There’s a tense vote count in Washington today as House Speaker John Boehner tries to rally Republican members behind his debt ceiling plan. After one postponement and public disapproval by many prominent House Republicans, Boehner’s plan is teetering on the brink.
The conservative rebellion against Boehner’s plan is being driven by Tea Party activists and many of the freshman members they helped elect. For months, the House Republican leadership has been quietly tutoring these members on the intricacies of the federal budget and the need to raise the debt ceiling, using what Politico called a “stunningly simple” presentation of color-coded charts and graphs. This week, leadership even showed a clip from a Ben Affleck action movie to help persuade the members to act.
But so far, the aggressive pitch doesn’t seem to be working—at one point this week, Boehner was only eight votes from defeat. And if he cannot rally his party to support a dreadful plan with no chance of ultimate passage anyhow, what can he get them to vote for? In the words of British Business Secretary Vince Cable, “The biggest threat to the world financial system comes from a few right-wing nutters in the American Congress.”
That may seem harsh, but only to someone that’s not familiar with the specific Tea Party forces that are whipping conservative members into this rebellion. One group in particular, Let Freedom Ring, has mobilized Tea Party groups across the country and enjoys close connections to incredibly powerful Republican lawmakers. And a quick examination of the group’s history shows that if anything, Cable is being generous.
Let Freedom Ring was founded in 2004 by Colin Hanna, a former state official in Pennsylvania who now enjoys very powerful political connections. He is a part of Grover Norquist’s weekly strategy meeting, and has served as emcee of the Conservative Political Action Conference, a yearly gathering of far-right wingers who like to joke about nuking Chicago or the foreign-born, communist occupant of the White House.
In recent months, Let Freedom Ring has made an aggressive pitch for the Cut, Cap, and Balance Act—this is the legislation House Republicans are currently holding out for, contra Boehner’s plan (or any other). The act would immediately cut spending to pre-2008 levels, eventually cap spending at 19.9 percent of Gross Domestic Product, and pass a balanced budget amendment to the constitution. Such dramatic reductions would savage domestic spending programs; Robert Greenstein at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities said the legislation “stands out as one of the most ideologically extreme pieces of major budget legislation to come before Congress in years, if not decades.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called it “perhaps some of the worst legislation in the history of this country.”