When Democrats gather around the campfire do they scare each other with stories about the Tea Party? The specter of fiscal responsibility has terrorized the GOP’s spendthrift opposition since 2009, a lurking reminder of Congress’s predictable failure to do anything about debt, deficit, and federal spending.
Last week, Harry Reid threatened:
Mitt Romney’s fantasy that Senate Democrats will work with him to pass his ‘severely conservative’ agenda is laughable.¹
The senator’s newest refusal to compromise will never be tested, but we already knew what to expect. The election is over but nothing in Washington has changed since August 2011 when lawmakers played their do-nothing card, ignored taxpayer outrage over federal spending and debt, and decided that a show of fiscal restraint could wait until 2013 because it conflicted with their reelection plans (see: Damaged Economy Left Behind, Congress Flees the Scene).
Appease the Tea Party, or give in to Democrats on federal spending and taxes?
Like bullies on a playground, House and Senate Democrats accuse the GOP of kowtowing to the Tea Party whenever they refuse to say “yes,” forgetting that fiscal responsibility is not a hateful concept to everyone. Illinois Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. gave the Tea Party dubious credit for a surfeit of balanced budget amendments:
Again in recent years, with the advent of the Tea Party and the return of extreme fiscal conservatism in the Republican party, there are currently twelve Balanced Budget Amendments in the House and three in the Senate.
I had my staff double check that for me. 12 Balanced Budget Amendments in the House. They are all basically the same. Some have even been offered by members of my own party.²
When the time came for fiscal restraint, Democrats bought into the Budget Control Act (see: Congress Hatches a Government Scam With Its Fiscal Cliff). Can they blame the Tea Party?
Sequestration is the Tea Party’s fault?
While the Budget Control Act’s Super Committee fell apart and made sequestration a reality, Harry Reid blamed Tea Party conservatism for the GOP’s refusal to accept a tax hike:
I am disappointed that Republicans never found the courage to ignore Tea Party extremists and millionaire lobbyists like Grover Norquist, and listen instead to the overwhelming majority of Americans – including the vast majority of Republicans – who want a balanced approach to deficit reduction.³
Reid was right about one thing. Too many Americans decided that they like the absence of fiscal restraint and endorsed four more years of Obama. Perhaps they have not suffered enough as the Obama economy’s false recovery prepares to enter its fifth year. Maybe they managed to benefit from federal paternalism and handouts, or have decided to tough it out until the wealth of America’s higher earners showers down like gold from heaven on Middle America.
Time for the Tea Party to bare its teeth.
Referring to the “Tea Party fringe” during last year’s $30 billion spending cut sell out, New York’s Charles Schumer resorted to the myth that Tea Party conservatives hurt Republicans, using the threat of a federal shutdown to push fiscal responsibility aside:
A Tea Party rebellion may hurt the House Republican leadership politically, but a government shutdown will hurt all Americans much more.4
We should have let the government shut down (see: Government Shutdown Should Be a Trial Run). Something worthwhile might have come from public outrage when services disappeared and checks stopped being printed. A few months later our credit rating was hit and decisions were pushed aside for over a year so lawmakers could wait out the election season nurturing hopes that the balance would shift on Capitol Hill. For all the money spent on political campaigns pledging fiscal restraint, a new direction for America, and renewed prosperity, we are right back where we started. The only thing that has changed is the date and the question of how far Congress will postpone their fiscal cliff decisions when Christmas comes and they are eager to flee Washington for the holidays.
Who will win the game of fiscal chicken? Should we go over the cliff?
The president got his four more years so he no longer needs the middle class, Latinos, or public employee unions. Congress is not so lucky. Lifers in the House and Senate are loath to hop off the federal gravy train when job expectations and accountability are nonexistent.
Since 2009 Republicans have been blamed for endorsing fiscal responsibility by submitting to the Tea Party, which raises the question of how the game of fiscal chicken could play out. Will the president collude with Harry Reid to throw the middle class under the bus because the debt situation is hopeless, pinning the blame on the GOP for refusing to agree to his scheme for a tax increase on higher earners? Will Tea Party sensibilities force Republican lawmakers’ hands, or will we end up with stalemate and the phony, symbolic budget cutting we saw in 2011? With less than two months to reach a decision that has been delayed for years, expect to be revisiting the fiscal cliff around this time in 2013.