I haven’t launched a good rant in awhile and it seems this is an appropriate point in our nation’s political history to do so. If you actually believe that American politics is worthwhile, or that there’s a serious difference between the major parties, you probably won’t agree with any of this and should just move on.
Those still left — at least some of you readers, I hope — will recognize that the shrill and polarized debate in Washington over increasing the United States’ debt ceiling is dominating the news. Liberals call it a “faux crisis” because the borrowing limit is something no other major Western nation requires and because it has routinely been raised in the past. Conservatives want to use their leverage to extract concessions from President Obama and his White House on spending without increasing taxes. They’re achieved that result (poignantly noted when the president said Monday night that Republicans did not know how to “take yes as an answer”) and are holding out essentially for the Boehner plan’s promise of a deficit commission that would recommend further spending cuts down the road. Democrats like Harry Reid then respond that the House of Representatives is undertaking a “charade” vote because such a plan would not pass the Senate.
So, here’s the question of the moment. Why is Speaker of the House Boehner unable to bring his Republican colleagues into line and get his plan enacted? The answer is the slew of new, Tea Party members of Congress — which venerable, former maverick Sen. John McCain called “Hobbits” the other day — like freshman Republican Joe Walsh of Illinois.
In two separate closed door meetings, Speaker Boehner told Tea Party Republicans it was time to close ranks around his bill to raise the debt limit even though it doesn’t cut spending as much as they’d like. Boehner lashed out at the conservatives, telling them to “Get your ass in line.”
The Tea Party’ers say that $25B in discretionary spending cuts starting in 2012 — and even a claimed $6 trillion over 10 years — is a drop in the bucket for what is today already a $14 trillion and growing national debt. They’re right. They say that a “clean” debt ceiling increase is out of the question because spending in Washington, DC, under both parties, has climbed for 20 years, and jeopardizes America’s economic future if not solved. They’re right about that, too. They say that pushing spending cuts into the future will not work because every deficit commission, including a bipartisan one (Simpson-Boles) earlier this year. has gone nowhere, and because the deficit problem is a structural one due to entitlements (Medicare, Social Security), unfunded wars (Afghanistan, Libya) and non-discretionary, non-defense spending, like interest. They’re right. And they say, finally, that the only way to get anyone’s attention in Washington over these long-term issues — which are otherwise and always ignored by politicians concerned with short-run re-election — is by preciptitating an even more immediate crisis.
Playing off the title of this post, what if they’re right about that, too? With the almost equal split between voters (and traditional politicians) who want taxes left alone (or cut) in favor of spending reductions and those who want revenue “enhancements” and tax increases to reduce the deficit, there’s little hope of rational fiscal budgeting decisions in Washington any time soon. Yet after August 2 or 9 or whenever the U.S. Treasury can no longer issue bonds, there will be little or no possibility that serious and long-term deficit reduction can occur. Tea Party Founder Judson Phillips Blasts John Boehner | Politico.com. Washington will just go on, divided, spending money on the structurally fixed stuff while eking out small cuts from the infinitesimally tiny bit of discretionary spending left at the federal level. In short, are the Tea Party’ers right that a deficit commission and plan are about as worthless as the 9/11 Commission and DHS’ homeland security plan?
You betcha, as one oft-parodied Alaskan former governor likes to say. There is just no way that the Obama White House agrees to any fundamental changes in social safety net spending. After all, health care reform increased costs for Medicare and Medicaid and added millions to the programs. (I have not forgotten that George W. Bush’s prescription drug plan did the same thing, BTW.) Nor is there any chance that conservatives will scale back defense spending and, with it, America’s ability to project military power globally. So the only way out of the stalemate is to force both sides to do something, in a crisis, they would otherwise always and to their core oppose as a matter of principle. Put their feet to the fire and watch them jump.
America was founded by revolutionaries. They dumped tea into Boston harbor because of taxes spent on stuff the citizens did not care about and for which they had no influence. The Tea Party congressional members say they were voted into Washington to shake things up and that, unless they oppose the short-run bandaid offered up for the debt ceiling increase, it will still be business as usual in DC. Getting to “yes” gets them nothing. They may be a bit demented, perhaps a tad shrill, but they sure seem correct!