WASHINGTON - The Tea Party roared Thursday. Or, it tried to, but it wasn't clear how well its demands were heard on Capitol Hill.
A couple hundred anti-tax activists braved a chilly drizzle outside the Senate in an unimpressive scene that was a far cry from the throngs that overflowed the Capitol grounds in past rallies.
The top demand was for GOP leaders to stick to their blueprint of cutting $61 billion from the rest of this year's budget.
Kathy Dirr, of Liberty Township, Ohio, in Majority Leader John Boehner's district, put it bluntly.
"I say to the Republican leadership, take off your lace panties, stop being noodle backs, take a strong, bold, unwavering stand," she told the rally, to great approval.
Mark Meckler, a Tea Party Patriot leader, told the Associated Press Boehner and others would face primaries if they fail.
But Boehner suggested to reporters he was willing to settle for "spending cuts that we can get an agreement to." Democrats are offering a compromise $33 billion in cuts.
And even Tea Party darling Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert told the Huffington Post there was room to make a deal -- although moments later he told his fans they should toss the GOP from office if they don't win the full $61 billion cut.
"We could work out some differences," Gohmert said, before taking the stage and praising the crowd for keeping lawmakers from caving.
"You bring calcium to those who need more of it for their backbone," Gohmert said to the crowd, adding that if Republicans fall short, "We deserve to be thrown out of office."
Gohmert wasn't alone in serving different rhetorical brews to the Tea Party and reporters.
Freshman Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.), known as intractable even to his party leaders, fired up the crowd -- then suggested he also is willing to deal.
"The American people want us to be bolder than $30 billion," he told HuffPost, but did not rule out supporting the Dems' $33 billion offer. "It's hard to tell, because I don't know what it would include. But I want to vote for something that cuts a whole heck of a lot more than that."
Spending was not the only issue Tea Partyers may lose the GOP on. They also want Republicans to stick with several riders in the spending bill that fight the culture wars, including defunding Planned Parenthood and National Public Radio, and crippling EPA enforcement.
Senate Democrats have hinted they could entertain one such unrelated measure, but Democratic Whip Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) served notice more would bring stalemate.
"If you're going to select riders, be very selective, and avoid those that are going to blow this deal up," Durbin told HuffPost, signaling the EPA measure was one.
If Republicans are not really listening to the Tea Party, which a CNN poll found on Wednesday was dropping in popularity, the Tea Partyers did not appear to be listening to the GOP rhetoric aimed at shifting the blame for a still potential government shutdown away from the activists and Republicans.
Even while Tea Party favorite Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) insisted the Tea Party doesn't want the government closed, people in the crowd hollered "Shut it down!"
They also repeatedly chanted "Cut it or shut it!"
Dirr explained that no one really wants it closed, but that may be the only "leverage" her side has.
"If it's necessary to shut the government down, then shut the government down," she said.
If the GOP wasn't listening, it's a good bet Democrats were. And it is likely they will point to it as proof it is the GOP's fault if the government runs out of money on April 8.
Additional reporting by Elise Foley and Ryan Grim.
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