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The Tea Party movement mobilizes frustrated Americans fed up with big government to oppose increases in government spending and the growing national debt. This largely conservative group also thinks the government’s growing involvement in business and individual freedom strays from conservative values. If you’re not familiar with the Tea Party, here are the basics of who supports the movement and what they believe.

What is the Tea Party?

The Tea Party is a populist movement that promotes several conservative values:

  • Reduction of government spending and the national debt

  • Limitations on the authority of the U.S. federal government

  • Reduction of personal and corporate taxes

The movement’s name is a reference to the Boston Tea Party of 1773, when American colonists boarded British ships and tossed tea — a highly valuable commodity at the time — into the Boston Harbor to protest taxation without representation and infringement of colonial rights by the British government.

Modern Tea Party movement supporters protest what they believe to be irresponsible financial policies practiced by the U.S. federal government as well as excessive growth in the federal government’s authority. The general consensus is that big government and big spending is bad for the United States and its citizens.

More than 40 candidates supported by the Tea Party movement won seats in the House or Senate in the November 2010 election.

What does the Tea Party support?

The Tea Party’s main platform is fiscal conservatism, the belief that the American government should avoid spending more on government programs than it takes in. Specifically, supporters advocate policies that reduce government spending and the national debt, which is currently reported at more than $14 trillion — and growing. Tea Partiers are also strongly in favor of a balanced budget, free trade, lower taxes, and deregulation of the economy.

The Congressional Budget Office reports that the U.S. national debt, currently just above $14 trillion, could exceed $18 trillion by 2021 or approximately 77 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The current $14 trillion national debt equates to approximately $46,000 for every U.S. citizen. To put the debt in perspective in a different way: An $18 trillion national debt would be 4.5 times as great as the cost of World War II (estimated at $4 trillion in 2011 adjusted dollars).

What is the Tea Party against?

The Tea Party movement objects to several recent government initiatives:

  • 2008 bailouts of mortgage lenders (Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac); insurance companies (American International Group); and the automotive industry (GM and Chrysler), amounting to at least $8.5 trillion

  • 2009 stimulus package of $787 billion to provide aid to local and state governments, improve transportation infrastructures, and create millions of jobs

  • 2010 healthcare reform bill that provides a universal health care coverage option to the under-insured and uninsured

  • 2010 Cap and Trade bill that would charge companies for not reducing their carbon footprints

Who belongs to the Tea Party?

The Tea Party movement claims 1,000–1,500 chapters around the United States. The majority of supporters tend to hold conservative political views on a range of issues. Those who identify themselves as Tea Party supporters comprise eighteen percent of Americans and tend to be Republican, white, male, married, and older than 45.

Supporters claim that the movement represents a cross-section of the American electorate, while critics point out that most Tea Party supporters are Republican or Libertarian and the movement is not a new political group but simply a rebranding of the more conservative elements of the traditional Republican Party.

Who are well-known Tea Party supporters?

The Tea Party movement prides itself on being a loosely structured political organization and while there aren’t any formal leaders, it does have some popular supporters:

  • Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich spoke at a protest on April 2009.

  • Sarah Palin, 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate, spoke at the movement’s national convention in February 2010.

  • Dick Armey, former Republican House majority leader, became an early leader of the movement through his conservative action group, FreedomWorks.

  • Ron Paul, Republican Congressman from Texas, spoke to Tea Party advocates at the 2010 Tax Day Tea Party and has been described as the movement’s “intellectual godfather.”

  • Representative Michele Bachmann, a Minnesota Republican congresswoman, formed the House Congressional Tea Party Caucus in July 2010.

Despite still being in infancy, the Tea Party movement has impacted American politics significantly by opposing government size and spending, attracting prominent politicians, and helping elect new Republican Members of Congress in 2010. Time will tell how the Tea Party movement’s influence expands or contracts and whether the Tea Party can attract a majority of Americans to its views and positions.

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