Moments after President Obama put his John Hancock on the debt ceiling deal, a Northern California tea party member claimed that when he proudly wore his tea party tee shirt to his local grocery store a half dozen persons immediately asked him how to join. If one believes the legion of pundits that claim with smug assurance that the tea party and by extension the GOP cut its political throat by holding the White House, Congress and the nation hostage for weeks until it got its way on the debt deal, the tea party booster is either the biggest liar on the planet, or suffers from advanced political dyslexia. Unfortunately, there's really no reason to think anything of the sort. A quick look at the checklist of what Congress gave up tells why.
Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid on the chopping block. No extension of unemployment insurance benefits. No tax loopholes closed. No new tax and funding revenue hikes approved. No guarantee that any substantial military spending will be cut. A so-called super-committee that can virtually unilaterally chop off billions more in spending from vital education, health, transportation, and infrastructure development programs that Congress is powerless to do nothing more than take it or leave it. No spending authorization to create jobs. And worst of all the real possibility that within a few months Congress and the White House will be locked arms again in another round of fiscal sumo wrestling.
The manufacture of the phony debt ceiling and fiscal crisis, the gut of federal spending and by extension the government, the mocking of the political process to engage in this financial charade, was the fine handiwork of the tea party; a party that didn't exist three years ago, yet in that short time played the nation, the White House, Congress, and the media like a finely tuned Stradivarius. The tea party marvelously hijacked the political process with one goal in mind, a goal that it never bothered to hide. And that goal is to hector, harass, embarrass, and ultimately insure that President Obama is a one term president.
The seeds of the tea party Congressional budget hijack were planted the instant President Obama took the oath of office. Tea party leaders shrewdly reached back three decades and revived a simple theme that was struck during the Reagan years. Liberal Democrats had constructed an ogre in a wasteful, out of spending control, and inefficient big government that had bloated the budget with deficit crushing spending on education, health, and infrastructure programs. The underlying hint was that the spending was lavished almost exclusively on minorities, and the poor. And the ones forced to bear the cost for the alleged Democrat's big government spending spree were the hard pressed, overburdened, over taxed white middle and working class. This was of course pure financial mythmaking. The Congressional Budget Office put debt and debt servicing costs at less than 2 percent of America's economic output. That figure is lower than at any point since the 1970s. The payments on federal debt under Regan Bush Sr., and Bill Clinton presidencies were above 3 percent of the GDP. Under GW Bush that figured dropped.
There was no talk of a federal debt collapse in those years. But within one Obama year, that changed, and now the US instantly faced financial Armageddon if trillions weren't hacked from the budget. This, of course, again, was almost exclusively the talk of the tea party and they made their talk the talk of Congress and the nation, with only scattered dissent from a handful in Congress. The tea party got its way not solely because it adroitly waylaid an issue to politically sabotage a president. But because it out screamed, out marched, and out organized Democrats and its own GOP mainstream.
A recent Pew Research Center poll found that tea party adherents were twice as likely to be engaged in the debate over the budget, and a greater number said they blitzed their elected representatives with faxes, emails, and phones pounding them to stand firm on the budget. By a near two to one margin, tea party backers more intently followed the news about the budget deliberations than those who opposed the tea party.
Yet despite the tea party's obvious budget triumph some foolishly crow that this marks the demise of the tea party. That's the kind of demise that established political parties would salivate over. No, far from writing the epitaph for the tea party, the tea party has forced the White House, and Congress and a nation to look over its shoulder in nervous jitters at every overblown, clownish, and destructive scheme that the tea party decides to dump on the nation's plate. And make no mistake; there are more, many more of those schemes to come.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour on KTYM Radio Los Angeles streamed on ktym.com podcast on blogtalkradio.com and internet TV broadcast on thehutchinsonreportnews.com
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