StanCollender'sCapitalGainsandGames Washington, Wall Street and Everything in Between

The Tea Party and Me: A Very True Story

22 Mar 2011
Posted by Stan Collender

Bruce had one of his, as usual, very astute columns in The Fiscal Times last week (posted here on CG&G) about how the tea party wing of the Republican Party is about to force the GOP’s hand on the budget. 

I have my own story.
Several weeks ago I had the extraordinary opportunity to personally see the tea party in action when I spoke at the first meeting of the tea party caucus in the House of Representatives.
A shutdown was looming: The meeting took place on Monday evening, February 28th, the day before the vote was scheduled in the House on the first extension of the continuing resolution. I had been invited by tea party favorite Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) – who was presiding over the meeting even though she insisted she was not the leader of the tea party -- to speak on the debt ceiling because of a column I had written on the subject on January 11 in Roll Call.
I was both surprised and flattered by the invitation because my background is decidedly not tea party. Nevertheless, a member of Congress was asking for my advice and counsel and, when I grew up in this business, that’s not something you turn down easily. 
I was also surprised by the invitation because I wrote the column to pour cold water on a number of the misstatements that were being made at the time about the debt ceiling. For example, some commentators were saying that not increasing it would lead to an immediate default and government shutdown. Because of that, the idea was rapidly making the rounds at the time that the debt ceiling could be used to force the White House to do things on the budget it didn’t want to do.
In other words, the column was telling the tea party that its apparent plan to use the debt ceiling as a lever with the administration was based on a misreading of how it worked and very likely wouldn’t succeed. Nevertheless, I was invited to attend and decided to go.
The meeting was held in a small room in the Capital building across from the members’ dining room and it was packed by the time it began. I didn’t actually count, but my recollection is that 15-20 members of Congress attended along with staff and other tea party supporters.
The meeting began with Rep. Bachmann introducing me. I then talked for about 25 minutes about the debt ceiling and essentially repeated what I had written in the column. 
But I was just the opening act. The other three speakers were the tea party chairs from three states – Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Florida – and each one instructed the House members who were in the room what they expected them to do on budget issues.
Actually, “instructed" is not strong enough; what they said to the members is best described as nonnegotiable demands. They insisted that no one vote for that first extension of the CR unless it included a provision defunding healthcare reform (they called it “Obamacare’). They also unequivocally insisted that no one vote to increase the debt ceiling. And, they were absolutely adamant that the spending cuts in the continuing resolution that the House members were so proud of were insignificant and that entitlements had to be tackled immediately. 
One of the more interesting exchanges occurred when one of the House members who was there asked the tea party chairs if they really had expected them to have reformed Medicare in the first six weeks of the session. Another was when one of the members complained about having been booed at a national tea party meeting that had just been held.
But the most interesting exchange came when the tea party state chairs openly threatened the reelection of the tea party supporting members of Congress who attended. This was anything but subtle. One of the chairs specifically pointed at the members and told them that the tea party had elected them and would run someone against them in the next election if they didn’t vote as expected. This was beyond a “passionate” exchange: It was angry with a strong take-no-prisoners attitude.
From a federal budget debate perspective, here’s what I heard at the meeting.
First, after talking with a number of the members of Congress who attended, it was clear that at least some GOP representatives who are tea party supporters were going to vote against extending the CR the next day. Several told me that their leadership’s unwillingness to cut off funding for health care reform was a big problem for them because they were assuming that once it was taken off the table, cutting off funding would never come back. 
Second, the tea party folks – both members of Congress and others – do not trust House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) or Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) not to sell out their agenda.
Third, as I’ve been saying for a while, compromise is not an option.
What’s happened since then has pretty much followed the script that was laid out at the tea party caucus meeting.
First, the next day six GOP members of Congress voted against the two-week extension of the CR. All six were tea party supporters.
Second, there was far more Republican opposition – 54 – to the second extension approved last week. That’s significant because it’s 14 more than the number of House members who (according to those who attended the February caucus meeting) openly consider themselves to be tea party people.
Third, the distrust of Boehner and Cantor has become clear and is out in the open for all to see.
This presents the House Republican leadership with two very difficult choices on the federal budget. 
On the one hand it can move further to the right to accommodate what the tea party wants. If it does that, however, it likely will adopt legislation that won’t pass in the Senate. By doing that the party will make the tea party happy but nothing will actually be accomplished.
On the other hand, as it did on the latest continuing resolution, the leadership can move toward the center and pick up enough Democratic votes to get something passed by Congress. Doing that will likely mean, however, that the GOP will lose the tea party not just on this issue but on most others at least until the next election. Given what I heard a the caucus meeting, Boehner and Cantor might both get primary challengers from tea party candidates in 2012.
As I’ve been saying for a while, all of this makes a government shutdown more likely to happen. After two anti-tea party votes on extending the continuing resolution, Boehner and Cantor have to do something very soon to convince the tea party wing of their caucus that they are on their side. The easiest way to do that may well be to adopt the take-no-prisoners attitude I saw and heard at the caucus meeting when the current CR expires on April 8. 
Allowing or forcing a shutdown to occur may be just what the leadership needs to do to demonstrate its commitment to the tea party’s preferred policies and style. Given that the vote on another short-term or full-year CR will be the first chance the leadership gets to do this when Congress returns, it may also be close to mandatory.

