Nine Years After the Tea Party Movement, Republican Leaders Betray Grassroots Conservatives Again

Demonstrators gather at an American Family Association (AFA)-sponsored T.E.A. (Taxed Enough Already) Party to protest taxes and economic stimulus spending on the last day to file state and federal income tax returns, April 15, 2009 in Santa Monica, California. (David McNew/Getty Ima
David McNew/Getty

When Barack Obama was inaugurated as the 44th President of the United States on January 20, 2009, Democrats controlled the White House, the House of Representatives, and the Senate.

Eight days later, on January 28, 2009, the House of Representatives passed the new president’s “Stimulus Bill” by a vote of 244 to 188. All 177 Republicans voted against the bill, while only 11 Democrats opposed it.

Members of the House had seen the details of the 800 page bill for the first time less than 48 hours earlier.

In my 2012 book, Covenant of Liberty: The Ideological Origins of the Tea Party Movement, I described the reaction many grassroots conservatives had to this development:

The speed of the process, with its self-evident disregard for more than two centuries of legislative deliberative tradtion, was shocking. Congress spent virtually no time deliberating the bill–in fact, it’s likely that the vast majority of members had not even read the bill before voting. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her Democratic troops in the House, by their actions, had just signaled their rupture with the nation’s customs and constitution, and their embrace of this new paradigm. They demonstrated the kind of absolute authority that James I would envy.

The Stimulus Bill passed the Senate on February 10, 2009, and was signed into law by President Obama on February 17.

Two days later, on February 19, 2009, “CNBC correspondent Rick Santelli launched the Tea Party movement with ‘the rant heard round the world.’ It lasted only about six minutes, during his regular reporting from the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. The Obama administration had just announced plans for a new bailout program–this time for mortgages–and Santelli took exception.”

On April 15 of that year, a million Americans gathered in over 900 cities around the nation on “Tax Day Tea Party” to protest our out-of-control federal government, and to promote the Tea Party movement’s three core values: Fiscal Responsibility, Free Markets, and Constitutionally Limited Government.

The political power and energy of those Tea Party activists drove the Republican takeover of the House of Representatives in 2010, the Senate in 2014, and the Presidency in 2016.

Nine years later, how have the Republican politicians who secured control largely on the basis of the political energy of these grassroots activists used that power?

Ignoring the “regular order” of the budget process, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) have cut a behind-the-scenes deficit expanding $1.3 trillion “Omnibus Budget” spending deal with Democratic Minority Leader  Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).

They dropped this 2,200 page fiscal monstrosity–1,000 pages longer than the Gutenberg Bible–on the desks of members of the U.S. House of Representatives just a few hours before the 256-167 vote in which the lower chamber of Congress passed the bill, and less than 24 hours before the U.S. Senate did the same.

President Trump now has less than 24 hours to decide whether he will sign this terrible budget deal or veto it.

If the president signs the bill, grassroots conservative activists around the country will rightfully ask this obvious question:

After nine years of hard work to put Republicans into power in Washington, why should we lift a finger to help the GOP in the 2018 Congressional midterm elections if they act no differently than the Democrats did nine years ago when they held all the reins of power?



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