The Tea Party view of the current impasse, told by a smart, sincere Tea Party leader

Mark Meckler, co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots and one of the leaders of the Tea Party movement, is glad to claim credit, on behalf of Tea Party-ism, for bringing the U.S. government to brink of its legal debt limit. “I think the Tea Party movement should get the credit for elevating the debate about the debt limit to the national stage,” he said in an interview with the Daily Beast published yesterday.

If you haven’t heard a smart, sincere Tea Partyite make the case, perhaps you should read this interview. If you don’t click through, I’ve excerpted three of his answers below, that capture three of the main Tea Party talking points, each of which, I must admit, has a certain persuasive power. I’ll briefly describe the three points:

Yes, compromise is bad. Debt and deficit hawks always compromise with borrow-and-spend-ers and the result is that the national debt is now closing in on 100 percent of the GDP, a level it reached only once before and that was to fight the true emergency of World War II.

The threat of “default” is a shape-shifting lie. For months, we have been led to believe that “default” meant a failure to make interest payments on the existing debt, with long-lasting cataclysmic impact on the U.S. gold-plated credit rating. But if you listen carefully, there has never been any danger of that. Now the word “default” has shifted to a situation in which the U.S. has enough money to pay all of its creditors and has plenty of revenue to keep paying for the most vital government expenses. Under this scenario, the government must choose, from among all the things it now pays for – many of which the Tea Party views as unnecessary – which will continue to be funded.

And lastly, promises of spending cuts down the road are empty promises. Long-time Washington hands, including Speaker John Boehner, can’t’ be trusted to keep promises of better behavior in the future. The current Boehner proposal to cut future spending by $1.4 trillion over the next 10 years, is not only embarrassingly small, but it is not binding. Hardly any of the savings occur under the current-year budget and this Congress cannot enforce a budget-cutting promise it impose of future congresses.

Here, from the Daily Beast interview, are those views in Meckler’s own words:

What do you think about the proposal that Speaker Boehner has put out?

It’s an embarrassment. He proposes $1.4 trillion in cuts over the next 10 years. Legally, no Congress can bind a future Congress. Anything he promises about what future Congresses will do, they simply can’t make that promise. In the real world, we call that a lie. If you promise something that you have no control over, that’s called a lie. In Congress, it’s called a promise. We don’t understand how the American people don’t get that. No. 2, no Congress has ever been able, by wish or by promise, to bind future Congresses to spending cuts. When past Congresses cut spending under their own budgets, those spending cuts will never and have never materialized. It’s smoke and mirrors and the American people understand this.

We’re hearing that if the debt limit is not raised by August 2nd that the country will go into default or stop paying its bills. Are you worried about that?

First of all, that’s a lie. They’re talking about default on the sovereign obligations of the United States. The only way that we will default on our debt and default on the service of our debt is if the president and Secretary Geithner choose to default. It’s irresponsible for anyone to talk about defaulting on our obligations because we’re not going to unless we choose to. Republicans have offered the Full Faith and Credit Act that would require that we pay those obligations first, but unfortunately the Republican leadership hasn’t even let that come to the floor.

Is there is any role for compromise here?  Congress is usually about laying out your positions and splitting the difference.

We’ve been compromising for decades and that’s why we’re $14.3 trillion in debt now.  We have compromised our way to the edge of fiscal disaster.


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Comments (22)

  1. Submitted by Jackson Cage on 07/28/2011 - 10:39 am.

    Meckler represents the one glaring error in the Tea Party position, most recently set out by the Delusional Tom Emmer. The Tea Party refuses to (a) accept compromise and (b) allow the gov’t to pay its bills. If the Tea Party members were elected by 80% margins, I could listen to their arguments. But when Democrats and Old School Republicans also hold office, and many of the elected members of your own group won with a whopping 50%-52% of the vote, you have absolutely zero….repeat….ZERO right to refuse compromise. You have NO MANDATE. Neither party does. Until then, shut up and compromise.

  2. Submitted by Tad Bornhoft on 07/28/2011 - 12:11 pm.

    My question for the Tea Partiers and today’s hardline Republicans remains: Where were you during the George W. Bush administration?

  3. Submitted by Lance Groth on 07/28/2011 - 12:32 pm.

    The debt issue has many angles. The problem with the TP position is that it’s too simplistic.

    Both parties, when in power, have lived beyond the country’s means going back many decades, republicans no less than democrats. Bush-42 took it to new heights, launching two unfunded wars while cutting taxes. Obama has added at least a third more to the debt, but why?

