White House Braces for Savage Cuts

New breed of right-wingers takes over the Capitol with a slash-and-burn agenda that threatens the White House

Image: Chip Somodevilla/Getty

Paul Harris
Guardian

Dick Armey’s black, lizard-skin cowboy boots lay on the floor while he relaxed on the couch in stockinged feet. The former Texas congressman was in a jovial mood in his office just off the Washington Mall – and for good reason. He may no longer be a politician but as chairman of FreedomWorks, one of the main forces behind the conservative Tea Party movement, he is once more a major player in the new Washington DC.

“My wife likes the terminology of a ‘paradigm shift’,” he said in a western drawl. “And I like to agree with that. It is a paradigm shift. It’s a phenomenon.”

Democrats might not agree, but it is hard to argue the Congress sworn in last week – now with a Republican-dominated House of Representatives – has not made Washington a very different place from the “New Camelot” hailed by the media when Barack Obama was inaugurated in 2009.

The new influx of GOP politicians that has swaggered into the American capital, represents a massive change in political culture. A staggering 87 new Republican congressmen and six new Republican senators have landed on the banks of the Potomac river.

But it is not just the numbers; it is the way they were elected. The 2010 midterm elections, which sank the Democrats, were propelled by the energy of the right-wing Tea Party movement. Many of those new Republicans are Tea Partiers themselves or beholden to its activists and their conservative agenda.

That’s why people such as Armey will shape the new face of the capital. To its critics, FreedomWorks is a corporate-backed front group exploiting the Tea Party. To its fans, it helps to co-ordinate and focus an outpouring of anti-government rage and desire for personal liberty the like of which have not been seen for a generation. Either way, Armey’s cheerfulness seems justified given the sudden change of fortunes between Republicans and Democrats.

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