A Look at the Tea Party's Influence on Congress

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Members of Congress are going through President Obama's 2013 budget. Among the most vocal critics of nearly $4 trillion plan are Tea Party lawmakers.

They want to balance the budget and cut spending, but do they have enough support to turn their priorities into law?

It takes more than 2,000 pages to outline the president's proposed budget for 2013. Republicans, however, are keeping count of another number.

At a press conference marking the 1,000 day without a budget, Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Ohio, compared the budget to his little girl.

"My daughter, Sarah, is 868 days old. In fact, all of her life there's not been a budget in this country," he noted.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the Senate won't take up a budget again this year.

Reid blames Republicans for the gridlock in Washington, singling out the Tea Party as "too extreme."

Tea Party members say that label belongs to Reid.

"What's extreme is how Washington, D.C., operates. How Harry Reid operates," said Tom Whitmore, founder of the Washington, D.C., Tea Party, which he leads.

While Whitmore had hoped to see more of the group's priorities become law, he doesn't hold the lack of progress against the new members of Congress.

"Tea Party members haven't been able to move real far with the bills themselves, but where they've stood on legislation and issues out there, they've done outstanding," he said.

"I think the Tea Party Congress has had an enormous influence on the direction of this town," noted Christopher Arterton, a professor of political management at George Washington University's Graduate School.

Political observers like Arterton say their main accomplishment has been shifting Washington's obsession with spending to spending cuts, a top priority on their agenda.

"There's a resolve within the Republican Party, generally, that they need to stop the drift of the Obama administration. But the steel in that resolve comes from the Tea Party," Arterton said.

Given their influence and the Republican majority in the House, many thought the influx of Tea Party lawmakers would have a greater impact.

"Of course you're not satisfied. But understand this, you're not going to turn around things in Washington, D.C., on a dime," said Rep. Allen West, R-Fla.

"But, as I said, the conversation is changed," he added.

Frustrated by their lack of progress on the legislative front and their decline in public opinion, freshman lawmakers are on the offensive. They are aiming their criticism not only at Democrats, but at GOP leaders and the way things are done in the beltway.

"This is the age of the Internet. We shouldn't have to wait a few hours before a vote to actually find out what we're voting on," Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., said.

Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., who runs the Tea Party caucus in the Senate, said lawmakers won't be able to pass their agenda without more partners in the upper chamber. And that's his goal.

"It took more than one election to get us in this hole, and it's going to take more than one election to get us out," DeMint said. "And that's why I'm trying to elect some conservatives to the Senate."

DeMint and others believe that if they succeed, they will finally adopt a budget and work to make sure that Washington lives within it.

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