Michael Grimm spent this past Saturday in his Brooklyn district office fielding constituent calls during his open office hours. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Verrazano Bridge, the Staten Island Tea Party held a Town Hall meeting at The Renaissance, an upscale catering hall.
Earlier in the week, the two forces finally clashed publicly.
Grimm, a Republican, earned Tea Party support in his three-point victory over his democratic opponent, Michael McMahon, as a solution to insolvency. Yet in his first seven weeks as a congressman, Grimm has publicly opposed spending cuts on a few occasions. And that has the Tea Party on Staten Island boiling.
Last week, Grimm co-signed a letter with Rep. Peter King of Long Island, asking House Speaker John Bohener to restore $750 million in federal aid for security and transportation grants to a Republican proposal that would fund the government for the rest of 2011.
“[W]e absolutely believe that deep budget cuts are required,” the letter said. “We have concluded, however, that the totality of the cuts proposed by the Republican Conference will impose a disproportionate impact on our region.”
Later that night, Frank Santarpia, a lead organizer for the Staten Island Tea Party, posted a letter that he sent to Grimm on the organization’s blog.
“You ran and were elected to cut spending,” Santarpia wrote. “As one who lives in the affected area, I am ready to take the hit for the greater good of our nation. You should be, too.”
In particular, Santarpia said he respected Grimm’s rights to restore funding, but took issue with his alleged failure to propose alternative cuts.
Not so, said Grimm. In response to an inquiry from the Staten Island Advance, Grimm said he did offer matching cuts (but he did not specify) and resented that Santarpia, who frequently calls and writes, did not reach out before posting the letter.
“If Frank had some concerns, why didn’t he call me?” he told the Advance.
The $750 million in cuts were part of a package unveiled earlier this month by the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), which included $100 billion in spending cuts. But the package, which must pass a Democratic majority in the Senate, failed the smell test of both Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii).
Congress must pass another spending bill by March 4th in order to avert a government shutdown. (For a dramatic re-enactment of that scenario, check out The West Wing, Season 5, Episode 8, entitled: “Shutdown.”)
And the Tea Party has literally sent Grimm a message that when it comes to the budget, they will not budge.
Ten days after the dates of the letters, Grimm appeared on Fox News, once again calling for cuts.
“We are addicted to spending in this country,” said Grimm. “We have to cut.”