An extreme wing of the

An extreme wing of the republican party seems able to control the agenda, while the vast majorities of the public (who want the government to focus on jobs, to not cut any large government program and, to the extent they care about the deficit, want taxes raised on upper income payers), are essentially ignored by politicians and the media. Will they pay any more attention if there's a government shutdown?

Obviously you were the

Obviously you were the brightest person in the room. Kind of like standing in a room full of furniture huh? Good grief, people vote like they drive a car.

The problem with moving

The problem with moving toward the bagger position is that, assuming the "no compromise" rule remains in place, Boehner would have to move all the way to the bagger position to gain their support. The bagger position is untenable, and to some degree, based on a poor grasp of math.

Boehner's survival instincts may lead him to do whatever gets him through the next primary, but as House Speaker, his job is to tend to the GOP agenda (not the bagger agenda) and to help as many Republicans win House seats next time as possible. Accommodating a "no compromise" bagger caucus would mean not doing his job.

@foosion: I doubt it. After

@foosion: I doubt it. After all, if one believes that "government doesn't work" as the average Teahadi does, shutting it down is a good thing. They've recognized that their best chance for a win in 2012 is to sabotage the functioning of government until then, so they're busy throwing shoes into the works like the treasonous gremlins they are.

They are innumerate to a man

They are innumerate to a man and woman. They don't understand the math. They don't understand basic bookeeping and national accounts. In short, they are a reflection of the voters who sent them to the House.

@matt, the question is

@matt, the question is whether a shutdown will have any effect on politicians and the media. Back in the days of journalism and politicians caring what the public thinks, it clearly would have an effect. Today I'm less sure.

Treasonous gremlins about sums it up. Winning by blaming the disasters you cause on others.

Thank the Koch Bros

I think we can now safely proclaim our government is "of the Corporation,
by the Corporation, for the Corporation."

I doubt you'll be getting any more "tea party" invites you ingrate crypto
leftist elitist !

@beezer: you are so, so

@beezer: you are so, so right. Some of this stuff being missed is simple arithmetic. It's beyond scary. My local paper (a Gannet) seems to mean well but it consistently screws up the numbers on important things like housing, budget, health care...

Readers read HEADLINES and move on. TV is useless for this stuff. I am beginning to despair.

Treasonous gremlin saboteurs

Treasonous gremlin saboteurs

Just wanted to repeat that as a headline, great phrase!

Although wouldn't the shoe throwers actually be the old-school Republicans who have continually defunded public education to dumb down the Sixpacks, thereby creating this uneducated-yet-proud-of-it mass of self-declared leaders.

The machinery has already been stopped, the riot is underway.

What a failure of leadership when our country needs it!

Since my Dad was born in 1919 (the poorest of the poor) and had a terribly dangerous job in WWII, I know about a time when our country had strong leadership and Americans all rallied together -- victory gardens, saving scraps of tin foil and the like -- these are sad times indeed... and I think we're in a lot worse shape than we were December 1941.

Several observations:

Your experience makes it clear that it's way worse in the Republican party than I could have imagined...

