WASHINGTON — The Senate Tea Party Caucus — all four members — met for the first time Thursday before a small crowd of supporters.
What the caucus and audience lacked in size they made up for in enthusiasm and energy. New Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Jerry Moran, R-Kan., fired up the crowd along with Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., by preaching the gospel of deficit reduction and proclaiming that the tea party already has made its presence felt on Capitol Hill and in the White House.
"Some said when people who came from the tea party were elected that Washington would co-opt us," Paul said to a chorus of "No!" from a crowd of about 150. "The interesting thing is, I think we're co-opting Washington."
"Before we were even sworn in, the Republican caucus got together... they forswore and said, 'No more earmarks,'" Paul continued. "Are they going to co-opt us? I went to my first State of the Union the other day, and guess who is now against earmarks? The president of the United States has been co-opted by the tea party!"
Paul repeated his call to reduce budget deficits swiftly and he trumpeted a bill he's introduced to cut $500 billion in government spending in one year. Among the belt-tightening provisions, the bill would eliminate funding for the Department of Housing and Urban Development; slash all Education Department programs except for Pell Grants, which he'd cap at $16.23 million; and eliminate several Department of Agriculture programs.
Lisa Miller, founder of Washington's Tea Party WDC, pressed DeMint to introduce legislation that contains at least $1.4 trillion in cuts.
"If I put down the things that have to be cut this year to cut $1.5 trillion, it would probably kill the idea," DeMint told Miller. "If we could get a group of folks who say, 'Here's how you can do $1.5 trillion this year,' yeah, I'd be on the team. But what we're trying to find is how we can get 60 votes in the Senate."