The tea party movement, a phenomenon that many deem responsible for installing Florida’s all-Republican cabinet and turning over control of the House of Representatives to the GOP, continues to demonstrate its influence throughout the state and the country.
Far from Tallahassee, Gov. Rick Scott offered up his first state budget to a crowd of 1,000 tea partiers tightly packed into the First Baptist Church of Eustis, who wildly applauded his $66 million “jobs budget,” which calls for more than $7 million in cuts and widespread restructuring over the next two years:
“I bet you we’re going to like 95 percent of it, because he’s one of us,” said tea party activist Billie Tucker before the governor released his plan. “We’re going to support the deep cuts.”
Scott got the positive reinforcement he may have been seeking by leaving skeptical Tallahassee for the roll-out.
“This is the budget you asked for,” Scott said to applause.
Monday’s budget announcement reinforced Scott’s ties to the movement that helped get him through the Republican primary and into office. Before rolling out his budget, Scott met privately with tea party members at a luncheon at the Eustis civic center. During the public session at the church, Scott reiterated his gratitude before getting into his budget numbers.
“I started running last April 9th,” Scott said after being introduced. “Winning in November was because of what you all did. Thank you very much.”
State Reps. Mike Weinstein of Jacksonville and Larry Metz of Yalaha, two Republican legislators who supported Scott’s transformation from former embattled health care CEO to viable gubernatorial candidate last spring, announced to the crowd that they would be forming a Tea Party Caucus within the Florida legislature.
They noted that 18 House members were expected to join at the outset and that Gov. Scott is “on board.”
Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Allen West, R-Fort Lauderdale, another political newcomer who was elected under the mantle of the tea party, announced his intention to join House Tea Party Caucus founded and chaired by Minnesota Republican Michele Bachmann, who claims the group is informal and will focus on policy issues. West said through a spokesman that his decision to accept the caucus’ invitation was due to its alignment with many of the values espoused throughout his campaign, such as limited government.
In a move to further legitimize the movement and move it beyond the grassroots level, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., recently announced the formation of a Senate Tea Party Caucus, which aligns itself with Bachmann’s group and together with the Tea Party Express will tonight be holding a first-of-its-kind interactive Tea Party Town Hall at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
Paul outlined the necessity of a formal caucus to represent the tea party movement in a statement last month:
“Republicans in the Senate have already made a pledge to end earmarks and fight for a balanced-budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution,” Paul said in the statement. “By joining with my fellow Senators, Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Mike Lee of Utah, as well as grassroots groups who see the need for government reform, the caucus will work to enact real change to protect our country and its taxpayers from an ever-expanding government.”
Lee described the tea party movement as “a movement of everyday Americans who have grown tired of Washington playing by their own set of rules.”
“Americans have elected us to be responsible caretakers of their hard-earned money and freedom, and the formation of this caucus gives us the opportunity to listen to the American people and do what they elected us to do,” he added.
Not all tea party favorites see the formation of formal caucuses as a wise or necessary move. Rising GOP star Marco Rubio told reporters late last month that he didn’t see the need for a Tea Party Caucus:
“Really what I think the strength of the tea party is that it comes from the grass-roots,” Rubio told a group of Florida reporters in an interview in his temporary Senate office. “That it is not a political organization, it’s not something run by politicians or people seeking higher office, but rather it is a movement of every day citizens from all walks of life. That’s the strength of the tea party: that it’s not a political organization run by people out of Washington. My concern is a tea party caucus could intrude on that.”
He said he does plan to join the Republican Steering Committee, a conservative group that has been long established and meets to talk policy. He noted the group has staffers and has the “infrastructure in place to provide resources that those of us who believe in center right limited government, free enterprise can rely on.”
He noted his attendance on his Facebook page, noting the committee — formed in 1974 and chaired by South Carolina Republican Sen. Jim DeMint, who is also a member of the tea party Caucus, “is a forum for senators to work together to discuss and promote conservative legislation and policies.”
“The fundamental question I have — and there might be a good reason for it — is what’s the difference between the tea party caucus and what already exists in the steering committee?” said Rubio, who first questioned the need for a separate tea party caucus during a CNN interview last July.
As Think Progress reported yesterday, Rubio is now dismissing the Caucus as a “little club” that, if led by Washington politicians, will cause the movement to “lose its energy”:
Now, specifically about the Tea Party Caucus, the concern that I’ve expressed, is that what I think gives the tea party its strength and its legitimacy in the American political process is that it’s a grassroots movement of everyday Americans. … My fear has always been that if you start creating these little clubs or organizations in Washington run by politicians, the movement starts to lose its energy. Basically, the media will jump on that and start paying attention to that instead of the grass roots movement which is really what has given the tea party its voice. … I don’t want us to do anything that kind of changes its grassroots nature.
In the other chamber of Congress, a number of leading House Republicans have criticized Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) for founding the House Tea Party Caucus (which inspired the Senate version). House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) refused to join the caucus, saying the tea party movement is “certainly not of Washington and in that respect it’s better left with the people.” Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), who also refused to join despite his closeness to the tea party, said the movement “should be kept outside Congress.” “The more you try to put structure around the tea party, the more compromised it will be,” Chaffetz wrote warned.
Listen to the audio of Rubio’s interview, which appeared on “The Tray Radel Show” last Friday: