The aide added: "As an actual entity, they're not up here at the Capitol like they were."
Some tea party allies view its lack of D.C. presence as a sign of weakness for a movement that has been searching for a new path, especially since Obama's reelection.
"The (fiscal cliff) is obviously a massive debate about what our country's fiscal future is going to look like, and you're looking around going, 'Where is the tea party?'" said Ned Ryun, president of American Majority, a political training institute allied with the movement. "Part of this is simply that some of the movement has disappeared."
That is a far cry from the tea party's halcyon days, when members flocked to D.C. rallies against Obama's health-care overhaul and what they considered excessive spending. During last year's dispute over the debt ceiling, tea party members called for a government shutdown during a rally at the Capitol. The debate ultimately produced a deal to raise the borrowing limit but also set up automatic cuts, which are part of the fiscal cliff.
But soon after the Nov. 6 election, more than 100 Tea Party Patriots leaders and state coordinators gathered at a Hyatt hotel in Washington and chose a different strategy for the fiscal cliff. "We decided to treat Congress like grown-ups and say, 'Fix it,'" said Gasiecki. "It's like parents who have raised their kids well and step back and say, 'Prove to us that you've been listening.'"
As a result, during her recent visit to the Capitol, Martin talked mostly about state issues during meetings with Republican congressmen including Tom Price, Ga., Steve Scalise, La., and Phil Gingrey, Ga. She said her group is "paying attention to the fiscal cliff but mostly just watching," and is instead working on fighting Obamacare in the states and on various state and local fiscal issues.
Joe Dugan, a South Carolina tea party activist, is focusing on a tea party convention that will be held in his state in January. He will send Congress a documentary of the event but has no plans to lobby over the fiscal cliff.
"Why in the world would I want to get involved in the games they are playing?" he said. "I have other things to spend my energy on besides lost causes."
Amy Kremer, who heads Tea Party Express, another national group, said the movement is "in kind of a re-grouping mode to see where we go from here" and that "no one has any money now to go to D.C., a few days from Christmas."
She added: "We're still here, we're not backing down." She called on Congress to "cut spending" and "create a pro-growth environment."
FreedomWorks, a D.C. conservative group aligned with the tea party, says it is closely following the fiscal cliff debate and has a full-time staffer meeting with Republican members of Congress to urge steps such as extending current tax rates and reforming entitlement programs.
Dean Clancy, the group's legislative counsel, declined to name the members but said FreedomWorks is in touch with the staffs of Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va. It is also writing frequent blog posts about the negotiations.
Yet when FreedomWorks brought up the fiscal cliff during a "Fly-In" for more than 100 activists at its Washington headquarters this month, Clancy said, "there weren't a whole lot 0f folks in the room who felt they could do anything about it."
The activists, he added, have no plans to come back to Washington as the negotiations proceed.