How The Tea Party Controls Washington

How do they do it? How does a small number of Tea Party representatives control the agenda in Washington?

The answer works like this:

There are 435 members of the House of Representatives. According to CNN there are 60 members of the Tea Party caucus.

The Tea Party caucus represents just 14 percent of the House membership. It would seem to be a matter of simple math to assure that the Tea Party caucus — like many caucuses on Capitol Hill — has some influence but not total influence.

However, the House majority is now held by the Republicans. There are currently 240 Republicans, 193 Democrats and two vacancies. The Tea Party caucus represents fully 25 percent of the Republican membership.

This 25 percent is important. Here’s why:

Republicans have 47 more House members than the Democrats. That seems like a sizable majority, however a shift of 25 seats in the next election could return the Democrats to power in the House.

To keep their hold on the House — and thus to control the House committees and their ability to set agendas and issue subpoenas — Republicans must hang on to every House seat. This means three things:

First, House Republicans must support the Tea Party agenda because Tea Party members are a major part of the overall Republican caucus.

Second, those Republicans in the House who do not support the Tea Party agenda are likely to face Tea Party opposition in the 2012 primaries. These are generally events where few voters turn out thus giving an advantage to candidates with the most-committed followers. Importantly, the ability to win a primary and knock off a moderate or less-right candidate does not guarantee election. Consider Sharon Angle (Colorado) and Christine O’Donnell (Delaware) as examples. No less important, any serious primary challenge takes away resources which can otherwise be used in a general election.

Third, the House Republicans must support the Tea Party caucus because 17 of its 60 members are newly-elected and especially vulnerable in the next election. Without Tea Party wins the Republicans will lose their majority status in the House.

The Bottom Line: To accommodate  the Tea Party movement the entire Republican party has shifted visibly to the right.


With control of the House the Republicans have control of the budget. The reason is that under the Constitution (Article I, Section 7, clause 1) all money bills must originate in the House.

Thus with a well-organized, disciplined and fervent caucus the Tea Party representatives control the agenda of the House Republicans, who in turn control the House of Representatives, and which in turn controls the budget process.

Will this continue?

Political arguments often sound great in theory, but once proponents are elected such ideas must be put into practice. Tea Party elected officials today have recorded votes which can be scrutinized.

The reaction to Tea Party positions has evolved. Between April 2010 and August 2011 the percentage of people who characterized their view of the Tea Party as “not favorable” grew from 18 percent to 40 percent, according to the New York Times.

Not all of the negative response to the Tea Party has come from liberals or centrists. As one example, the pro-business, conservative Wall Street Journal, a part of Rupert Murdock’s News Corp., described Tea Party elected officials as “hobbits” during the deficit debate. In essence there’s a considerable rift between Republican fiscal conservatives and Tea Party representatives.

The baseline Tea Party idea of reducing government programs while preventing tax increases for the nation’s wealthiest citizens or closing corporate loopholes will now be tested. What will be the public reaction in a situation where unemployment is above 9 percent, good jobs are going overseas and corporate profits have reached record levels? What will be the reaction in an economy where incomes are falling? As the IRS states in its most recent report, between 2008 and 2009 adjusted gross income fell 7.7 percent.

Tomorrow there will be a number of recall elections in Wisconsin, a state where the governor embodies many Tea Party views. It should be an interesting test for both parties — and perhaps a hint of things to come in 2012.

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3 Comments on "How The Tea Party Controls Washington"

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  1. Peter G. Miller says:

    Mark —

    I largely agree with you. That said, the use of leverage remains in place.

  2. Mark Brian says:

    I would argue that big business and the banks control Washington while the Tea Party is manipulated or used by the banks & big business to help them further secure their control and advance their agenda.

  3. LossOfGravity says:

    Tea Party creates Toll and Expects Taxpayer to pick up Tab.

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