ORLANDO – Looking at the huge victories won by the Republican Party last November, when the GOP picked up 63 seats in Congress, the chairman of the Florida Tea Party expects her movement to experience something this year: a golden opportunity.
Peg Dunmire, who is building up the Florida Tea Party to become a legitimate alternative to the Democrats and Republicans, says the GOP victories last November represented a clear repudiation of the performance of President Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress in managing the economy, reducing our national debt, and controlling spending.
But it doesn’t, she added, represent a clear endorsement of the Republicans, and Dunmire is convinced that the GOP may set expectations too high on what they can accomplish – and ultimate fail.
“I think that the public is very skeptical about whether the Republicans will deliver – and what they will deliver,” Dunmire said.
Polls so far haven’t been encouraging to the GOP, she noted. A Wall Street Journal poll showed that 24 percent of Americans view the Republican Party positively, compared to a 33 percent who give a positive rating to the Democrats. Even after Democrats got crushed in the midterm elections, Dunmire said, voters remain skeptical about what the GOP will accomplish.
That skepticism is likely to grow, Dunmire said, since in December’s “lame duck” session, Congress approved a massive spending bill called the Omnibus Appropriations Act.
“They added a trillion dollars to our debt,” Dunmire said, while noting that the Florida Tea Party stands for the exact opposite: no deficit spending and a reduction in the responsibilities of the federal government, with more and more programs turned over to the states.
The 112th Congress recently convened, with U.S. Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, taking over as Speaker of the House from liberal Democrat Nancy Pelosi, who now becomes minority leader. But the U.S. Senate is still controlled by Democrats, and with President Obama in the White House, there’s speculation that Republicans may have to compromise on a lot of their goals, including repealing the health care law and pushing for new spending cuts.
Dunmire said that after such a sweeping victory, the GOP needs to deliver on their pledge to reduce the budget deficit and seriously cut federal spending – or risk alienating the voters who elected them.
“They have to stand for something,” she said. “It remains to be seen what their attitude will be. The jury is totally, totally out on them.”
The first big test, she said, will be the vote in the House to kill the national health care reform law passed by Congress in early 2010. The controversial measure, which many political analysts say contributed heavily to the Democrats’ sweeping defeat, nevertheless continues to have strong support from the president, who had pledged to veto any repeal effort.
Dunmire noted that some conservative commentators, like Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly of The O’Reilly Factor, “are saying this is a waste of time because the Democrats control the Senate. I disagree. The Republican strategy in the House is to kill Obamacare, and I think it’s very good that the Republicans want to do this. They need to. The Republicans have to deliver on this in the House.”
Dunmire ran for Congress last year in Florida’s 8th Congressional District, which includes parts of Orlando and Orange, Lake, Osceola and Marion counties. She and the Democratic incumbent, Alan Grayson, lost to the Republican candidate, former state Sen. Dan Webster.
Dunmire noted that during the election, Republican candidates picked up a lot of support from voters affiliated with the Tea Party movement, which called for a return to a strict interpretation of the U.S. Constitution and limits on the powers of the federal government.
If the GOP can’t control spending and end up returning to the big spending days when they controlled Congress under much of President George W. Bush’s first term, Dunmire said, they could turn off Tea Party voters altogether.
“Are they going to play politics as usual?” she asked. “This is why we’re not going away.
The Florida Tea Party is here to stay, because we don’t know if the Republicans will deliver.”
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