WASHINGTON -- The new, more Republican Congress won't arrive in town until next month, but the Tea Party Era unofficially began on the Hill Thursday night.
Republican leaders in Congress, blindsided by grassroots fury over the tax cut deal they made with President Obama, are now scrambling to show their allegiance to the anti-federal, anti-debt movement.
The GOP brass, led by Senate party leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), did so tonight by eagerly backing the successful efforts of Tea Party favorites to block debate on a $1.1 trillion "omnibus" spending bill that would fund the entire federal government until next October -- but which contained billions of dollars in "earmarks" Republicans, including McConnell, once stoutly defended.
The omnibus bill also contained the spending priorities of the Obama administration and the soon-to-be-ended Democratic-controlled Congress.
GOP senators, led by Tea Party acolyte Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), had demanded the entire 2,000 page bill be read by the Senate clerk -- a formality that is almost always dispensed with. Most of DeMint's colleagues privately dismiss him as a grandstanding freelancer who backed extremists who lost seats the GOP should have won. But McConnell and the rest of his team not only didn't want to challenge DeMint on the spending bill, they were glad to join him in showing their newfound distaste for earmarks.
Senate aides say it could have taken 50 hours to read the entire bill aloud. Democratic leader Sen. Harry Reid would then have invoked cloture and, assuming he wins the vote, there would be 30 more hours of debate. That could push a final vote on the measure -- which would still have to be approved in the House -- until Christmas Eve.
But Reid announced Thursday night that he didn't have the votes he needed to block the maneuver or ensure debate after the reading of the bill. The reason, he said, is that nine Republicans who initially promised to support him had changed their minds.
Game, set, match Tea Party.
In the meantime, Congress now must pass another temporary stop gap "continuing resolution" to fund the government at current levels -- a measure that would not reflect any new Obama programs or policies, but which also would not have any new earmarks.