Activists on the far right and far left might be angry at Congress, but they are fracturing with party leadership in a similar fashion, with each side decrying the debt deal for not going far enough.
As leaders attempted to sell the rank and file on the parameters of the compromise, Congress struck with President Barack Obama, tea party groups and liberal organizations alike bristled and promised that they will not be forgiving come the next election.
The battle began for many advocacy groups with terse statements that are likely to be followed by rallies, protests and, potentially, even party primaries.
Tea Party Patriots, which calls the deal “bad for America,” is organizing activists to disrupt Congressional town halls during the August recess.
“Make them tell you how [the deal] is putting us on the right track,” the group wrote in an email.
Levi Russell of Tea Party Express said the deal fell short and “does nothing to fundamentally improve our economy and change course from the last several years of skyrocketing spending,” so it’s time for action. He said tea party activists must focus on upcoming elections to strengthen their leverage in Washington. Russell believes the debt debate has brought tea party activists to a “boiling point” comparable to the anger displayed during the long negotiations over Obama’s health care law.
“Our people are very frustrated and bordering on disgust,” he said. The group hopes to channel that sentiment into electoral wins. The group’s bus tour under way to pump up activists for the 2012 elections will make debt a top issue.
Russell said “disappointing results” from the Republican House show “the only real long-term solution is to continue changing the Members of Congress until there are enough Members in there that have a commitment to real financial reform.”
Liberals also hate the plan because it didn’t include tax increases and left entitlement programs open to future cuts.
Robert Borosage, co-director of the liberal Campaign for America’s Future, told Roll Call that liberal groups opposing the deal will “organize mass pressure” on the members of a committee who this fall will consider tax increases and entitlement programs under the new plan.
Borosage said his group is working with labor unions and MoveOn.org. He said he has been bombarded with emails and calls from angry liberals expressing “serial angst and disappointment with the administration,” which could hurt Obama in 2012.
“There is a lot of anger about it. It’s not just this, it’s the wars, Guantánamo, retreats on a whole range of issues. [Liberals] feel like he’s not standing up and fighting and he’s losing the argument to the right.”
Earlier in a statement, Borosage had suggested that “Tea Party terrorists — the extremist faction willing to hold the economy hostage to get their way — have won.”
Progressive Change Campaign Committee’s Adam Green offered similar gripes, saying the compromise “will kill our economy and is an attack on middle-class families” and urged group members to flood Congressional offices with calls.
MoveOn.org surveyed some of the group’s 5 million members and concluded “the vast majority oppose the deal because it unfairly asks seniors and the middle class to bear the burden of the debt deal.”
The strong reactions on both sides reflected the unusually high level of citizen engagement in this policy debate. Last week, the Capitol switchboard and Congressional websites were overwhelmed by citizens demanding that Congress resolve the crisis. Advocacy groups might have a harder time sustaining that level of activism post-deal, but prominent leaders on both sides said the debate is far from over.
And though liberal groups might think the tea party has won the debt fight, tea partyers were hardly celebrating Monday.
Tea Party Nation’s Judson Phillips said Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had “totally sold the tea party and the conservative movement out.”
Phillips called on activists to organize against them and get involved in the 2012 elections to “kick these RINOs to the curb.”
But not all tea partyers were disappointed by the deal, raising questions about how united the grass roots will be in voicing opposition to it. TheTeaParty.net, whose members sent nearly 400,000 letters to Congress last week calling for deep cuts, hailed the deal as “a victory for the tea party.” The group plans to thank Boehner and House Republicans and is taking credit for forcing a tougher round of cuts.
Spokesman Dustin Stockton said tea partyers “took a terrible plan and made it neutral.”