a standoff with Senate Democrats over how big a bite to take out of the budget for the current fiscal year. Their proposal for $61 billion in cuts was rejected by Senate. Unable to find common ground, the chambers have bought time to negotiate by passing temporary bills that include incremental spending cuts.

Conservative activists of the tea party movement — and some of their allies in Congress — have lost patience with that approach. Dozens of Republicans voted against the last Boehner-backed temporary measure. House leaders will need a more unified caucus in order to pass any compromise budget before the April 8 deadline.

Meanwhile, they're working on a budget plan for next year, which they say will include steps toward changes in entitlement programs necessary to make lasting progress on deficit reduction. Boehner spokesman Michael Steel noted that Republicans only have so much influence.

"Washington remains a Democrat-controlled town, and Congressional Republicans are the only thing standing between the American people and more 'stimulus' spending, bailouts, and big government takeovers of the private sector," Steel said in a statement. "We will continue to listen to the people and press the Democrats who control the Senate and White House for real spending cuts that will help to remove uncertainty for private-sector job-creators."

Without mentioning the threat of a government shutdown, Tea Party Patriots showed little interest in reaching compromise and pushed Republicans to move further away from Democrats. The email argued that any bill should remove all funding for last year's healthcare law — some $105 billion — as well as cut off the small slice of money that funds NPR.

The email included results from a survey that showed its supporters overwhelmingly believe the Republican leadership is out of step with the American people and want the $100 billion in cuts initially promised by GOP leaders in the House.

Tea Party Patriots is a national group that coordinates messaging for local tea party chapters. The group has sought to ramp up its influence in Washington this year and made some missteps along the way. When it first urged its activists to lobby new House freshmen, the group some distributed personal cellphone numbers for lawmakers — irking the members they were trying to persuade.

But the group has been successful in partnering with other conservative groups to organize large rallies in Washington. The rally, scheduled for March 31, may come as House leaders begin making the case to its most conservative members.

"This is merely a continuation of the battles fought over the last two years," said the group's email. "They are testing the waters and waiting for us to go away. We're not going away!"

khennessey@tribune.com

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