Tea Party Group Issues Warning to the G.O.P.
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By MARC LACEY
Published: February 26, 2011
PHOENIX — While heaping scorn on President Obama and the Democrats for overspending, more than 2,000 members of the Tea Party Patriots gathered here for a national conference also had strong words on Saturday for Congressional Republicans and vowed to vote them out of office next year if they did not move aggressively to cut the budget.
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Mr. Walker remained in Wisconsin, but the mere mention of his name led to a standing ovation.
It was Washington, not Wisconsin, though, that seemed the source of the most ire.
“The mood here is that we’re a little disappointed in the Republicans in the House in not living up to their pledge,” said Sally Oljar of Seattle, a member of the national coordinating team for the Tea Party Patriots, a coalition of several thousand Tea Party groups. “We realize we have to keep the pressure on these guys all the time. If you leave them alone they revert back to their own ways.”
The Tea Party Patriots chose Arizona as the site of its first policy conference — a meeting that was part strategy session, part pep rally — to show support for a state that has been boycotted by many groups because of its crackdown on illegal immigration. And although border issues came up, the federal budget dominated discussions.
Republicans lawmakers face a delicate balancing act as negotiations to avert a government shutdown reach a critical phase this week. Senate Democrats have said the $61 billion in spending cuts proposed by House Republicans are too severe, although Tea Party members consider them not severe enough.
If the parties cannot reconcile their differences, the federal government could be shut down for the first time in 16 years.
“If these politicians don’t get the message, they had better step aside,” said Carter Brough, a retiree from Whitney, Tex. “Right now, I can’t tell the difference between the parties. I’ve chopped my credit cards. I’m watching my spending. This country needs to do the same.”
Representative Joe L. Barton, Republican of Texas, heard the displeasure firsthand when he addressed the conference on Friday night. He called the $61 billion in cuts that cleared the House “the largest spending cuts in history” and a “good start in the right direction,” but Tea Party activists were having none of it.
“More!” the crowd cried.
Mr. Barton also drew grumbles when he urged patience. “You’re not going to get to the finish line the first time you set out,” he said.
Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, a prospective Republican presidential candidate in 2012, was greeted more enthusiastically when he spoke of the need to get the country’s books in order.
“The government’s too damn big,” he said, making a play on the catchphrase of Jimmy McMillan, the candidate for New York governor who ran on the Rent Is Too Damn High ticket.
“Just because we followed Greece in democracy doesn’t mean we should follow them in bankruptcy,” Mr. Pawlenty said.
Like many speakers, Mr. Pawlenty also slipped in a jab at the president. “Now, I’m not one who questions the existence of the president’s birth certificate,” he said. “But when you listen to his policies, don’t you at least wonder what planet he’s from?”
After playing a critical role in propelling the Republicans to a House majority in 2010 — but ending the careers of some establishment Republicans along the way — the Tea Party members here were clearly eager to mix things up again in 2012.
“We’re not an appendage of anyone,” Ms. Oljar said. “If someone is not a real fiscal conservative, they will be outed very quickly. There are politicians who have taken on the Tea Party mantle. That’s fine. But we care about the issues, and we’re watching them all.”
The issues raised in Wisconsin and other states where Republicans are proposing cuts in state workers’ benefits clearly resonated with the audience in Phoenix. A discussion on how to curtail the political power of labor unions, which are closely allied with the Democrats, drew a standing-room-only crowd and a long line out the door.
“It’s a travesty, all the protests in Wisconsin,” said Bruce Miller, a nondenominational minister from Tucson. “The unions have served us well for years, but they’re turning into nothing more than a political machine for the Democrats.”
In interviews, Tea Party members who were here from across the country expressed deep displeasure with the nation’s course, in particular the way Washington spends taxpayers’ money.
Many said they were new to politics in the last election but intended to stay involved. They added that they were willing to make personal sacrifices as government programs were pared back, but only if the cuts were broad based.
“It’s going to hurt,” said Patricia Morlen of Albuquerque. Ms. Morlen said she was a longtime teacher and union member, but wondered, “Why don’t we share the sacrifice, act as Americans and come together to solve the national debt crisis that we have?”
Jenny Beth Martin, a co-founder and the national coordinator of the Tea Party Patriots, called the federal budget cuts that had been approved so far “a drop in the bucket.” Talking about Governor Walker, she said, “Maybe that courage and the example he’s setting will give courage to other elected officials.”