And in fact, it is the tea party that helped bring the country to this moment. The automatic spending cuts at the heart of the year-end fiscal cliff grew out of the tea party’s fierce campaign last year to slash federal budgets and cap government borrowing.
Yet as groups across the political spectrum seek to influence any deal to avert the cuts and tax increases set to kick in Jan. 1, the tea party has been unusually — and deliberately — quiet. Members still call and e-mail Congress but have held no rallies and done little lobbying.
When tea party leader Jenny Beth Martin recently journeyed to the Capitol from her Atlanta area home, for example, she did not bring with her the bus loads of tea party members who once descended on Washington to rally for fiscal restraint.
As she toured the offices of several Republican House members, Martin barely brought up the fiscal cliff negotiations that could chart the nation’s budgetary future, according to Martin and congressional aides.
Her focus instead? Fighting over spending at the state level.
“We’re sitting back’’ on the fiscal cliff, said Martin, co-founder of Tea Party Patriots, the nation’s largest tea party group. Republicans in Congress, she said, “have proven they’re not going to listen to us,’’ adding that House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) is a “cave man” for his willingness to consider tax increases.
Tea party activists say they feel despised by Democrats and ignored by Republicans, and they still resent the blame they received for last year’s debt ceiling crisis, in which tea-party backed lawmakers demanded deep spending cuts in return for increasing the federal borrowing limit and helped push the nation to the brink of default.
“We’re thinking, ‘instead of wasting our time with these people, maybe we should go home and actually enjoy our families for the holidays,’’ said Marianne Gasiecki, an Ohio tea party activist. “We’re saying, ‘You can’t blame us for this one.’ But they’ll blame us anyway. Someone has to be the scapegoat.’’
Unless members of Congress “are blind, deaf and dumb,’’ Gasiecki added, “there’s no way they could not have heard what’s been screamed at them for the past four years.’’
Indeed, the ideas advocated by the tea party — which helped propel concerns about federal spending and borrowing to the forefront of the national debate and fuel 2010’s Republican sweep of the House — still resonate in the GOP. An example, said conservative strategist Keith Appell, was the failure last week of Boehner’s “Plan B” legislation to avoid the fiscal cliff, which was doomed when conservative Republicans in the House declined to endorse a tax increase even on millionaires.