With a friendly smile and an outstretched hand, Kay Goto reached for Sen. Jim DeMint Wednesday as he left the stage of a tea party rally and headed across Constitution Avenue to the Senate. The debt ceiling debate was roiling Congress, and he had to get back. Goto, a tea partyer herself, had a suggestion.
"I think the Republicans need to come up front and say, `I'm going to give up my pay,' if there's no debt deal," Goto told him. "If all Republicans do that, it'll comfort the people."
DeMint, still smiling, nodded. That's something they will have to consider doing, DeMint told Goto. "Thank you," he said, continuing across the street.
As senior lawmakers searched for a deal that can pass both the Senate and House before Aug. 2 _ when the government could run out of money for some bills _ a few dozen tea party members rallied in the sunshine on Capitol Hill.
No deal in sight, activists in the loosely affiliated movement began making other suggestions. One group, Tea Party Nation, issued an online call for House Speaker John Boehner to step down, saying his proposed cuts are too small. But across the street from the Capitol, many activists said the Ohio Republican deserves time to strike what they see as the right deal _ cutting spending and shrinking government.
He scored points with some at the rally for walking away from President Barack Obama's initial proposals. But Boehner now can't agree to anything that most Republicans can't support, said James Manship of Mt. Vernon, Va.
""If he's going to be embracing the Obama plan, then yes, we need a new speaker," said Manship, who came dressed as George Washington. "If he can't represent a majority of the Republicans, then he needs to step aside."
Told that Tea Party Nation had called on Boehner to step down, freshman Rep. Joe Walsh, R-Ill., replied: "That's not proper, appropriate. That's not even part of this discussion right now," he said. Boehner, he added, "is doing a hell of a job."
What the tea party wants depends on who's doing the talking.
They liked the so-called "cut, cap and balance" bill that passed the House last week but died in the Democratic-controlled Senate on a procedural vote. Some at the rally think the doomsday talk about default is overblown and prefer no deal to one that spends too much and allows Obama a tactical win.
Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain showed up and told reporters he doesn't think the debt ceiling should be raised in the first place. And the default scenario? "Scare tactics," he said.
Goto, who's trying to run her own luggage business in Springfield, Va., with her husband after he was laid off from a cable company, went right to what happens in a default. If a deal fails, she reasoned, Republicans need to let people know that they're willing to take a hit with the rest of the country.
"I wanted to say that to one of the Republican leaders, that they really should be the first to say, `I'll take a cut in pay,'" she said later.
A man dressed as Captain America waved an 18-foot-long American flag behind her.
"A lot of people have taken a cut in pay," Goto said. "That's what happens on Aug. 2. You know? It's like, join the real world. Our family has."