The ad was released by the new Campaign to Defeat Barack Obama PAC, a spinoff of the Our Country Deserves Better PAC, the party of the Tea party Express. The latter is about to launch its own national TV ad campaign opposing a debt ceiling increase, said Amy Kremer, who chairs Tea party Express. The PAC raised and spent $7.7 million in the 2010 cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Another conservative activist group, Grassfire Nation, is gathering signatures from its 1.8 million members on a petition opposing "any increase in the legal federal debt limit," to be delivered by hand in the coming weeks to lawmakers on Capitol Hill. A Grassfire Nation poll found that close to 80 percent of its members opposed raising the debt ceiling, even if conditions such as spending cuts or caps were attached.
"It's no secret that the tea party movement's unhappy," said Kremer. "You're seeing people on a local level really upset with their congressmen and women." Reps. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y., Tom Price, R-Ga., and David Schweikert, R-Ariz., are among the House Republicans who have fielded flak from conservative bloggers, demonstrators, or town hall hecklers upset that Congress isn't acting faster to bring down the deficit.
"There's a frustration that we can't move faster," said Americans for Tax Reform president Grover Norquist, referring to the tea party movement. "But also an understanding that their job is to say: Let's do more, let's do more, let's do more."
The debt ceiling vote will be a key test of both the tea party and of the GOP on the threshold of the 2012 election. Technically, the federal government will run out of money in mid-May, but Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has signaled that accounting adjustments may give Congress until early August to actually vote.
It's an open question how successful the tea party will be, both in the debt ceiling fight and on the campaign trail next year. Of the GOP freshmen, who've played a pivotal role in the unfolding budget drama, one bloc would raise the debt ceiling on the condition of substantive budget reforms or spending cuts, sources say. Another bloc opposes a debt ceiling increase flat out. And about a third are undecided.
Tea party activists are up against expert and administration warnings that failing to raise the debt limit could send the economy and the stock market into a tailspin. The tea party's star, moreover, may be fading.
A Capitol Hill protest in March to demand more budget cuts proved underwhelming. The movement's national leaders, most notably former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., have drifted to the fringes of the GOP White House nominating contest. A couple of tea party PACs unveiled to much fanfare last year--Ensuring Liberty and Liberty First--have fizzled. And GOP leaders have signaled that certain tea party goals--repealing the health care law, partially privatizing Medicare--may or may not be on the table in ongoing debt limit negotiations.