Friday, October 8, 2010

How Will Tea Party Pressure Work?

Ed Kilgore:
[T]he one clear policy implication of the Tea Party Movement's rise is that deficit reduction, if not (as many Republican candidates are promising this year) an actual balanced budget, is extremely conspicuous in Republican messaging and cannot be discarded as it has been in the past. Nobody with an R next to his or her name is saying "deficits don't matter" any more. That means a Republican-drafted budget resolution is going to either split the GOP ranks or force them into politically perilous territory on domestic spending cuts, with the 2012 Republican presidential field being forced to take sides on every controversial decision.
Perhaps.  I can think of at least three ways around it, though, which could be used separately or combined.

(1) Hire someone at CBO who will score tax cuts as massive revenue sources.  Hey, look, the deficit is falling!

(2) Gotta have a gimmick -- introduce some sort of auto-cut procedure, similar to the old Gramm-Rudman structure; make sure that it won't actually kick in until some point in the future (or with a divided Congress, let the Senate kill it).  Talk a lot about the Balanced Budget Constitutional Amendment.  Hold lots of votes on the Balanced Budget Constitutional Amendment.  Repeat that deficits keep going up because the Democrats are blocking the Amendment, or the new absolutely necessary budget procedures.

(3) Eliminate earmarks.  Talk a whole lot about eliminating earmarks.  Claim that you're slashing spending -- we eliminated earmarks!  Never use the word "deficit" again.  Hope no one notices.

Would this stuff work?  I really don't know the answer, and I don't think anyone does.  The question isn't so much whether Tea Partieres are really dedicated to balanced budgets.  It's whether they would trust Republican Congressional leadership on it, and I expect they would -- provided, that is, that Fox News, Beck, Palin, Rush, and the rest of them, including high profile conservatives in Congress, keep to the company line.  They wouldn't have to say "deficits don't matter."  All they would have to do is either ignore the issue entirely, or pretend that the various gimmicks, phony projections, and symbolic cuts are for real.  The question, then, is whether conservative opinion leaders can be convinced to go for it, at least through the 2012 election, while Republicans in Congress explode the deficit.  That's the part of the answer that I don't think we know. 


  1. I haven't heard a whole lot of these Republican leaders and Fox News personalities taking deficit reduction very seriously to this point, so I can't imagine it would get a lot more important to them with a GOP takeover of Congress. If Republicans have ever talked about anything other than "gimmicks, phony projections, and symbolic cuts," it has escaped my attention.

    What I suspect we'll hear a whole lot of is how cutting taxes raises revenue, so all we need to do is cut taxes and the deficit will disappear.

  2. The Republicans have talked about cutting the deficit, and really made it central to their ideas for as long as I can remember. And over the same amount of time, they've never actually gotten serious about it*.

    And yet, they still have the voters they have.

    So I doubt they'll be punished for failing to do anything next Congress, especially if they can throw out some gimmicks. Because in the end, this isn't about the deficit, this is about cutting my taxes down to zero and maybe, in a few cases, zeroing out programs that help people poorer or browner than me (but not in every case). With that in mind, you'd think there'd be some consternation if they fail to extend Bush's tax cuts, but who knows, these people have put up with so much shit for so long from Congressional Republicans, they have an amazing tolerance.

    *- Bear in mind I don't really remember GHB's presidency. But I understand he was PUNISHED for tackling the deficit, so whatever.

  3. Well, first thing's last, and that is to get rid of the nincompoops who've jacked up spending through the roof these past 2-4 years.

    That will happen November 2nd.

    Now, can we quickly, AT LEAST, get back to 2008 spending levels? I think so, but I also question whether Republicans understand how seriously the Tea Party takes this stuff.

    More heads will roll in 2012, if they don't. Mainstream voters will take care of the kooky left, as they will in 3 weeks, but the RINOs have US to worry about.

    We will saw their heads off like Zarqawi.

  4. Whoa, terrifyingly violent anonymous comment is terrifyingly violent.

    (Maybe it's from Carl Paladino ... )

  5. The vast majority of Tea Partiers don't really care about the deficit or the debt... they cheered on 2 wars, 2 tax cuts, and the largest expansion of the Medicare program...

    They also have vehemently opposed the serious efforts to get it under control, including addressing the cost of medical care with HCR (yes, it is just barely a start but they kept it from really taking a bite out of it) and using stimulus funds to kick start the economy to grow our way out of our fiscal hole.

    Reasonable people can disagree about whether any of fixes proposed would work... but they didn't even come to the table -- there was nothing reasonable about it. They aren't serious or at least don't know enough to recognize a bait-and-switch.

    So, the Republicans, if they win back power, will talk a lot about ear marks even though it is a vanishing small part of the budget. I doubt they even go as far as commissioning a fantastical CBO analysis. And they will move the goal posts yet again... and yes, at some point, they will revive the "deficits don't matter" trope -- because they have no shame.

  6. Every tea-partier I have heard parrots supply-side hooey, thus single-handedly demolishing any fiscal credibility they might have had. For example, here is Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips, from an online question-and-answer session last May:

    [questioner]: If cutting taxes did so much to raise revenues, why did we always find the federal deficits ballooning immediately after they were implemented. Think Ronald Reagan, GW Bush. Tax increases under Clinton also raised revenue and actually brought the budget into balance.

    Judson Phillips: Kennedy cut taxes and the economy boomed in the 60's

    Reagan cut taxes in the 80s and the economy boomed.

    Bush cut taxes in the early 2000s and the economy boomed.

    The Clinton balanced budget came mostly after the GOP took over the house in 2004 and he could not spend all the money he wanted to.

  7. Yeah. I'm fairly certain that in general they don't actually care about the deficit, but there is a fair amount of reporting that at least some Tea Party types are saying relatively real deficit-reduction things -- e.g. some of them have talked about defense spending.

  8. Talking about defense spending means nothing without specifics. Even Judson Phillips talks about cuts to Social Security, but that doesn't make him a true deficit hawk. These issues are largely symbolic. The only thing notable about some tea-partiers' willingness to consider defense cuts is that it slightly conflicts with our image of the movement as normative right-wingers disguised as libertarians. It's certainly true that the movement includes Ron Paulite defense skeptics, but it would be a mistake to think they in any way predominate.

  9. I guess what I'm saying is (1) I basically agree with you, but that (2) there is a good deal of reporting, at least some of which is from people who I think are excellent reporters, that suggests that there are some real deficit hawks in the mix. But of course the original post basically is premised more on (1) than on (2).

  10. What I want to know is, have any tea party leaders showed any openness to the idea of raising taxes in order to balance the budget?

  11. Jonathan, I would take Kylopod's question as the premise for really questioning (2). Even excellent reporters can get caught up in the narrative from time to time. At this point, can you claim to be a real deficit hawk if (a) tax increases are off the table and (b) if the bulk of the cutting it focused on what are, in the long-run, counter-productive cuts (infrastructure, nutrition programs, education, etc. -- examples of near term costs with long term savings)?


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