Tea party activists rally for deeper spending cuts at Capitol

March 31, 2011

A sparse crowd of tea party activists gathered beneath the U.S. Capitol on Thursday to urge Congress to cut more spending from the current federal budget and to cheer on some of their favorite politicians, including Reps. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Mike Pence (R-Ind.) and Steve King (R-Iowa).

One organizer estimated that a couple of hundred protesters had gathered near the Robert A. Taft bell tower north of the Capitol at lunchtime Thursday. According to a media sign-in sheet, at least 50 of those present were journalists documenting the latest tea party rally in Washington.

Although organizers blamed the dreary, wet day for some of the low turnout, the thin crowd also highlighted the challenge facing tea party organizers as they try to keep their grass-roots supporters active and engaged nearly six months after the enormous Republican electoral victories they helped win in the fall.

“We’re learning that we can’t turn our backs on Congress for even one second,” said Jenny Beth Martin, a co-founder of the national group Tea Party Patriots, which put on Thursday’s rally to keep up pressure on Congress to cut federal spending.

The rally was billed as a chance to tell lawmakers, particularly the Republican leadership and those newly elected with tea party support, that they must push for the full $100 billion in cuts from the current federal budget that they promised — and also for the elimination of $105 billion in federal spending to begin implementing the health-care legislation enacted last year.

The crowd showed the most enthusiasm for Bachmann, the founder of the House Tea Party Caucus and potential 2012 Republican presidential contender who has demonstrated a consistent talent for raising money and exciting conservative crowds.

“You’re revved up!” Bachmann declared to the cheering crowd. “You’re fighting! What I’ve seen across America is, you’re paying more attention than ever!”

But after a few days of buzz on the political blogosphere, the grassy expanse where organizers had set up a tiny platform for speakers and a wide riser for television cameras seemed more of a showcase for the Washington media than anything else. At least 20 cameras documented the event, and dozens of journalists roamed the thin crowd, interviewing activists and scribbling notes in their reporter notebooks.

Ralliers sported the signs, T-shirts and “Don’t Tread on Me” banners that the nation has grown accustomed to seeing at tea party events. One woman held up a homemade stop sign with the word “Spending” emblazed across it, and a young child held a sign that read, “Obama is trying to make America unChristian.”

Most of the ralliers had traveled from nearby communities in Virginia and Maryland — although an organizer said buses had come in from New Jersey, New York, North Carolina and Pennsylvania as well.

“They’re doing this out of their own pockets,” Martin said.

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