Freshmen shrugging off Tea Party primary threats over budget accord

House Republicans aren’t worried about primary threats from Tea Party activists, who are unhappy with the level of spending cuts in the 2011 budget deal and the possibility of raising the debt limit.

Mark Meckler, co-founder of one of the nation’s largest Tea Party groups, said votes in favor of the budget deal and raising the debt ceiling will make for a toxic electoral combination for House Republicans.

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“I’m literally getting emails by the hour from people talking about primary challenges,” Meckler, a leader of the Tea Party Patriots, said.

But freshman members of the House don’t appear concerned.

“It’s not that I’m not worried about them. And I would like to be all things to all people, but if you try to do that, you’re nothing to anybody. So I’m more inclined to just vote yes and move this in the right direction,” said Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.), a freshman lawmaker who’s a favorite of Tea Party activists back in his home district.

The conservative grassroots movement says opposition to the budget deal, which was negotiated late last week by congressional leaders and the White House, has increased in recent days. The proposal cuts $39.9 billion from current spending levels, but Tea Party activists were encouraging GOP leaders to shut down the government in order to get higher cuts.

They also don’t want Congress to raise the debt ceiling, arguing it would permit more borrowing by the federal government rather than dealing with the $14.3 trillion national debt.

But House freshmen said they’re not hearing complaints.

“I have to tell you, I’m not getting that negative feedback about this [budget] agreement. I’m really not,” Kelly said.

“The people that I’m talking to are saying, ‘Look, this is moving us in the right direction and that’s what we needed to see,’ ” he added. “Is it enough? No, it’s not enough. But unless I see something that’s overwhelmingly against everything I believe in, I’m voting for it.”

Meckler said local coordinators are organizing phone and email campaigns to lobby individual members to vote against the full budget compromise when it comes to the floor this week.

He also said activists on the state level are seeking out primary challengers for House Republicans who vote in support of the measure.

Blogger Erick Erickson summed up the conservatives’ frustration with Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) in a post on RedState on Wednesday, writing that Boehner’s “leadership has been crap lately” and noting an increase in the number of phone calls and emails batting around the idea of challenging the Speaker in a primary.

Despite the bum deal on the budget, wrote Erickson, “John Boehner doesn’t need replacing, but he does need recalibrating.” He also warned that Boehner is “more conservative than [House Majority Leader] Eric Cantor [R-Va.], who’d most likely replace him.”

Meckler said that while no one’s truly sold on trying to oust the new Republican Speaker just yet, activists around the country are watching with an increasing level of concern.

“If John Boehner really thinks there’s no daylight between him and the Tea Party, he’s not looking,” said Meckler.

Kelly defended Boehner and the House leadership, saying: “As a rookie in this thing, I don’t know how you negotiate any better than what they’ve done.”

The discontent among conservatives hasn’t prevented the House GOP leadership from expressing optimism that their rank-and-file will overwhelmingly back the agreement.

Leaders expect defections won’t be as large as some have predicted. Cantor said earlier in the week that the House will pass the 2011 spending bill Thursday with “strong Republican support.”

Members of the freshman class seem to be backing their leaders.

“As much of a fiscal conservative as I am, you do have to accept the small victory sometimes before you get to the bigger victory,” said freshman Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.), who has taken some heat from Tea Party activists back in his home district.

“It’s not something I worry about,” Grimm said of the potential for a primary challenge. “My job is to lead and to govern. If I wanted to just sit back and not be a member of Congress and just be a member of a Tea Party, well, then I can espouse whatever I want because there are no consequences.”

Grimm praised Tea Party activists in his home base on Staten Island as “very reasonable and rational,” but he added he would rather make progress “a little at a time” than simply oppose a measure because conservative activists are railing against it.

“Sure, the cuts could be larger,” said freshman Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.). “But my view is that we should go ahead and build this bridge and then work on the next one.”

Palazzo is one Republican who has dealt with conservative opposition: Last year, the candidate he defeated in a primary claimed the Tea Party mantle and then endorsed Democrat Gene Taylor in November’s general election.

“At the end of the day, [the Tea Party] is just gonna have to grade each one of their legislators on their performance,” Palazzo said. “If you expect us to agree with you 100 percent of the time, you might as well just go ahead and start pulling out primary candidates now and start vetting them.”

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), who’s weighing a presidential run next year, sees it differently.

Bachmann has committed to voting against the long-term budget deal and says she will vote against raising the debt ceiling when the issue comes to the floor, too.

While Bachmann said she won’t “stand in judgment” of her colleagues, “What I hear from people all across the country is that they feel like they’ve been let down. They don’t see people fighting and they’re wondering, ‘Why are you rolling over?’ ”

Bachmann said she’s received “a ton” of calls into her office over the past few days thanking her for her stance against the budget agreement, and warned her fellow Republicans that they ain’t seen nothing yet.

“One thing that I thought, especially with the freshman class, is if they supported this early budget vote and they thought that was a tough vote — just wait until the debt-ceiling vote,” said Bachmann.