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Tea Party Plays Key Role In US Budget-Related Government Showdown

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis. touts his 2012 federal budget during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington,  April 5, 2011
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis. touts his 2012 federal budget during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, April 5, 2011

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President Barack Obama and Republicans in Congress are engaged in a high-stakes battle over the U.S. budget that could result in a government shutdown unless a compromise is reached.  One factor complicating the search for common ground is the grass roots conservative Tea Party movement, which is demanding that Republicans keep their promise to cut spending and reduce the size of the central government in Washington.  

Tea Party supporters gathered at a recent rally near the Capitol to keep the pressure on congressional Republicans to cut the budget.

Among them was Tea Party organizer Jenny Beth Martin:

"We are going to lead as the American people, if the people we elect can’t get it together [get organized] and figure out how to do it," said Martin.

It was a small crowd compared to past Tea Party rallies.  But the message from Tea Party supporter Brooke Storey to Republican lawmakers was clear - no more compromising with President Obama and the Democrats.

"It is the compromising that has got us to where we are right now," said Storey. "We can’t compromise any more.  We are broke.  America’s broke."

Tea Party support helped Republicans make gains in last year’s mid-term congressional elections, and several Republican members of Congress urged the crowd to keep the pressure on for spending cuts in Washington.

Among them was Congresswoman Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, who is considering a run for president next year.

"You are awesome people," said Bachmann. "No wonder they are afraid of you.  They are afraid of you because you are powerful. so, I’m here to give you a message: Stay courageous, and I know you will."

The Tea Party crowd may have been in a no-compromise mood, but that is not something that President Obama believes the country can afford at the moment.

"At a time when the economy is just beginning to grow, where we are just starting to see a pickup in employment, the last thing we need is a disruption caused by a government shutdown," said President Obama.

But, so far, the White House proposed cuts are not enough to satisfy the Republican Speaker of the House, John Boehner.

"We want the largest spending cuts that are possible and we are going to continue to fight for those," said Boehner.

Outside of Washington, Americans seem disconnected from the budget debate, including this sampling of opinion from the streets of Chicago.

Woman: "I haven’t heard anybody talk about it all.  Nobody has said anything."

Man: "I wish these people could figure out their act, but they seem to be playing games, and nobody can really get to the important issues."

It is much the same out in the countryside, says Illinois farmer Monty Whipple.

"Yes, it is possible that it could happen," said Whipple. "But those political guys out there in Washington are just fooling around, posturing on all this, and they will work it out somehow."

Either way, political analyst William Galston of the Brookings Institution says the political battle over the budget and the role of the central government will extend into next year’s U.S. presidential election campaign.

"What happens in 2011 will define, to a very substantial degree, the terrain of the conversation and the terrain of the political battle in 2012," said Galston. "So, this is a game for very high stakes, and both sides know it."

Public opinion polls show Americans are sharply divided over which party would be blamed in the eventuality of a government shutdown.  

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