Call it Tea Party Patriots version 2.0: The grassroots conservative movement that helped put the brakes on Democratic healthcare reform is gearing up for an exponential increase in tea party marches, rallies and other events leading up to the 2010 midterm elections.
The first event will kick off on Tuesday, as thousands of protesters are expected to hold a "die-in" on Capitol Hill, where they will gather to present an image of desperately ill patients waiting in long lines for treatment at government-controlled healthcare facilities. It's another in a series of Tea Party efforts designed to boost the momentum against Democratic healthcare reform.
In an exclusive Newsmax interview, movement leaders say they're also planning a Tea Party surge in the weeks and months ahead to keep the pressure on Congress.
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"We know Congress can hear us. They're just ignoring us, and not listening," Jenny Beth Martin, national Tea Party Patriots coordinator, tells Newsmax.TV's Ashley Martella. "So we're going to keep the pressure on."
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Martin tells Newsmax that the organization will have "hundreds, probably over a thousand" rallies next year throughout the country, in coordination with next year's April 15 Tea Party march on Washington, D.C.
Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, the chairman of the activist FreedomWorks organization that in some ways has been a midwife to the Tea Party coalition, tells Newsmax that some members of Congress appear to still be in a state of denial over the rising political influence of grassroots Americans frustrated by the rapid expansion of the federal government.
"Right now we still deal with people in Washington who haven't had the ears to hear," Armey tells Newsmax. "They're trying to tell themselves this is not a real movement. That's why it's so important to continue. We will have grassroots demonstrations of our concerns for this country's well-being today, tomorrow, next week.
Armey anticipates that politicians will become more responsive to voters as the 2010 midterm elections draw near.
"As they get closer to their day of re-election, their willingness to listen to the constituents back home is heightened, and as we see the opportunity, we're going to make our presence more available," Armey says in the exclusive Newsmax interview.
On Wednesday, Armey will be holding a news conference strategically located out of Sen. Blanch Lincoln's Little Rock, Ark., headquarters. Lincoln, a Democratic moderate, is considered one of the swing votes President Barack Obama will have to capture in order to pass healthcare reform. After Armey speaks with the media, Tea Party Patriots activists will march on Lincoln's office to express their small-government views.
"Where do they think these authorities come from?" Armey asked, referring to a proposed federal requirement that all citizens must purchase a health insurance policy. "They certainly don't come from our Constitution.”
The Arkansas event reflects a growing Tea Party effort to convert the organization's grassroots support into political power that it can use to sway electoral outcomes. That political transformation got a major boost in the November elections when opposition from Tea Party groups contributed to the withdrawal of the liberal Republican Dede Scozzafava from the District 23 race in upstate New York.
Among the Tea Party political initiatives now under way:
- Several affiliates are forming political action committees to raise funds to support fiscally conservative candidates.
- Tea Party members are supporting and encouraging conservative candidates who are taking on established political figures. One obvious example is former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio's bid to wrest the GOP senatorial nomination from Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who appeared to embrace Obama's fiscal stimulus plan.
- Some Tea Party chapters are drafting candidate questionnaires to present to anyone running for office. They intend to make sure that their members know which candidates are champions of small government.
- According to the Washington Post, FreedomWorks is planning to raise millions through its PAC to influence the outcome of the 2010 elections.
Armey and the Tea Party organizations also object to the recent EPA proclamation that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions can be regulated by the administration under the Clean Air Act without congressional legislation. That ruling may hand the grassroots conservative movement a useful tool for their entrée into political fundraising.
Martin tells Newsmax the escalating Tea Party activities won't just be targeting Democrats, however.
"Regardless of party affiliation, we want elected officials who will be fiscally responsible, ensure constitutionally limited government, and free markets," she says. "Those are our core principles."
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