Tea Party Groups Fracture With House GOP on Debt

Posted July 29, 2011 at 4:45pm

The decision to add a balanced budget amendment requirement to the House debt ceiling plan may have won over several conservative organizations on Friday, but tea party activists and their beltway cheerleaders remained staunchly opposed.

“The latest delay in raising the debt ceiling shows that those elected on Tea Party principles are standing firm and bucking the Washington elite, and we are grateful to them for actually listening to the American people,” Jenny Beth Martin and Mark Meckler, co-founders of the Tea Party Patriots wrote in a statement. “Unfortunately, some Tea Party-allied lawmakers have been successfully bullied by the Republican Leadership.”

Washington-based groups that have claimed the tea party banner, such as FreedomWorks and Heritage Action for America, also issued statements of opposition on Friday. They pledged to deploy their grass-roots network in continued support of Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio).

Under the new plan floated Friday by House lawmakers, both chambers would be required to pass a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution as part of a two-step debt ceiling increase — a crucial victory for the coalition of outside groups that played a key role in fueling the Republican revolt on Capitol Hill just days before.

For several conservative groups, at each other’s throats just days ago over House Speaker John Boehner’s (Ohio) initial proposal, that did the trick.

“We would like to have seen bigger cuts, a stronger cap and immediate passage of a BBA but the legislative language of the bill has moved so much closer to the principles of Cut, Cap and Balance that we will now lend our support,” Let Freedom Ring, the advocacy group that led the charge on the CCB plan, wrote in a statement signed by the National Taxpayers Union, 60 Plus Association and other conservative groups.

The Club for Growth, Heritage Action, FreedomWorks and the National Taxpayers Union had all said they would count a vote for the Boehner plan against lawmakers in their ranking systems. On Friday afternoon, Club for Growth and the NTU retracted their opposition.

Conflicts among outside players ebb and flow depending on the legislative issue at hand, and tend to be most pronounced among the groups supporting the majority party. Similar battles erupted among liberals as the Democratic majority considered whether to include a public option in the health care overhaul in 2009.

Still, the tone of conversations among conservatives in the past few weeks seemed to mirror the ferocity of those on Capitol Hill.

“This could very well be a watershed moment for the conservative movement and if you happen to be on the wrong side of it, there very well could be repercussion and skepticism toward them,” said Dan Holler, a spokesman for Heritage Action for America.

Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform emerged as a lightning rod in conservative circles this week for supporting Boehner’s original proposal because it contained no tax increases, the group’s priority in any legislative battle.

“Grover is sort of the outlier in terms of outside groups that claim to represent taxpayers,” said Matt Kibbe, the president of FreedomWorks. “I think the dividing line is those looking for a political solution and those looking for a policy solution.”

For his part, Norquist said it’s a difference between strategy and tactics, not world views.

“One should ask any critic of Boehner what resources they have spent attacking Democrats who oppose spending cuts — compared to what they have done/spent to attack Boehner,” Norquist told Roll Call in an email.

Tempers flared at conservative meetings around Washington last week. “It was as ugly as I’ve ever seen,” noted one Republican lobbyist who attended a Wednesday meeting hosted by Norquist’s group.

But the tensions, perhaps more pronounced than ever, are not likely to cripple the vast conservative operation that has found a powerful voice in the debt negotiations, according to activists on both sides of the debate.

“They will all kiss and make up,” said a former Republican lobbyist and Bush administration appointee. “Though it may not be a big wet kiss, it will be enough for everyone to keep holding hands through the 2012 election.”