(Photo: AP/Mark Humphrey)
The battle to cut spending in the national budget may be causing a rift between Republicans and the Tea Party, a conservative grassroots movement that has been identified as largely Christian.
On Thursday, GOP House Speaker John Boehner announced he and fellow Republicans have been engaged in talks with Democrats to reach an agreement over the national budget. During the meeting, he said Republicans have been fighting for “the largest spending cuts that we can get.”
However, The Washington Post reports that the current negotiated cuts rest at $33 billion – $67 billion shy of the amount anticipated by Tea Party Republicans.
The Tea Party Patriots, one of the largest activist groups within the movement, took to the streets of Washington, D.C. the same day to protest and retaliate against what has been viewed as a budgetary standstill.
“Washington doesn’t get it,” the Tea Party Patriots’ website proclaims. “We need bold leadership and we need it now. It’s time to act.”
Members of the Tea Party Nation have also fired off at Boehner in a forum entitled, “Boehner Caves: The Tea Party Must Act.”
Tea Party Nation Founder Judson Phillips writes, “Getting Nancy Pelosi out of the speaker's seat was a good thing. Unfortunately, her replacement has not been very good. We need people in leadership who are committed to cutting spending and eliminating these programs."
The infighting within the Republican Party seems to confirm a CNN/ Opinion Research Corporation survey released late Wednesday gauging the Tea Party’s favorability among Americans. The poll reveals that a sizable proportion of Republicans, 48 percent, say they hold an unfavorable view of the Tea Party. Forty-four percent of Republicans hold a favorable view of the grassroots movement.
According to research conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute, 70 percent of the Tea Party’s members are white Christians. Of that subgroup, more than half are evangelicals.
Bishop Harry Jackson, Jr., chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and a board member of the National Association of Evangelicals, says that evangelicals are especially concerned about the national debt.
“We are moving with a level of national debt that could jeopardize the well-being of future generations. That’s a concern that most evangelicals share,” he told The Christian Post.
Evangelical concern over the national debt may be driving the Tea Party to push even more so than their Republican counterparts for drastic budget-balancing cuts.
A February poll by the Pew Research Center found that Tea Party support for cuts to environment, unemployment aid, and education spending out-weighs that of non-Tea Party Republicans.
Sixty percent of Tea Party members support decreased spending on the environment compared to 23 percent of Republican supporters. Nearly 60 percent of Tea Party members support cuts to unemployment benefits while only 38 percent of Republicans hold the same belief. Thirty-three percent of Tea Party members support decreased federal funds to education while only four percent of non-Tea Party Republicans hold the same notion.
Progressive Christians also believe strongly that lawmakers should balance the national budget in the interest of fiscal responsibility.
Dr. Ron Sider founder of Evangelicals for Social Justice said in a March 3 teleconference addressing Republicans’ proposed cuts, “How we balance our national budget is first of all a moral question. That we must do so is clear.”
However, he and others progressive Christians champion increase taxes to wealthy Americans over cuts to protect those in poverty and invest in the future generation.
Bishop Jackson calls that notion unrealistic. “There is an imaginary sense that you can just keep increasing the taxes on ‘the rich’ and somehow that’s going to pay the bills. The numbers just don’t add up,” he said. Instead, he advocates “modest cuts” of increases and benefits across the board.
Tea Party Patriots say modest cuts mean $100 billion off the budget and $105 billion cut to the money that would implement the health care reform law – no compromises.
Boehner said Thursday morning that the GOP is listening to the people’s demands. House Republicans initially passed a reformed budget with the $100 billion in cuts earlier this year. The bill was voted down in the Democratically-controlled Senate. Since then, Republicans have successfully passed $10 billion in spending cuts through both the U.S. House and Senate.
“We’re listening to the people who sent us here to cut spending so we can grow our economy,” asserted Boehner.
However, he says the difference between Congressional GOP members and Democrats is that they are also striving to keep the government from shutting down. That means that Republicans have to play ball with Senate Democrats and President Barack Obama.
Jackson supports the Tea Party but warns that the party must also accept the reality of partisan politics.
“There’s outrage and anger [at the core of the Tea Party.] That’s the energy behind the Tea Party movement. And I think it spurs things that’s going to have to be tempered by what I call political pragmatism,” he explained.