Published December 29, 2012
The Tea Party has had an up-and-down political ride since the movement helped Republicans take control of the House in 2010, but those elected in the midterm elections still appear to wield considerable power in the fiscal negotiations.
The roughly 50 members elected to the House two years ago have been a challenge for the more moderate House Speaker John Boehner since they took office. Perhaps most memorably, many of them refused last year to support a debt-ceiling bill because they said it didn’t reduce federal spending enough.
Just last week they squashed Boehner’s fiscal plan by refusing to compromise and vote on a tax increase for any American, despite the House speaker -- in his so-called “Plan B” -- having suggested extending tax cuts only for those making more than $1 million annually.
And their most powerful vote might be yet to come, should Tea Party-backed House members reject a possible Senate proposal over the next two days to extend tax cuts and perhaps avert massive federal spending cuts that start January 1.
“They lost in November, rather resoundingly, but still appear to be doubling down,” Democratic strategist Christy Setzer told Fox News on Saturday.
To be sure, the campaigns of several Tea Party-backed Senate candidates imploded late in the 2012 election cycle, which in part resulted in Republicans failing to take control of the chamber and party leaders vowing afterward to take a more active role in future primaries.
Despite liberal-minded political analysts and others repeatedly pronouncing the death of the Tea Party, factions continue to fight and make themselves heard in Washington.
Boehner and other House leaders appeared to send a message to members of the chamber’s smaller-government, less-taxes Tea Party caucus who were reelected in November by taking away key committee seats from three members -- Reps. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, David Schweikert of Arizona, and Justin Amash of Michigan.
However, Huelskamp sounding undeterred after Boehner’s so-called “Plan-B” vote failed, forcing the Senate to try to avert the $500 billion mix of tax increases and federal spending cuts over 2013.
Huelskamp called Boehner pulling the vote from the House floor “a victory for conservative principles.”
However, Boehner supporters that same night expressed their frustration with the Tea Party caucus.
"It's the same 40 to 50 chuckleheads that have screwed this place up all year," complained retiring Rep. Steven LaTourette, R-Ohio. Boehner has “done everything to make nice to them. Bring them along. It hasn't mattered. I don't fault him. He's done his best."
Boehner has passed major legislation in the past two years, but the Tea Party-backed lawmakers have led the opposition on several bills.
Fifty-nine Republicans abandoned Boehner in April 2011 on a package to avert a government shutdown. That number ballooned to 101 on a November 2011 bill to fund the government. Sixty six Republicans vote in August 2011 against increasing the debt ceiling.
In addition, 91 Republicans voted in February against a bill to extend the payroll tax cut. And 52 Republicans voted in June against a bill to pay for the nation's transportation programs.
Though the movement has be characterized as a state-by-state grassroots effort, deep-pocketed Tea Party influenced groups such as FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity opposed Boehner’s Plan B and would likely oppose any future plan that does not include spending cuts.
“Conservatives are looking for a leader to fight against tax increases, to push back against wasteful government spending, and address the fiscal challenges in a bold way,” group President Tim Phillips said. “Sadly, this plan leaves conservatives wanting.”