Tea Party Leader: Reduction in Goal for GOP Budget Cuts is an "Absolute Joke"

Dan Egtvedt (L) and Jim Griffin (C) listen as James Manship reads from the U.S. Constitution during a Tea Party Patriots rally on the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol on Election Day November 2, 2010 in Washington, DC. The 2010 midterms marked a turning point in the grassroots group's power in American politics. Photo by Rod Lamkey /Getty Images

CBS

"So far so good" is how a leading Tea Party organizer characterizes the Republican ascension in Congress.

CBS News spoke to Tea Party Patriots co-founder Mark Meckler as he roamed the halls of the House of Representatives, delivering a welcome letter and copies of the Constitution to new and old members of Congress.

"Some new rules are good thing, it's a great start to the session," he said. Meckler defended the Republicans' pledge to read the Constitution on the House floor as being more than just symbolic. "It's good to be reminded of what the Congress is based on," he said.

Meckler, however, was quick to temper his optimism about the new Republican-led House with a dose of skepticism.

It's an "absolute joke" that Republicans in the House won't be able to cut $100 billion from the budget this fiscal year, Meckler said. Republicans have explained that Democrats have already locked in spending levels through March -- half way through the fiscal year -- making their goal of $100 billion in cuts right away unrealistic. The GOP says they will more than make up for it by the end of 2011.

But Meckler said that explanation was akin to saying, "I have a $2,000 mortgage payment, so I'm going to put 50 cents in the bank."

Meckler said that the American people were no longer ignorant about government spending, so if the GOP stops at the $100 billion figure, he predicts they'll "get an earful from the American people."

He suggested much further cuts than even the GOP has suggested. Congressional Republicans have pledged to take federal spending back to 2008 levels, but Meckler says they need to go even further -- back to 2000 levels, when there was a surplus, though before the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He said that the idea of going back to 2008 levels was a "joke"; it was a time when the country was on the verge of financial collapse, he said. When asked about the fear of cutting government spending too quickly as the economy rebounds, Meckler retorted, "What economic recovery?" No one he talks to thinks the economy is rebounding, Meckler said, so cutting spending should be a priority.

Further, he said nothing should be off the table when it comes to spending cuts. "Everything should be on the table," he said, adding that defense spending "is not any less on the table than welfare spending."

Meckler also had fire for some of the incoming Republican committee chairmen in the House, specifically the choice of Rep. Hal Rogers of Kentucky to chair the House Appropriations Committee. Meckler said the choice is "as much a direct affront to the citizens who voted for change as anything could be... he's an earmarker... the worst possible guy they could choose."

Meckler said he would keep an open mind about Rogers and Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan, who is the incoming chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

"We'll wait to see what kind of legislation comes out, most of the guys are talking a good game," he said. But he cautioned, the "symbolism is pretty strong when you appoint a guy like Rogers."

On other specific issues facing the new Congress, Meckler, like many in the Tea Party, said that raising the debt ceiling is a bad deal for the American people. "Increasing the debt is unsustainable," he said. "To paraphrase John Boehner, it's a chance for Congress to have an adult moment and actually deal with long term problems instead of kicking the can down the road."

He went onto criticize Republicans for breaking part of their "Pledge to America" by voting for the tax cut compromise in the lame duck, post-election session of the last Congress. Meckler called the GOP "duplicitous" for voting to raise taxes and for voting for a large, complex piece of legislation, instead of simpler bills as they promised.

The tax cut compromise was typical of the "politics as usual" behavior that Americans voted out in the election, Meckler said. "Most of the membership was cut out of the process," he said, adding that the deal was cut behind closed doors.

"Like most politicians, what comes out of their mouth during elections is not the same as what comes out in legislation," said Meckler.

  • Robert Hendin On Twitter»

    Robert Hendin is senior producer for "Face the Nation" and a CBS News senior political producer.

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