By MICHAEL FALCONE and AMY WALTER
They swept into power on a wave of popular enthusiasm less than a year ago, but it’s not so easy being a Tea Party Congressman these days.
Members of the House and Senate are back in their districts this week and they’re getting an earful from their constituents who are telling them to stand firm on spending cuts and resist calls to raise the debt ceiling.
In a roundtable interview with four freshman Republicans tied to the Tea Party, ABC’s Jonathan Karl heard both praise for House Speaker John Boehner’s negotiating prowess in the most recent round of budget talks, but lingering discontent too. http://abcn.ws/eImOG2
“It's not the amount of spending reductions that all of us would like to see,” said Rep. Frank Guinta, R-N.H., reflecting on the $38.5 billion in cuts agreed to by GOP leaders and Democrats. “We certainly want to see more.”
Rep. Bobby Schilling, R-Ill., added, “It wasn't exactly what, you know, all of us wanted, of course we wanted more but we also wanted to move on.”
Back at home they’re feeling the heat.
The Washington Post’s Phil Rucker recently attended a town hall meeting with freshman Rep. David Schweikert, R-Ariz. in Scottsdale. When the congressman asked the roughly 60 constituents in the room if they would vote to raise the government’s debt limit, just two hands went up. http://wapo.st/holi5b
“I desperately want to vote ‘no,’” Schweikert said at the town hall. “I also desperately don’t want [the economy] to crash.” As Rucker points out representatives like Schweikert, Schilling and Guinta are now “caught between their convictions, their constituents and their duties as congressmen” as they face a critical debate about how to reduce the nation’s deficit when they return to Washington.
Underscoring the difficulties for Republicans, especially those who subscribe to the Tea Party ethos, are new numbers from an ABC News-Washington Post poll that show Americans strongly rejecting Medicare cuts and broadly supporting higher taxes on the wealthy — policy options that run counter to the GOP-proposed budget plan introduced by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc.
According to ABC polling analyst Gary Langer, 78 percent of Americans oppose cutting Medicare in order to address the federal debt (65 percent "strongly" oppose it); 69 percent oppose cuts in Medicaid, the insurance program for the poor (52 percent strongly); and 56 percent oppose cutting military spending. Keep in mind that Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and military spending consume nearly two-thirds of federal spending. http://abcn.ws/gmq3zV
One way for Republicans to avoid a backlash from anxious seniors may be to follow the suggestion made by Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., in an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on “Good Morning America” today. She dubbed Ryan's plan the 55 and under plan. In other words, no one currently at retirement age would be affected by the proposed changes.
“That’s an extremely crucial piece of information,” Bachmann said. “We don’t want any senior citizen to feel, or near senior citizen, I’m 55 years old, and so it wouldn’t apply to me either. And so there are no changes to people who are 55 years of age or older.”
Even so, it's not clear that this messaging will make either seniors or those about to hit retirement age any more willing to accept the kind of changes to the Medicare system that the Ryan plan proposed.
Look for Democrats to push back with a "slippery slope" attack (what's stopping them from turning 55 into 60 down the road?). Moreover, Americans across the board are skeptical of the plan. According to the ABC-Post poll just 34 percent support the changes to Medicare under Ryan’s plan that House Republicans voted for before they left for recess. It's no mystery why GOP Presidential candidates are keeping at arms-length from the House plan.
