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Democrats in Congress say members of the Tea Party, most of whom consider themselves Republicans, are to blame for bringing the country to the brink of default. And members of the Massachusetts delegation to the U.S. House — all of whom are Democrats — are angry.
"I think it is inexcusable that a small group of Republicans held this country hostage and almost forced us into default over some ideological purity that they chose to hang on to," Rep. Jim McGovern said.
In the debt ceiling bill, Tea Party Republicans got most of what they wanted — no new taxes, cuts that exceed the debt limit and consideration of a balanced budget amendment. Rep. John Tierney says this will make the Tea Party feel empowered.
"We’ve apparently established that there is one party that is extreme enough and willing enough to go to the brink and be crass enough to take somebody else over the cliff," Tierney said. "They are going to try to rule the roost here and I think that’s dangerous precedent."
Rep. Michael Capuano, who has been in Congress 12 years, says established members used to persuade new members to vote a certain way by giving them an earmark for a pet project in their district. But Republicans reformed earmark spending, and Capuano laments the change.
"I have very strong philosophical viewpoints, but if that’s all I’m voting on — it's my way or no way — there will never be a compromise on anything," Capuano said. "There will be no progress in this country, ever on any issue."
Capuano says there are 25, maybe 30 Tea Party Republicans holding sway over House Speaker John Boehner. And Capuano is upset because he says the Republican leaders don’t appear interested in compromising with Democrats. Instead, he says, they're choosing to work with what he calls the extreme right.
"I think it is inexcusable that a small group of republicans held this country hostage and almost forced us into default over some ideological purity that they chose to hang on to."Rep. Jim McGovern
Rep. Stephen Lynch agrees. He says Tea Party members are pushing their platform at the expense of compromise, and that sidelines the Massachusetts delegation.
"One-on-one they seem to be fairly bright and engaged," Lynch said. "The problem is ... they signed a pledge never to raise taxes or never to support a measure that contains an increase in taxes, which they also define as closing any loophole in a tax."
The Republicans control the House, and many say that the showdown over the debt limit shows that the Republican leadership is listening to the Tea Party.
"What I’m afraid of is that they are the dominant ones in the Republican Party right now," Rep. Barney Frank said.
Frank says Tea Party members have sabotaged the legislative process.
"These people think Americans are wrong," Frank said. "That Americans want too much government, that they want Medicare. These people dislike Medicare, but every time they try to dismantle it they run into a political buzzsaw. They think we are spending too much in education, on Pell grants (and) on lower income people, to try and get less inequality."
But members of Congress have been through other bruising ideological battles before –- the stimulus package, the bank bailout, to name a couple — and they've always found a way to come back and work with each other.
But now, some members of the Massachusetts Democratic House delegation question whether the shift in tone and style means compromise will be a thing of the past.
This program aired on August 2, 2011.
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