Tea Party Patriots are meeting in Phoenix this weekend and hundreds of local chapter leaders are listening to speeches and discussing whether the newly elected Congressional members are sticking with their campaign priorities to cut spending and lower the deficit.
Among those speaking at the American Policy Summit are several possible presidential candidates: former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain and Texas Rep. Ron Paul.
Tea Party Patriots co-founder and national coordinator Mark Meckler says the summit has a clear purpose, and - contrary to speculation - it's not to create a political party.
"If someone doesn't know what's going on they can say that, because we're all getting together in a central location," Meckler said. "We're not getting together to decide on a platform."
Listen to an interview with Meckler:
Meckler said the organization has developed naturally over the past two years and he hopes the current summit will help steer the movement toward the future.
"The main thing is to take the tea party into its next step. The tea party has gone through three phases, and these are all natural organic phases," Meckler explained.
"The first was we were a protest-rally movement only, and that's how it developed organically back in February, '09. The next phase was obviously electoral, and that's simply because the elections were coming up and everyone got educated and got engaged in the election," Meckler continued. He readily credits the Tea Party Patriots with having an impact in the mid-term elections.
The third step is for the group to hold Washington accountable, he said.
"We're here to be a watchdog on the folks who got elected ... . The primary purpose of the summit we're calling the American Policy Summit is to talk about the serious issues facing the country and to talk about ways to solve the problems facing the country," Meckler stated.
Former Godfather's Pizza president and CEO Herman Cain, who has set up a presidential exploratory committee, says there are two major issues the summit needs to address. The first is national security.
"Our national security is weaker rather than stronger. It has gotten weaker over the last couple of years. As an example, the cancellation of the missile defense system in Turkey by the Obama administration I think was a mistake," Cain pointed out.
"The world is not safer; the world is more dangerous. Why should we reduce our ability to keep an eye on rogue nations and dictators who are hankering to get a nuclear weapon so they can then rattle their sabers at the rest of the world?" Cain asked.
Listen to an interview with Cain:
Cain's second major issue for the summit is the economy.
"All of the spending that is taking place has not stimulated the economy. The reason it hasn't is because more government spending doesn't stimulate the economy - more money in the pockets of the workers and more money that helps lower the costs to employers helps the economy," Cain explained.
He blasted the Obama administration for "spending $787 billion plus, ... and putting it into government programs - in what the president promised was shovel-ready projects, but then later to say there are no shovel ready projects."
Cain said "direct stimulus" - accomplished by a payroll tax holiday for a year - is the preferable alternative.
"A tax holiday for a year would be a much better use of the money in our economy instead of spending what they did over the last couple of years," Cain argued.
Cain also said he believes the tea party will be even stronger in the future.
Political observers are still talking about the tea party's impact on the 2010 General Election, which continues to fuel speculation the grassroots movement has ambitions to become a political party.
Tea Party Patriots' Meckler stresses his group is not trying to be a political party.
"Political parties are inherently hierarchical top-down organizations. There's the chair, regional chairs, and state chairs. There's district chairs, on down to the precinct level," Meckler observed.
"We don't have any organization that's anything like that. The bottom line is that there's nobody with the authority to tell anyone what to do. We don't set a platform and we don't support and endorse candidates. So it's nothing like a political party," Meckler insisted.
The activist said this weekend's summit is the result of a series of discussions that came out of the group's weekly national conference call.
"There are over 3,000 Tea Party Patriot chapters across the nation and every Monday night we hold a national leadership council conference call. On that conference call those leaders of the chapters around the country decide on the direction and the issues," Meckler explained.
"This summit is no different than that. We were receiving lots of calls from around the country asking us for a national meeting. Having received those calls and e-mails, we went on one of our Monday night calls and asked them if they wanted us to do this and they said yes," Meckler continued.
"We went on to do research on some cities, came back to them with a couple of choices and Phoenix was what they chose," Meckler added.
Even though the Tea Party Patriots don't endorse candidates, Herman Cain said the tea party movement will get stronger.
"A year from now I think the tea party movement is going to be stronger. It's going to be even better coordinated than it is now. There is some coordination without structure which is one of the strengths of the tea party movement. So I see that it's going to be stronger, bigger and better in terms of holding members of Congress' feet to the fire," Cain said.