September 29, 2013

Fighting health act, tea party gains steam

The re-energized group is gaining donations and data while rallying to hobble Obamacare.

By MATEA GOLD / The Washington Post

The clash in Congress over efforts to derail the health-care law backed by President Obama has lit up tea party groups across the country, re-energizing activists who had drifted away from the movement while intensifying the divisions tearing at the Republican Party.

Senator Cruz greets attendees as he arrives to speak at the Tea Party Patriots 'Exempt America from Obamacare' rally on the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol in Washington
click image to enlarge

Sen. Ted Cruz greets attendees as he arrives to speak at the Exempt America from Obamacare rally on the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Sept. 10.



A shutdown of the U.S. government would reduce fourth-quarter economic growth by as much as 1.4 percentage points depending on its length, economists say, as government workers from park rangers to telephone receptionists are furloughed.

Mark Zandi of Moody's Analytics Inc. estimates a three- to four- week shutdown would cut growth by 1.4 points. Moody's projects a 3 percent rate of growth in the fourth quarter without a closure. A two-week shutdown starting Oct. 1 could cut growth by 0.3 percentage point to an annualized 2.3 percent rate, according to St. Louis-based Macroeconomic Advisers LLC.

A shutdown would slow the expansion because output lost when workers are furloughed subtracts from gross domestic product. The combined prospect of a budget standoff between the White House and Congress and haggling over the debt ceiling could have a bigger impact on the economy as businesses hold off on investment and households delay spending.

"What we have is a political and not economic maelstrom," said Bernard Baumohl, chief global economist at Economic Outlook Group LLC in Princeton, N.J. "What everyone is watching right now is if the uncertainty is affecting consumer and business psychology."

– Bloomberg News

The standoff, which threatens to plunge the federal government into a financial crisis, has served as a rallying cry for a cadre of conservatives, who are bombarding lawmakers with phone calls, emails and social media messages backing a last-ditch effort to hobble the health-care law.

It was the passage of that legislation, formally known as the Affordable Care Act and often derided by critics as Obamacare, that animated the movement when it first emerged in 2009.

"I've not seen this level of intensity since we fought to keep Obamacare from passing," said JoAnn Fleming, executive director of Grassroots America, a group of conservative activists based in Tyler, Texas. "I'm getting calls from people who are not in our network, saying, 'Can we do something?' It's a full-time job just trying to get rid of all my emails."


But the tea party's renewed presence also poses serious political risks for Republicans, undermining efforts to broaden the party's appeal. The movement itself could be blamed for contributing to Washington's dysfunction if it helps set in motion a government shutdown next week or, later in October, a national credit default.

"In the overall scheme of things, it's largely a sideshow," Republican strategist Ron Bonjean, a former top Capitol Hill aide, said of the current health-care debate roiling Congress. "However, it has stolen the spotlight from the president's weaknesses and put it right on Republican infighting, and showed a lack of direction about where we want to go strategically as a party."

The worsening Republican split was on display earlier this week when Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, a tea party leader, held the floor for 21 hours with a marathon speech calling on Republicans to join his effort to defund the health-care law's programs. The tactic infuriated many of his Republican colleagues but further energized the conservative base.

"I like the passion that they bring. The party desperately needs that," said Frank Donatelli, a veteran Republican leader. But, he added, "the cautionary tale I remind every Republican who I talk to is, 'You only win elections by putting coalitions together.' "

The tea party movement rose to prominence in the early years of Obama's presidency, helping drive a surge of conservative activism that helped flip control of the House to Republicans in 2010. At the time, according to CBS-New York Times polling, nearly a third of Americans considered themselves tea party supporters.

The movement's popularity, though faded, shows signs of growing again: A quarter of Americans in a new CBS-New York Times survey between Sept. 19 and 23 said they support the tea party, up four points from two weeks earlier.

The movement exerts substantial sway over the Republican leaders in the House, who backed an effort to strip funding for the Affordable Care Act's implementation in a budget bill passed last week. The Democratic-controlled Senate stripped out the health-care portion Friday and sent it back to the House -- setting the stage for a potential government shutdown Tuesday.

"House Republicans are so concerned with appeasing the tea party that they are willing to shut down the government," Obama said in a statement Friday delivered at the White House.

The movement's central role in the political debate follows a 2012 election in which the tea party appeared to lose steam, with activists largely uninspired by the presidential race between Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney.

(Continued on page 2)

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