On Capitol Hill, lawmakers elected in the tea party wave of 2010 helped grind the debt-ceiling negotiations to a halt with their objections to any deal that includes more taxes. The more vocal among them question the establishment wisdom that a default on the federal debt would precipitate an economic catastrophe. And they have pushed many of the presidential contenders to adopt similar points of view.
At a campaign appearance in Iowa on Monday, former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty said Republicans in Congress should use the debt-limit debate to achieve deep budget cuts and long-term spending reforms. Failing that, he has said, lawmakers should allow the country to default.
Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.), appearing Monday in Columbia, S.C., signed her own version of Sen. Jim DeMint’s “Cut, Cap and Balance” pledge (the House passed a bill echoing the South Carolina Republican’s pledge Tuesday night). To the three-part promise to cut spending enough to reduce the deficit next year, enact enforceable spending caps and approve a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget, Bachmann added her own line vowing to repeal and defund President Obama’s health-care legislation.
Most of the other candidates, including former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, have signed DeMint’s version of the pledge.
While potentially broadening its appeal, going after policies instead of people also protects the tea party movement from picking a losing fight that could sink its popularity. And it illustrates the view that defeating Obama is more important than disqualifying a Republican candidate who might be best positioned to do it.
A year ago, for instance, Romney would have been the perfect tea party target: a Republican who has called for emissions reductions to combat global warming and who, as governor of Massachusetts, signed a health-care overhaul that was a model for the landmark federal legislation.
So far, though, most tea party leaders are not directly taking on Romney — and some are even backing him.
“I don’t agree with Mitt Romney on everything,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), a darling of the tea party movement who surprised some conservatives by endorsing Romney last month. “But I want to beat Barack Obama, and I think he’s the best person to do that.”
DeMint, who endorsed Romney in his 2008 presidential bid but has stayed neutral this year, said he is “going to talk good about all the candidates, because I don’t know who is going to wind up being the nominee. None of them are going to be perfect. We’re not going to have a perfect package. What I hope is to shape the policies.”