At a rally in a hotel ballroom two blocks from the Capitol,
lawmakers allied with the Tea Party Patriots said their movement had
matured from a raucous protest against the growth of government to
one that would engage with the government's machinery to promote a
stronger conservative agenda.
"It's about winning a civil debate, not a civil war," said Senator
Mike Lee, a Tea Party Republican from Utah elected in 2010.
At its start, he said the movement was more akin to the 1773 Boston
anti-tax protest but said it should move towards the constructive
work done by the framers of the Constitution, who met at
Philadelphia in 1787.
"It's much more important that rather than just picking a fight,
we've got to move forward with something," Lee said. "If we grasp
onto an agenda, we will catch the Washington, D.C. establishment
Many of the suggestions thrown out by lawmakers on Thursday revolved
around repealing President Barack Obama's health care reform law,
balancing the federal budget, rolling back regulation viewed as
oppressive and replacing the tax system with a flatter,
straightforward levy - goals often voiced by mainstream Republicans.
The Tea Party sprang forth as a grassroots movement from the turmoil
of the 2008-2009 financial crisis, when the government launched
massive bailouts in the financial sector. A February 2009 on-air
rant by CNBC commentator Rick Santelli against a mortgage bailout
plan from the Obama administration is credited by many with
launching the movement.
"We're thinking of having a Chicago Tea Party in July," Santelli
said from the floor from the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, adding
that mortgage derivative contracts should be dumped into Lake
Tea Party groups sprang up all over the country to protest the
bailouts and massive stimulus spending, and their growth was
subsequently fueled by voters angry about Obamacare health insurance
reforms. Their influence swept dozens of conservative candidates
into Congress in 2010 elections, shifting control of the House of
Representatives to the Republicans.
But the Tea Party Republicans clashed with more moderate,
establishment Republicans including House Speaker John Boehner,
making even legislation to control budget deficits - a core issue
for the movement - difficult to pass without support from Democrats.
A messy budget battle in 2011, a brawl over tax hikes in late 2012
and a 16-day government shutdown in 2013 took their toll and fed
perceptions that the groups thrived more on anarchy than on
promoting achievable conservative policies.
But a controversy over Internal Revenue Service targeting of Tea
Party groups seeking tax exempt status, government spying scandals
and problems with the launch of Obamacare have fueled a resurgence
in the groups ahead of congressional elections this November.
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"I'm here to show that we are still around," said Kathleen, a Tea
Party member from Toledo Ohio. She declined to provide her last
name, saying she was afraid that "the IRS is going to come after
Randy Liebo, the Tea Party Patriots state coordinator for Minnesota,
said many members felt betrayed by Boehner for allowing a year-long
extension of the federal debt limit to pass with mostly Democratic
He said his state has added 10 Tea Party chapters in the past three
months but noted that the group no longer is interested in simply
complaining: It won't meet unless it has an action plan to pursue.
"In this year's elections, if we can take the Senate, it would stop
Obama from proceeding along further with his liberal agenda," Liebo
said. "The next thing would be to take the presidency in 2016."
A potential Republican contender for that race, Senator Rand Paul,
regaled the rally with outrageous stories of government waste and
pledged that his budget plan would end deficits in five years.
Paul and Lee both likened the Tea Party movement's current
development stage to the backers of Ronald Reagan in the late 1970s.
They had tried unsuccessfully to get him nominated in 1976, but kept
at it and swept him into the White House in a landslide in 1980.
Calling Reagan a "leader for the ages," he said a similar shift
could happen now if the Tea Party can focus and promote its message
But the day's biggest standing ovation came for Senator Ted Cruz,
the Texas Republican who may be Paul's rival for the party's 2016
Cruz, whose rock-star welcome was a stark contrast to the complaints
from some senators after he put up procedural hurdles to the recent
debt-limit hike, said he was "absolutely convinced we are going to
repeal every single word of Obamacare."
"I think the Tea Party is the most exciting political development in
decades," Cruz said. "The great thing about the Tea Party (is) it
arose from beneath. It's not top-down, which by the way confuses the
heck out of politicians."
(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)
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