Collapse of the omnibus spending bill: rise of the 'tea party Congress'?
Some see ideals of tea party movement at play in Senate, after a huge spending bill loaded with earmarks is scuttled after GOP lawmakers thought twice about it.
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Spurred on by Republican Sens. McCain, Jim DeMint of South Carolina, and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma – as well as by vows of Sens. Orrin Hatch of Utah and John Cornyn of Texas to drop their earmark requests – Senator McConnell, in a flurry of 11th-hour phone calls, pulled the nine Republican votes out of Reid's hand, dooming the bill.Skip to next paragraph
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Outside-the-Beltway tea party groups like Tea Party Nation and Tea Party Patriots had vehemently opposed the spending bill in recent days. John Hart, a spokesman for Sen. Coburn, said the spending bill defeat was "100 percent grassroots."
As a result, "voters should be very encouraged by what happened," says Mr. Hart. "This shows that, in spite of our dysfunctions, when the American people make their voices known, it does make a difference."
The spending bill's demise, critics say, pointed out the hypocrisy of Republican appropriators who had publicly vented about over-the-top federal spending while, as Politico's David Rogers writes, putting "their hands in the cookie jar" by helping to assemble the nearly 2,000-page appropriations bill.
Instead of the omnibus bill, Congress is likely to pass a two-month extension of a current stop-gap mechanism that's been in effect since Oct. 1. That, in effect, puts Republicans in charge of the budget process, because they'll take over the House in January.
Thursday's proceedings came straight out of the tea party playbook, including tea party stalwart Sen. Jim DeMint's demand for the Senate clerk to read the entire bill – which would have taken at least 50 hours. A major part of the tea party platform, as it is, is to force Congress to impose waiting periods to allow people to read proposed bills, as well as mandating that Congress include constitutional justification of all new laws. The tea party's Contract From America document has also demanded the end of earmarks from both sides of the political aisle. Earmarks are one-time appropriations that many lawmakers see as just desserts for constituents who deserve to see federal money spent in their communities.
Ms. Schiller at Brown doesn't see the repudiation of the spending bill as ushering in a "tea party Congress," but notes that it will put additional pressure on incoming House Speaker John Boehner to build a workable coalition with freshmen tea party members before Republicans split over spending and debt-reduction principles.
More broadly, Schiller says, the omnibus bill's defeat speaks to voters' desire for Washington to rein in projects like a $300,000 farm museum in Urbandale, Iowa, and a $1 million weather camera installation in Hawaii.
"If Americans are pulling back and they're not spending money in every way they want to, it's totally reasonable to ask the federal government to do the same," she says.