NOTABLE: THREE CUPS OF TEA PARTY FOR ROMNEY. Speaking of presidential candidates, one of the big questions heading into the 2012 campaign season is which Republican will win the affection of Tea Party voters. While ex-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Rep. Michele Bachmann are the most closely identified with the Tea Party cause, our ABC News-Washington Post poll finds that it's ex-Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney who does best among voters who identify as Tea Party supporters. In a head to head match-up against President Barack Obama, seventy percent of those who say they are Tea Party supporters say they'll vote for Romney compared to 61 percent for Palin and 60 percent for Bachmann. Ex-Gov. Mike Huckabee narrowly trails Romney, taking 69 percent of the Tea Party vote. Among those who identify as “strongly supportive” of the Tea Party movement, Trump is the most popular, but Romney is also well-liked. Of this group, 79 percent of said they’d support Trump over President Obama compared to 78 percent for Palin, 77 percent for Huckabee and 76 percent for Romney. More analysis from ABC Political Director Amy Walter: http://abcn.ws/f2yWXq
ON TODAY’S “TOP LINE.” ABC’s Rick Klein and Jon Karl interview Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., a member of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Environment. She will be discussing the one-year anniversary of the BP Gulf oil spill. Also on the program, Jon Karl’s Tea Party Round Table: Reps. Gosar, Schilling, Ellmers, and Guinta. Watch “Top Line” LIVE at 12:00 p.m. Eastern. http://bit.ly/ABCTopLine
“TOP LINE” REPLAY: CHRIS CHOCOLA. The president of the fiscally conservative group, the Club for Growth, weighed in on a potential Donald Trump presidential bid on “Top Line” yesterday: “He's a great showman. But I think we got to push back the curtain and look and see what's behind it. And if you look, he's not pro-growth, he's not conservative,” Chocola said. http://abcn.ws/epmEk3
DEMOCRATS ACCUSE HOUSE GOP OF ALLOWING RICH AMERICANS TO LIVE ‘HIGH ON THE HOG.’ ABC News’ Amy Bingham reports: The House Majority PAC, a Democratic political action committee, released a series of new ads today. They don’t explicitly call Republicans “pigs,” but they come pretty darn close. The radio ads, which will begin airing Thursday, feature snorting pig sounds and accuse Republicans of making wealthy Americans “fat and happy,” allowing them to “line up at the trough.” The ads are aimed at Republicans who voted for GOP Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget last week, a plan Democrats claim will gut Medicare while giving tax breaks to the rich. The House Majority PAC, an independent-expenditure group attempting to help Democrats take back the House, will target Reps. Paul Gosar of Arizona, Rick Crawford of Arkansas, Allen West of Florida, Chip Cravaack of Minnesota, Charlie Bass of New Hampshire, Ann Marie Buerkle of New York, Joe Heck of Nevada, Francisco Canseco and Blake Farenthold of Texas, and Sean Duffy of Wisconsin.
NOTED: The announcement comes a day after the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee unveiled a similar ad campaign targeting 25 House Republicans for the same budget vote. Roll Call’s Steve Peoples reports that “Republicans and their allies are laughing off the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s latest round of ad buys as ‘minuscule’ and ‘irrelevant’ after discovering the cost of the effort was less than $6,000.” http://bit.ly/i0baZN Bottom line: Advertising is only as effective as its ability to shape the debate.
GANG WARS ON THE HILL. “A battle between two rival gangs in Washington has broken out — a new fiscal commission to control the federal deficit is competing with a separate group of lawmakers,” ABC’s Matthew Jaffe and John R. Parkinson report. “The newcomer in the fight is the 'Gang of Seven' — a group comprised of Vice President Biden and representatives from all four Congressional caucuses and conferences. On Tuesday, House Speaker John Boehner rounded out the group by appointing House Majority Leader Eric Cantor to participate in the talks, while Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell appointed his deputy, Sen. Jon Kyl. The new bipartisan, bicameral commission is the brainchild of President Obama. … The President's decision to form a new group has caused some unrest on Capitol Hill with lawmakers who felt the decision undermines the work of the Gang of Six. The president announced the new group in his fiscal policy speech last Wednesday, stating that he wanted the panel to start working on a legislative framework for comprehensive deficit reduction. The White House invited the House and Senate leadership to each appoint up to four members to the panel.” http://abcn.ws/evBmz5
