A conservative-leaning crowd of about 75 turned out at Esther Short Park on a rainy evening Tuesday for a rally sponsored by Americans for Prosperity, a Tea Party-affiliated national group that’s calling for $3 trillion in federal spending cuts, no new taxes and a balanced budget amendment with a hard spending cap.
The organization chose Washington to launch a planned national tour because the state is the home of Democratic U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, co-chairman of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, also known as the supercommittee. Its first stop Tuesday was in blue-collar Shelton, where about 40 showed up.
National President Tim Phillips delivered red meat to the crowd, accusing President Barack Obama of blaming American citizens for what Phillips described as Obama’s failure to build a “nanny state” with his health care reform bill and his efforts to create jobs through federal stimulus spending.
“Instead of moving to the center, he goes the other way,” Phillips said. “He goes out and starts class warfare arguments.”
He asked the audience to think back to January of 2009, when the newly inaugurated Obama enjoyed a 74 percent approval rating and both the House and Senate were controlled by Democrats. At the time, liberal Democrats had three main legislative goals, he said: Climate change cap-and-trade legislation, union-supported “card check” legislation for union membership elections, and national health reform.
“Today, cap and trade is deader than a doornail,” Phillips said. “Card check never came up for a vote.” As for health reform, he said, “We made it better, but it was a bitter defeat in Congress. We lost a crucial battle in Congress, but we won decisively with our fellow Americans” in the 2010 election, which delivered the House to Republicans, he said.
Today, the president has a 39 percent approval rating, Phillips said. “It’s not because he’s a bad guy, it’s because his policies are disastrous for the American people,” he added.
The focus on deficit reduction through spending cuts is a new spin for the organization, which in the past has attacked health care reform, the federal stimulus and climate change legislation.
“Government debt is choking off the entrepreneurial spirit,” Phillips told the crowd.
In an interview, he said Americans for Prosperity deserves credit for the decision by members of both parties in Congress to ban earmarks. Spending on projects that help lawmakers win political support at home hasn’t disappeared entirely, he said, but earmarks “are more transparent than they were in 2005.”
Asked whether funding the Columbia River Crossing would qualify as an earmark, he said, “We think it’s okay to put money in for specific projects if it’s a part of the normal budget process. At least then there’s a debate about it.”
Critics have called AFP an “AstroTurf” organization that spends corporate money to orchestrate faux grass-roots movements. Phillips laughed at that description. “We’re a national organization but with local leadership” in 32 states, he said. Nansen Malin, a Pacific County Republican activist, is the organization’s Washington state director.
State Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, attended the rally and said he agreed with everything he heard, especially the need to cut government spending.
“In this state, we’re in the same predicament,” he said. “It’s just sad. Revenues are just down.”
Supporters were asked to sign petitions endorsing the AFP platform. The campaign will culminate with a Nov. 5 “Defending the American Dream Summit” in Washington, D.C.
Americans for Prosperity was co-founded in 2006 by oil billionaire David Koch. The organization helped launch the Tea Party and spent tens of millions of dollars last year in a campaign to influence congressional races across the country, including funding what Phillips called “educational ads” attacking Democrat Denny Heck in his unsuccessful campaign against Republican Jaime Herrera Beutler.
Its budget ballooned from $7 million in 2007 to $40 million in 2010 after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that corporations enjoy the same free speech rights as individuals. The ruling cleared the way for corporations to donate unrestricted funds from their general treasuries to political organizations.
Kathie Durbin: 360-735-4523; Twitter: col_politics; email@example.com.