Did tea party lawmakers win the great debt debate? They don't think so.
GOP leaders made a point of congratulating the tea party for its role in the debt ceiling debate. 'You've actually won,' Sen. Mitch McConnell said. But the movement sees only a job unfinished.
By nearly all accounts, except their own, tea party lawmakers won Round 1 of the great debt debate.Skip to next paragraph
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After all, the tea party blew into Congress after the 2010 elections and changed the conversation in Washington from spending to cutting.
No longer will Congress sign off on a clean increase in the national debt limit, as it has for every president since Woodrow Wilson.
The new template for raising the debt limit requires the president to agree to spending cuts at least as large as the proposed hike in the debt limit, with no net increase in taxes.
Any one of those policy shifts could be viewed as a historic win for the group that pushed them. Indeed, GOP leaders claimed victory for the new tea party lawmakers as the deal came to a vote.
“The American people sent a wave of new lawmakers to Congress in last November’s election with a very clear mandate: to put our nation’s fiscal house in order,” said Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell in a floor speech just before the Aug. 2 vote approving a new debt-limit deal.
In remarks directed at the tea party, he added: “Although you may not see it this way, you’ve actually won the debate.”
Mission not accomplished
But the tea party lawmakers who used the debt-limit debate to leverage a change in the size and scope of government do not see the outcome as a victory. Far from it. They see only a job unfinished.
“This charade that we just passed is going to add another $10 trillion to the national debt,” says Sen. Jim DeMint (R) of South Carolina, a cofounder of the Senate Tea Party Caucus and a leading backer of tea party candidates in primary races.
“The whole assumption with this deal is that we have 10 years to continue to get the debt under control,” he adds. “I don’t think we’re going to be able to borrow $5 trillion or $10 trillion more. We may not be able to borrow the $2.4 [trillion] we just gave to the president.”
In fact, the plan doesn’t reduce the size of government, as tea party activists had hoped. It aims to slow the growth of government spending with spending caps.
Most of the initial $917 billion round of cuts don’t kick in until after 2013.
Congress is creating a new joint committee to find further deficit reductions to ensure that cuts exceed the increase in new borrowing, but the biggest source of soaring deficits – health care and the baby boomers’ retirement – could remain off the table.
“Inside the Beltway, everybody was looking for a political solution to a political crisis. What tea partyers were looking for was a policy solution to a real budget crisis,” he adds.