Feeding the Beast

By Klein, Ezra | Newsweek, September 27, 2010 | Go to article overview

Feeding the Beast


Klein, Ezra, Newsweek


Byline: Ezra Klein

Will the Tea Party really trim spending?

Remember the good old days, when Washington cared about deficits? I do. That's when President Obama signed an executive order forming a commission to consider spending cuts, tax hikes, and other reforms to balance the budget. Sen. Mitch McConnell opposed that commission, but he seemed equally concerned: "Most Americans would say the real emergency here is a $13 trillion debt."

The good old days, of course, were only a few months ago. But now Washington is faced with the terrifying prospect of actually reducing the deficit, and suddenly debt isn't such an emergency after all. The Republicans are proposing to increase the deficit by about $4 trillion in extending all the Bush tax cuts. The Democrats are countering with an offer to increase the deficit by a bit more than $3 trillion in extending the cuts only for people making less than $250,000 a year. Look at those numbers again: $4 trillion and $3 trillion. That's vastly more deficit spending than the stimulus, the bank bailouts, the health-care bill (which actually reduces the deficit), and everything else we've done in the past few years combined.

Enter the Tea Parties. "Runaway deficit spending -- compels us to take action as the increasing national debt is a grave threat" to sovereignty, reads the mission statement of the Tea Party Patriots, the movement's largest umbrella group. A spokesman for Rand Paul, a Tea Party favorite who captured the Republican nomination for Senate in Kentucky, assured the Daily Beast that Paul would "vote against and filibuster any unbalanced budget proposal in the Senate."

But will Tea Partiers, when it comes down to it, really be any different from the Republican Party that serves as their uncomfortable home? As of yet, there's little sign of it. Take Paul. The Lexington Herald-Leader asked him if the Bush tax cuts should be fully extended. "Absolutely," he said. "The money is not the government's. It is ours." The problem, though, is that we, as a democratic society, granted the government the power to tax that money and spend it on things we thought were important, like national defense and Social Security. If you take revenues away but you don't cut spending, you get deficits. And the Tea Party hates deficits. So how would Paul pay for the tax cuts? Well, it's a secret, at least for now. …

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