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Dick Armey: Tea Party Does Not Want to Shut Down the Government

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A government shutdown looms.

Here's a dirty secret. Even if the government does "shut down,"

members of Congress still get their paychecks. They are giving themselves a paid vacation.

In the center of the fiscal fight is the Tea Party, which has told Speaker Boehner they are not willing to bend on their principals. I caught up with Tea Party Godfather Dick Armey on this budget battle, For the first time he publicly gives his opinions on House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan's (R-WI) budget and a government shut down.

LL: What did you think of Chairman Ryan's 2012 budget?

DA: What Ryan is putting out there is the only adult conversation going on in town. The Republicans in general are taking serious looks at the long term problems. They are asking where is the country going? How much can we afford? Paul Ryan deserves all the credit in the world for putting out a solid proposal but let me remind everyone we have been operating without a budget for two years now. It was the Democrats who failed to do their job.

LL: Roger Altman, one of my contacts wrote in his FT OpEd that the President needs to come to the budget party and get involved. Where is the President in all of this?

DA: He is completely AWOL. Harry Reid? He is just waiting. So we appreciate Paul Ryan took the first step and he gave a completely sober look at the realities of how much money we bring in, and how much money goes out. And including that, if you look at his numbers he is assuming things like 3.1 percent growth but the President is assuming a 4.4 percent plus growth rate a couple of years from now!

There isn't an economist I know of who believes in a couple of years we'll have a 4 plus percent growth. So that just means the President's budget is that far off. So that being said, we at the Tea Party would like to see Ryan go one step further, we'd prefer to see the entitlement issue addressed faster. We would prefer to see the budget balanced within a 10 year window.

LL: Are you confident the Republican Study Committee will deliver on your goal of balancing the budget within a 10 year window?

DA: Yes, we are confident they will. And we think they will present a very strong budget. But Paul Ryan deserves all the credit in the world. He started the debate and got the discussion in the right direction.

Paul Ryan had a difficult job because he was writing for an entire conference. So it was a lot more difficult than writing a budget for say the Republican Study Committee which is made up of the most devote fiscal conservatives around.

They each have different constituents they were writing budgets for. The RSC's budget will have the select priorities of the Tea Party but in the end, we are all on the same page on this one. From what I'm hearing I would be more comfortable with the RSC's 2012 budget proposals, but I am proud of Paul Ryan and his work.

LL: There is a battle right now brewing between the Tea Party and the GOP. Many see a growing divide within the party. Where do you see the Tea Party's role in this budget battle?

DA: We are setting the agenda. This budget is in direct reaction to the grass roots movement.

LL: Let's talk about the CR right now and the government shutdown. What is your message to these Tea Party members who want to shut down the government?

DA: I do not want to see the government shutdown. But this is different than the government shutdown in 1996. We have a President stone walling. The President and the Democrats are saying they are not going to budge on a couple of billion dollars in order to pass a CR. This just shows you where their priorities are. They are willing to shut down the government to protect a couple of billion dollars. They are not serious in getting the budget under control.

The real budget battle is not over the billions now being debated. It's over trillions. The negotiations going on are reasonable. The cuts we are asking for are modest.The Tea Party's goal is not to shut the government down. But this class was elected to cut the size and scope of government and that's what we will do. We need to stand on principals and if the government shuts down because of it. That's what will happen.

The Tea Party's message to Capitol Hill is we want to see the Democrats getting their house in order. The Tea Party's job is not to pass legislation. The Tea Party's job is to organize and express the will of the American people. They are in no mood to watch politics as usual. So although the cuts that are being put out there are modest. They're just the beginning.

They are essentially just starting this process. I want the Tea Party members to stay engaged and be on top of this but to also remember the real battle ahead is the budget not necessarily the CR. The real battle will be the long term. Entitlement reform.

LL: Right now the GOP is fighting amongst themselves right now. Some say this infighting will hurt the GOP agenda. What's your message to the House Republican members?

DA: Be bold! This majority was won because members wanted to be bold. In general, you don't touch the third rail because you'd die touching the third rail. What I want to say to this class of new freshmen and the activists who got them there is, the real fear is not jumping on the third rail. The real fear is not being bold enough.

That's why to the average tea party member, they would like to see the budget balanced next year. But they understand it will take a little time. 10 years is a long time and even that deadline would require significant reform immediately.

LL: Realistically, what do you hope to see in terms of a budget? The Republicans need to pass a 2012 budget in order to have a strong message in the Presidential election.

DA: If there is a government shut down everyone loses. There are no winners. It means Washington did not do its job. Nobody one wants this. But this entire freshman class was voted to get the budget and deficit under control. They just can't get along to go along. The class needs to stand firm on principal. The winning message in the last election was not to spend what you can't have.

If we can't show we can't stand on our principals and cut the deficit and create significant entitle reform we did not do our job. But Americans have to remember, the Republicans only control one branch of government. You still have Harry Reid and President Obama. But on a bright side, we are in a wonderful situation where you have senators like Toomey (R-PA), Rubio (R-FL), Paul (R-KY) and Mike Lee (R-UT) putting out more aggressive budgets than the House. We'll have to wait and see.

A Senior Talent Producer at CNBC, and author of "Thriving in the New Economy:Lessons from Today's Top Business Minds."

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