The Tea Party Returns

PHOTO: Tea party activists attend a rally on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, June 19, 2013.

Opposition to President Obama's healthcare law catapulted the Tea Party to national prominence three years ago, and now anger over the Internal Revenue Service's targeting of conservative groups may be serving as a tipping point for a Tea Party revival.

And in the House of Representatives, where the movement's most ardent supporters reside, their influence is already being felt.

Most recently, the Republican-sponsored farm bill failed to pass through the House on Thursday in part due to Republican opposition to funding the food stamps program, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. And earlier this week, House Speaker John Boehner caved to pressure from Tea Party-backed lawmakers on immigration reform.

Taken together, the farm bill's failure and Boehner's concession to anti-immigration-reform segments of his party appear to imperil the prospects for any bi-partisan legislation in the House — either on immigration or upcoming debt ceiling negotiations.

"This is the first time in months I've seen House conservatives full of energy and excitement. Farm bill defeat has encouraged them," said conservative pundit Erik Erikson on Twitter minutes after the bill went down, delivering a blow to Republican leaders in the House.

"I'm satisfied with the outcome," Jenny Beth Martin, co-founder and national coordinator of the Tea Party Patriots. "With the way that the SNAP program is integrated into the farm bill, it's more government spending and we just need better control of government spending."

Lawmakers in Washington are emboldened by the growing sense of alarm within the Tea Party, which is still a relatively diffuse group of state or local-based groups that has managed to coalesce around a common opposition to the Washington establishment.

This week, thousands rallied on Capitol Hill against what they called the IRS's "abuse of power" and efforts to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill, backed by more than a dozen allies in the House and the Senate.

And though those lawmakers were all Republicans, they didn't hold back in holding their party leaders' feet to the fire.

"The concern, frankly, is that there are people across the country who have lost faith in government and lost faith in the elected officials," Martin said. "It's very hard to trust when John Boehner says he won't do this and bring an [immigration] bill forward."

Last week, several Tea Party-backed lawmakers, including the founder of the Tea Party caucus Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), and Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), circulated a petition calling on Boehner to respect the Hastert rule, which would require a majority of Republicans to support any bill the Speaker brings to the House floor, a move that essentially narrowed the path for an immigration bill in the House.

By Tuesday, Boehner appeared to close the door on the prospect of passing an immigration bill with a majority of Democrats and a minority of Republicans, which he had expressed an openness to just one week prior.

"I don't see any way of bringing an immigration bill to the floor that doesn't have the majority support of Republicans," Boehner told reporters at a press conference on Capitol Hill.

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