With tea party members clamoring outside the Capitol and Democrats leveling charges of extremism inside, House Speaker John Boehner shot down speculation Thursday that the GOP leadership has compromised with the White House on budget cuts, proclaiming he’s “not very interested” in abandoning his party’s grass-roots conservatives in order to win a deal that centrist Democrats support.
Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann chimed in Thursday, telling Newsmax in an exclusive interview that she believes Democrats are playing chicken over the prospect of a shutdown because they believe they can use it to hurt Republicans politically and set the table for the 2012 election — as some analysts believe former President Bill Clinton was able to do against then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich in 1995.
“Between Harry Reid, Chuck Schumer, and Howard Dean, they let the cat out of the bag, and that’s that the Democrats’ political plan is to shut down government because they think they will benefit from doing that. Now we know that, if the government shuts down it’s not the tea party’s fault, it’s the Democrats’ fault, because they’ve made a decision they’re not interested in compromise. They just want to see the government shut down," Backmann tells Newsmax.
“They’re not interested in a practical solution, and I think people all across the United States are tired of political games,” the Minnesota Republican says.
In what may have been a ploy to ratchet up the pressure on Boehner Wednesday night, Vice President Joe Biden announced that “good progress” had been made on a deal to avert a government shutdown by April 8, when the stopgap federal funding measure expires.
One speaker at Thursday’s tea party rally, GOP Rep. Mike Pence, tells Newsmax that Biden’s statement suggesting a deal is at hand shows that there are “a lot of political games being played by liberals here in Washington, D.C."
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Pence, of Indiana, also tells Newsmax that, if House Republicans don’t fight now to change the nation’s fiscal direction, “we're going to shut down the future for our children and grandchildren."
Reports have circulated in recent days that Boehner might compromise with Democrats on a budget offering $33 billion in spending cuts. That would be far short of the $61 billion in cuts that more than 80 freshmen members of Boehner’s caucus, who were elected on grass-roots conservative platforms, have demanded.
With that in mind, a crowd estimated at more than 2,000 tea party faithful rallied outside the Capitol on Thursday.
“We are telling Boehner and Congress that we want Obamacare defunded and for them to follow through with their campaign promise,” Tea Party Patriots leader Everett Wilkinson tells Newsmax. “The tea party is providing backbone to Boehner and members of Congress to stand up to the ‘extremist’ Democrats that want to shut down government and continuing the out of control spending.
“We face a serious debt crisis and the fight is just beginning. The tea party will continue to push for a fiscal responsible government,” he says.
Boehner seems to find himself caught in the middle these days, although the House already has passed a budget proposal and the U.S. Senate has yet to act. But because any budget deal would have to pass muster in the GOP controlled House, Boehner’s stamp of approval on any spending bill is essential.
Democrats are continuing their divide-and-conquer strategy, which relies on labeling tea party conservatives wild-eyed radicals.
New York Sen. Chuck Schumer inadvertently exposed his party’s branding tactic on Tuesday, when he said on an open microphone that his caucus had told him to label the tea party as “extreme” at every opportunity.
Republicans blasted those comments as indicating Democrats are more interested in playing political games, and perhaps even forcing a shutdown that many of their leaders apparently believe would work to their party’s advantage politically, rather than addressing the spiraling debt crisis facing the nation.
Former National Democratic Chairman Howard Dean appeared to lend credence to those concerns, telling a National Journal conference on Tuesday: “From a partisan point of view, I think it would be the best thing in the world to have a shutdown.”
House Majority Leader Harry Reid said Wednesday that he actually feels sorry for Boehner.
“I am sure it is not easy to try and negotiate with the tea party screaming in their ears,” said Reid.
But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said of conservative activists rallying at the Capitol: “These folks are not radical. They are our next-door neighbors and our friends. These are everyday men and women who love their country and don’t want to see it collapse.”
Boehner stepped up Thursday to douse any speculation that there’s daylight between the GOP leadership and the grass-roots conservatives who helped propel it back into power with its historic midterm sweep in November.
Boehner said he is glad that activists remain involved. But he cautioned that Republicans control just “one-half of one-third of the government here in Washington, we can’t impose our will on another body, we can’t impose our will on the Senate.”
He added: “All we can do is fight for all of the spending cuts that we can get . . . and the spending limitations as well.”
One of the biggest sticking points to any budget deal is likely to be the riders — legislative measures that the GOP attached to its funding bills. They include:
- Provisions to cut funds for the Planned Parenthood organization recently caught up in a scandal over facilitating abortions to under aged girls thought to be involved in prostitution.
- It would defund the implementation of the president’s healthcare reform initiatives.
- It would limit the EPA’s ability to impose regulations on greenhouse gas emissions.
- And it would block an FCC effort to regulate rules related to the price structure of traffic on the Internet.
Schumer has said that any of those riders would be deal breakers. Biden said Wednesday the administration is “not really big on any riders at all.”
Many conservatives believe Democrats are overplaying their hand based on a faulty assumption: that the public and the media would automatically side with them if a budget showdown led to a shutdown.
Veteran conservative pollster Kellyanne Conway, founder and president of The Polling Company Inc./WomanTrend, tells Newsmax that conditions are much different than they were in 1995.
“Sixteen years later, the American people understand that a government shutdown does not mean that grandma doesn’t get her Social Security check and your water gets turned off,” she tells Newsmax. “They know it means a final admission that we’re out of money. And people went to the polls in 2010 saying, ‘We’re out of money, stop spending it.’”
“The average voter now is much more financially sophisticated and instantaneously informed, then they were in 1995 in the first government shutdown. After two years of failing and flailing, whether it be the spending and bailouts, the failed stimulus, a healthcare plan a majority of Americans still don’t want — it’s going to be very difficult for President Obama to lay blame for the government shutdown at the feet of one party in Congress. It just won’t happen.”
Boehner was slated to meet Thursday afternoon with the 87 GOP freshmen members in the House, and the negotiations over the budget proposals were expected to be discussed.
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