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Tea party steers clear of fiscal-cliff fight

– The tea party movement has been nearly invisible in the intensive lobbying campaign over the fiscal cliff, even as Congress and the White House debate the issues of government spending and national debt that are at the core of the movement’s identity.

The automatic spending cuts at the heart of the year-end fiscal cliff grew out of the tea party’s campaign last year to slash federal budgets and cap government borrowing.

Yet as groups across the political spectrum seek to influence any deal to avert the cuts and tax increases set to kick in Jan. 1, the tea party has been unusually – and deliberately – quiet. Members still call and email Congress but have held no rallies and done little lobbying.

When tea party leader Jenny Beth Martin recently journeyed to the Capitol from her Atlanta area home, she did not bring with her the bus loads of tea party members who once descended on Washington to rally for fiscal restraint. As she toured the offices of several Republican House members, Martin barely brought up the fiscal cliff negotiations that could chart the nation’s budgetary future. Her focus instead? Fighting over spending at the state level.

“We’re sitting back” on the fiscal cliff, said Martin, co-founder of Tea Party Patriots, the nation’s largest tea party group.

Tea party activists say they feel despised by Democrats and ignored by Republicans.

“We’re thinking, ‘Instead of wasting our time with these people, maybe we should go home and actually enjoy our families for the holidays,’ ” said Marianne Gasiecki, an Ohio tea party activist. “We’re saying, ‘You can’t blame us for this one.’ But they’ll blame us anyway. Someone has to be the scapegoat.”