Despite being a lifelong Democrat, I have to say I'm beyond disappointed in Obama. The first thing this country needed was an absolute focus on jobs and the economy - instead Obama focused on health care expansion, (it's not reform, which is desperately needed, it's expansion when we have major problems with our current systems, and healthcare at 17% of GDP) and it's a truly flawed bill. And Obama doesn't particularly lead. There was a great column in the WSJ about Obama voting "present" when he was in the Senate...

.... So I was really hoping for a strong moderate Republican candidate that I could vote for... that doesn't seem too likely.... and what this almost certainly means is that the country will have to hit the wall before any change happens... and given how we're doing now, that's not likely to be a pretty picture...

It is all about power instead

It is all about power instead of for the greater good.

Boehner's Bane

John Boehner assumed the speaker's gavel pledging a low key, decentralized style of management. I wonder if it's too late for him to rethink that. At some point these freshmen are going to have to report their accomplishments to their constituents, and no one in Washington is more instrumental in helping their resumes than the Speaker. If they have no legislation, trivial committee assignments, and nothing to show for their districts, they won't be returned. And if the Tea Party runs someone new against them, their districts may well turn blue.

GOP eating their own

The GOP ran candidates against a few GOPers in Minnesota when they voted against the partyline, a few years ago, and for a Transportation Bill here in Pawlenty country.

Doesn't surprise me that strong arm tactics are preferable to encouraging a thoughtful process, and working toward compromise.

I don't believe for a second that any one party has the Answer. Often I vote for the least worst candidate, which is totally the wrong way to do it.

I feel bad that you had to suffer thru that meeting, but perhaps you got some good coffee and a meal out of it.

Greed is a bad way to run a business (banks & credit cards) and a worse way to run a government (Libya, Idi Amin, US Congress).

Hopefully, someone will get tired being the puppeteer of the GOP and stop sending out the Daily "TalkPoints of the Day" Fax--they are becoming too Robotic.

Stan is the Man

Excellent post. I haven't checked in here for a while, but I understand how hard it is to attend these meetings and sit on your hands. I'm in Bachmann's district and have attended her live debates and townhalls (years ago, before she stopped communicating directly with constituents), so I know the feeling.

The last tea bagger event I attended featured a candidate who had two lines 1) "If it ain't in the Constitution we shouldn't be doing it", and 2) "The free market will take care of everything (dump Medicare, social security, public schools, etc.)"

They are brown shirts to the corporatists.

Need a name for these guys

I was thinking about how the reality for these congressmen is not, This is sensible (from Stan) but "Do As I Say Or Be Replaced" from the state TP people.

I want a name and acronym for this condition, to match the RINO.

I favor Corporate-Aided Tea Party (CAT-P) for the acronym, but
Money-Owned Tea Party (MOTP) or Corporate-Ruled Tea Party (CRTP) come to mind.

Stan - could you make this into a contest for your readers? An enviro group did this a wile ago, and found the lovely term "Tree-mugger".

Lots of post on this article

Lots of post on this article refer to the Tea Party as corprate controlled I just need to ask - If that is true how is it different than todays Democrat party ? Money from unions is first earned by people who work for corperations before having their dues redirected. Soro's and and other open society types only want to profit from realining the pecking order of the world and the money and influence they purchase mainly comes from corprate profits. I really just wondered how the posters on this site see the two as different ? I am not tring to pick a fight by any means I just wanted to ask this question and get some honest replies.

Is anyone here defending the

Is anyone here defending the Democrat party?

It's all corporate controlled.

It's Soros vs. Murdoch/Koch, and we are just the cannon fodder.

As for the Tea Party, it's nice to see someone new to the party, and it is nice to see them discuss some problems we have, but they are focusing on the wrong problems, and they have the wrong solutions.

The deficit we need to concern ourselves with is the trade deficit. You cannot ship your money overseas year after year, whether that money is gold or paper, and not have it cause problems.

the reason i've been sure

the reason i've been sure we're going to have a shutdown is that it is an article of faith amongst the tea party types that the only thing wrong last time was that they didn't stand strong enough.

the complete capture of the republican party by this group of nativist populists isn't going to end well, and the non-tea party segment of the party has no one to blame but itself.

Recent comments


Order from Amazon


Creative Commons LicenseThe content of is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License. Need permissions beyond the scope of this license? Please submit a request here.