Wow. Our experiment is off to a great start—let's see if we can finish it off sooner than expected.
Well, it looks like the tea partiers won't get to see the federal government shutdown showdown they were looking for after all. Conservative activists were outraged that Congress was about to pass a $1.2 trillion omnibus spending bill that contained about $8 billion worth of earmarks, many of which were requested by Republicans. The tea partiers had been pressuring GOP lawmakers to walk away from the bill (and all their earmarks) and to threaten to shut down the government if Democrats failed to bend to their will. They had been calling on supporters to stage mini-tea party protests in front of their Senators' district offices and to hold "National Omnibus Spending/Appropriations Read-Ins" across the country.
Organizers from Tea Party Express, Tea Party Nation and FreedomWorks were urging activists to find 24-hour restaurants, malls or other public venues where they could read all 1,924 pages of the bill Thursday night in protest of its passage. At 7 p.m. Thursday, Tea Party Express's Amy Kremer was calling on activists to come to the Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill to read the bill aloud in protest with other tea partiers. Organizers were estimating that reading the bill aloud would take more than 50 hours and planned to stick it out through Saturday.
Alas, by 9 p.m. last night, all the fun had been called off. Enough Republicans abandoned the bill that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) pulled it from consideration and instead said Democrats would move forward a measure that would continue funding the government at current levels until the next Congress could deal with the spending issues. News of the spending bill's death was greatly overshadowed by Congress' passage of a huge tax cut bill (which tea party activists also abhorred) that's headed to President Obama's desk today. But tea partiers seemed happy to declare at least one victory.
During the lame duck session, angry conservatives haven't had much luck in getting Congress to do much of anything they wanted. In the face of tea party opposition, Republicans voted with their Democratic colleagues to pass a food safety bill (which ended up not becoming law anyway, because of a glitch in how it was written). GOP leadership also elected a slate of committee chairs over the objections of tea partiers, including installing Rep. Hal "King of Pork" Rogers (R-KY) as chair of the House Appropriations Committee and Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) as chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Upton had committed the heresy of supporting legislation that would ban the incandescent light bulb. The spending fight is postponed rather than defeated. But under the circumstances, it's clear that the tea partiers are happy to register a "win" on their side of the scoreboard. Florida activist Robin Stublen, who had spearheaded a petition drive against the spending bill and who was an outspoken proponent of shutting down the government, sent out a press release last night giving Florida tea partiers credit for the bill's defeat, writing:
Florida grassroots leaders activated within hours of the release of the Omnibus Bill proving once again that the Florida coalition of grassroots activist set the tone across the country. We are pleased with the outcome and thank the Republican leadership, especially Senator Jim DeMint, for standing with grassroots activist across the country.