msnbc.com's Carrie Dann
msnbc.com's Carrie Dann
Tea Party activists gather in the shadow of the Capitol to urge budget cuts.
From msnbc.com's Carrie Dann
As budget negotiations continued inside the halls of Congress Thursday, a gathering of Tea Party activists huddled at a cold outdoor rally on Capitol Hill to send a message to the deal-makers inside:
They're ready to pick a fight.
A few hundred people -- far fewer than the massive rallies seen before last year's midterm elections -- who braved the dreary weather urged lawmakers to push deep cuts to the federal budget even if it results in a temporary shuttering of the government, chanting "Cut it or shut it!" and punctuating cheers with calls to "shut it down!"
"If Harry Reid wants a fight, let's give it to him!" said Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN), one of a parade of conservative lawmakers who made remarks at the event sponsored by the Tea Party Patriots.
Many of the rally's speakers were careful to note that Democrats are "rooting" for a shutdown and that GOP budget-cutters hope to avoid a funding lapse that would turn off the government's lights.
Democratic leaders "want to turn you into their scapegoats and blame the Tea Party for shutting the government down," said Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN).
Rep. Allen West (R-FL) declared, "We are not here to talk about shutting the government down... But if you want to talk about shutting down the government, go over there and talk to Chuck Schumer and Harry Reid and the folks at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue!"
Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) told reporters after his brief remarks to the crowd that a federal closure is undesirable but would not be catastrophic.
"No Republican wants to shut the government down. I don't think anybody here really wants a shutdown," DeMint said, "but we shouldn't be so afraid of a shutdown that we can't make the right decisions right now." He added, "We can't be cowed by this threat."
The preemptive finger-pointing over a potential shutdown likely stems from the scars of the budget fights of the mid-1990s, when the public soured on GOP leaders in the wake of a series of federal closings.
A full federal closure "is not going to be very popular with the American people," warned Clinton-adviser-turned-conservative-commentator Dick Morris, who instead suggested a "targeted shutdown" of agencies -- like the EPA and the National Labor Relations Board -- that are loathed by Tea Party activists.
"We don't have to close down the government. We're going to close down the parts of the government we can't stand!" Morris said.
That sentiment was met with cheers -- as well as a smattering of shouts to "shut it down!"
*** UPDATE *** Here's a dispatch from NBC's Catherine Chomiak:
As the continuing resolution currently funding the government inches closer to its expiration date of April 8, Tea Party activists rallied today for a budget battle. Reps. Steve King (R-IA), Mike Pence (R-IN), Michele Bachmann (R-MN) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) fired up the crowd on a dreary day in Washington, D.C., with calls for a fight and threats of a government shutdown.
Congressman Pence, citing the current deficit, debt, and “defiant liberal majority in the Senate” said the time was right “to pick a fight."
“The debt stops here,” he said. “If liberals in the Senate would rather play political games and shut down the government instead of making a small down payment on fiscal discipline and reform, I say, 'Shut it down.'”
Representative and potential Republican presidential candidate Bachmann hit Democrats saying they are hoping for a government shut down. “That’s their plan," Bachmann said. "They want to shut the government down, and they want to turn you into their scapegoat and say, 'It’s the Tea Party’s fault for shutting the government down.'"
Paul urged the Tea Party members to keep up their political involvement. “The fight is just beginning,” he vowed. “Keep their feet to the fire, call them, email them, let them know that you are prepared for America to move forward, but only by balancing the budget and making government smaller.”
In addition to a fight on the budget, King showed support for his fellow House Republican saying, “We need to fight on Mike Pence’s proposal on unfunding (sic) Planned Parenthood… And we need to fight on cutting off the funding that implements Obamacare.”
Bachmann also got loud cheers from the crowd when she proposed sending “a change of address form to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.”
This is something Bachmann has said before and will probably be said again, as she continues to consider a 2012 presidential bid.