Two years ago, stimulus packages and bailouts fed a nationwide revolt that became the tea party movement. Now, liberal groups say frustration over the debt ceiling talks is fueling a left-wing equivalent.
As Members of both parties discuss making dramatic cuts in government programs in exchange for raising the nation’s debt limit, disenchanted liberals are trying to regain control of the debate to focus on increasing taxes on corporations and the wealthy and on preventing cuts in entitlement programs.
The fight is an early test for the American Dream Movement, a coalition formed last month and led by MoveOn.org Civic Action to counter the tea parties. The group took a lead role in liberal efforts to pressure Congress this week.
“There’s been kind of a sea change in how concerned about this our members are,” Justin Ruben, executive director of MoveOn.org, said in an interview. “We’re doing literally everything we can possibly think of to get this to move in a better direction.”
Congressional servers and phone lines on Tuesday were flooded with emails and calls as competing camps — and President Barack Obama — urged supporters to let Congress know their views. As tea party activists implored Republicans to push for more cuts, liberals called on Democrats to resist cuts and consider tax increases, and the sheer volume of the response indicated an extraordinary outpouring of grass-roots interest.
Liberal groups are hoping they can harness some of it.
“The tea party has effectively shifted the frame of debate on the economy. From our perspective, we’re fighting in their frame and losing that battle,” Ruben said. “That sort of frustration is what we’re counting on that will give some lift to this [movement].”
In a campaign led by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, more than 200,000 Obama donors and volunteers also threatened to abstain from the president’s re-election campaign if Democrats agree to make entitlement cuts.
In addition to phone calls and emails to Congress, MoveOn.org and the PCCC worked with other groups to organize events in Congressional districts around the country that they said drew more than 20,000. American Dream Movement members also gathered Thursday on Capitol Hill to demand that Democrats stand their ground against deep spending cuts.
Democratic Members, including Rep. Jan Schakowsky (Ill.), urged activists to fight to protect Social Security and other government benefits.
“We believe in a country where after you’ve worked your whole life, you get to retire in the knowledge that your financial and health security will be met,” she said.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.