Tea party activists trumpeted their all-or-nothing stance on spending cuts Thursday on Capitol Hill, even as House Republicans negotiated a compromise with Senate Democrats to avoid a government shutdown.
“Cut it or shut it” was the mantra of activists at the rally hosted by the Tea Party Patriots, a national umbrella group, with some participants carrying signs demanding $100 billion in cuts or more in a spending bill for the remainder of the fiscal year. The current continuing resolution runs out April 8, but the impending deadline did not trouble the ralliers, who numbered fewer than 200.
“It doesn’t scare me at all. As a matter of fact, I welcome it,” Ed Salseda of Virginia said of a possible shutdown. The 69-year-old retired Army employee joined the tea party movement two years ago.
Activist Roger Meredith of Virginia carried a sign that said, “$60 Billion Cut is Using a Scalpel on a Watermelon.” The 70-year-old retired economist said it will take eight times as much to make a dent in the nation’s growing debt.
“Even $100 billion to me is nothing,” he said, adding that although the shutdown might affect average Americans in the short run, “it’s going to affect us more if we don’t solve the problem.”
Lawmakers who spoke at the event were less cavalier about risking a shutdown, while blaming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) and other Democrats for the budget crisis.
“We are not here to talk about shutting down the government,” Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) said. “But if you want to talk about shutting down the government, go right over there and talk to Chuck Schumer and Harry Reid, go down to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. and talk to the president. We are here to talk about the incredible fiscal irresponsibility. Why would I want to sit down and compromise with people who enhanced this problem?”
Rep. Mike Pence said his colleagues “have run headlong into Harry Reid.”
“They just don’t get it,” the Indiana Republican added. “They don’t understand the party’s over for liberals in Washington, D.C. The American people are demanding that we change the fiscal direction of our national government.
“Nobody wants a government shutdown, but if we don’t take a stand, we’re going to shut down the future for our children and our grandchildren,” Pence said, calling the $61 billion in cuts the House passed in February a “first wind for taxpayers that set the stage for larger victories on battling against the debt ceiling increase without fundamental reform.”
Rep. Michele Bachmann took a hard line against the debt ceiling issue. “We won’t change our principles. We’re going to say no to another debt ceiling increase,” the Minnesota Republican said.
Sen. Rand Paul, who is one of three members of the Senate Tea Party Caucus, said that group is the only one pushing real reform.
“Nobody else in Washington has proposed any plan to balance the budget,” the Kentucky Republican said. “I won’t vote for any continuing resolution that is not headed toward balancing the budget in some significant way.”
Other Republican lawmakers who spoke at Thursday’s rally included Sen. Jim DeMint (S.C.) and Reps. Steve King (Iowa), Jim Jordan (Ohio) and Louie Gohmert (Texas). The event also featured speakers from groups such as Americans for Prosperity, Let Freedom Ring and the Institute for Liberty.
“We’re pushing for the spending cuts. We’re not pushing for a shutdown,” said Jenny Beth Martin, national coordinator of the Tea Party Patriots, who was more cautious in her speech than those in her audience. “I think if we have a shutdown, it’s going to affect the Senate and the White House. They’re the ones who are standing in the way and being obstructionists. ... It’s time to quit this out-of-control spending. That’s what the American public feels right now.”