BATTLEGROUND OHIO: GOP POWER PLAYERS PLOT 2012 STRATEGY. “The stakes could not be higher this cycle for Ohio Republicans, as some of the top GOP leaders in America move to sideline intraparty rivalries and focus on a larger goal: delivering a victory over President Barack Obama in 2012,” write Roll Call’s Shira Teoplitz and David M. Drucker. “Among the new guard: Speaker John Boehner, who leads the first elected tea party class on Capitol Hill; Sen. Rob Portman, a frequently mentioned vice presidential pick and the political gatekeeper to crucial southwest Ohio; and Gov. John Kasich, a gutsy former Congressman and media personality beloved by his in-state base. These Ohio Republican leaders, elected in November, are attempting to work together on a national level for the very first time. ‘Are they large personalities? Yes, they are,’ Ohio Republican Party Chairman Kevin DeWine said. ‘Those are large personalities and large responsibilities. When it comes to delivering Ohio for our presidential nominee, there will be no daylight between Boehner, Portman, Kasich and the Ohio Republican Party.’ Ohio is pivotal to the Republicans, who have never won a presidential campaign without carrying the Buckeye State.” http://bit.ly/gw7SgO
PALIN: EXPLORATORY COMMITTEE NOT ‘ON THE RADAR.’ “Sarah Palin is not close to forming a presidential exploratory committee and the former Alaska governor may even skip that step if she decides to mount a White House bid,” The Hill’s Bob Cusack reports. “In an interview with Sean Hannity on Fox News, Palin Tuesday night said the formation of an exploratory committee ‘isn't even on the radar,’ claiming it's too early for such a move. After Hannity noted that other GOP politicians have already formed exploratory committees, Palin indicated that if she gets in, she won't be putting her toe in the water. ‘I've never really run for anything conventionally. … I've just jumped in there and done it when I've known it's the right thing to do. So it's going to be an unconventional run if I choose to do that.’” http://bit.ly/fvvnE4
GOP OPENS CAMPAIGN AGAINST FORMER GENERAL. "The ink is still drying on the first reports that Democrats are trying to recruit Ricardo Sanchez, a retired Army lieutenant general and former commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, to run next year for the U.S. Senate seat now held by retiring Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison. But Republicans aren’t wasting any time preparing their opposition files,” The Austin American Statesman’s Jason Embry notes. “Numerous Democrats on Capitol Hill were critical of Sanchez’s role in Iraq, particularly over the Abu Ghraib scandal. According to the Los Angeles Times, he wrote in his 2008 book that one reason he did not get a fourth star was that ‘Senate Democrats were intentionally putting pressure’ on the Bush administration ‘not to send my nomination forward.’ So if Sanchez runs, it seems Republicans will use Democrats’ past criticisms against him. In fact, on Tuesday, the National Republican Senatorial Committee (headed by our own John Cornyn) sent a six-page Freedom of Information Act request to the Pentagon asking for ‘any and all correspondence’ between Democratic senators and the Pentagon that referenced Sanchez between May 2003 and the end of November 2006. The first senator from that time period on their list? Yep, that would be Barack Obama.” http://bit.ly/fEzYLX
NOTABLE: FIRST IN THE NATION. The New Hampshire Democratic Party is launching a campaign and accompanying website, www.KeepNHFirst.com, calling on New Hampshire GOP Chairman Jack Kimball to defend New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation spot in the presidential primary lineup. “New Hampshire's GOP Chairman Jack Kimball has stayed silent as Florida tries to seize the first in the nation primary,” reads an email message sent by the NH Democrats. “Even as South Carolina's and Iowa's Republican Parties have stepped up to defend their early presidential contests, nothing from Jack Kimball. Why won't Kimball defend New Hampshire?” The solicitation urges concerned Granite State voters to call or tweet Chairman Kimball.
WHITE HOUSE WATCH: President Obama will travel to San Francisco, California this morning, on a two-day West Coast swing to sell his deficit reform plan and raise money for the Democratic party. The president will hold a "Shared Responsibility and Shared Prosperity" town hall at the Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto where he will discuss his "vision" for bringing down the deficit. Today's town hall follows yesterday's in Northern Virginia and Mr. Obama on Thursday will hold a third in Reno, Nevada. Later in the evening, the President will attend two DNC fundraisers in San Francisco, one at a private residence and the other at the Nob Hill Masonic Center. (h/t ABC’s Sunlen Miller)
@GOP12: Mark McKinnon on Bachmann: "The establishment may scoff now, but if [she] starts winning, they'll crawl over broken glass to kiss her ring."
@NickGass: Just when I thought my DC experience couldn't be any more surreal…talked to Charlie Sheen tonight.
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