    Mostly to rescue the nation from the financial collapse of 2008. The “compromise is bad” paragraph above mentions dealing with the “true emergency of World War II”, but the financial collapse was no less of an emergency. Had first Bush, and then Obama, done nothing, the entire world financial system would have collapsed, and we would be in a world of hurt many times worse than what we have now. This is one aspect of the simplistic TP position that is especially infuriating; they give the president no credit for averting total disaster.

    They also pummel him for enacting health care reform during a time of fiscal crisis, yet for many this is a moral issue. It is unconscionable for the United States to allow 45 million of its citizens to go without health insurance, and if a great nation cannot (or refuses to) take care of its own, then I’m sorry, it is not a great nation.

    Deficit spending needs to be brought under control, yes, but that must also include the revenue side of the equation. Taxes in the U.S. are not high when compared to other first world nations, and the wealthy, who are sitting on trillions in cash, can afford to help out their country. If they will not, they are not good citizens. Once again, the TP position is too simplistic, ruling out half of the toolkit that can be brought to bear to fix the problem before “negotiations” even begin.

    Either way, what is needed is a credible plan to begin paying down the debt within a reasonable amount of time. A plan that investors, businesses and our international partners can have confidence in. It does not need to be done overnight, and in fact, that could be more damaging than doing nothing. The private sector is not yet picking up the slack, despite that they are sitting on vast sums of cash. That leaves the public sector as the only sector that has been spending. Choke that off now, and the economy will likely plunge back into deep recession. A cure is hardly worthwhile if it kills the patient.

    That is why simplistic, monomaniacal solutions are not the answer, and compromise, far from being bad, is exactly what is needed – along with the discipline to do what is right for the country, and not necessarily what is optimal for one’s political party or the next election. Here’s one hint: the federal budget is not like the family budget, despite the simplistic jingoism that asserts that it is.

    As to Jackson’s point, exactly so. According to a poll reported on CNN this morning, only 1% of voters identify themselves as TP members. Only 24% support TP positions. This gives them the right to have a seat at the table, but not to hold the country hostage. Two thirds of voters want a mixed solution. Surely the majority must rule, or the entire system is unworkable.

    Compromise is not a dirty word. It’s how problems are solved in a democracy.

  4. Submitted by Peder DeFor on 07/28/2011 - 12:46 pm.

    Tad, you can see the roots of today’s Tea Party with the Porkbusters campaign:
    Note that this started in September of 2005 when Republicans controlled both houses of congress and the Presidency. It was also back when we were running quaint little $200 billion some deficits and not the trillion and a half that we’re doing now.

  5. Submitted by Peder DeFor on 07/28/2011 - 12:49 pm.

    Jackson, not only is that a fundamental misunderstanding of what representative democracy looks like, frankly I doubt that you believe it yourself. Al Franken was elected by the slimmest of majorities. Should he compromise on, say, his pro-choice positions?

  6. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 07/28/2011 - 01:50 pm.

    The Porkbusters campaign had bipartisan support and its leading proponent, Tom Coburn, is a Republican actually willing to compromise. The idea the the Porkbusters group is at the roots of the tea party is laughable. Back in 2005 the tea partiers were happily watching a white president and a Republican congress operate without any concern for deficits.

    BTW, if you count things like supplemental war appropriations as part of the budget, the annual deficits at that time were in the $500 billion range, not $200 billion, and when Obama came in the deficit was well over a trillion.

  7. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 07/28/2011 - 02:09 pm.

    Listening to Michele Bachmann of the Press Club lunch today, I was struck by her repeating,”giving Obama a blank check”, with respect to raising the debt ceiling.

    She implies by that statement that the money released by the debt ceiling increase is money that Obama can spend however he wants (the “black Islamo-fascist un-American welfare fund”, perhaps)?

    The fact is that a majority of that money has been committed to various programs passed by Congress and signed into law by the President. The lesser remainder of the money will be committed by future budget legislation that must be passed by Congress and signed by the President.

    It is entirely within Congress’s power to pass the budget and spending that they want. Their wishes and demands are fully reflected in the present and future spending under the new ceiling. Thei fingerprints a;; over

    That is what has been so infuriating about this entire process.

    They want a balanced budget? Then propose and pass a balanced budget. Let all of America see what that budget looks like. At the very least the Tea Party should post their version of it somewhere.

    They’re worried about entitlements–then propose and pass entitlement reform. Let all of America see what that reform means for them. At the very least the Tea Party should post their version of it somewhere.

    They entirely rely on the dumbness of their followers who do not ask for answers to those questions. They depend on their followers to hold the illusion that the majority of government spending goes to worthless people, worthless programs, and foreigners.

    They are a party of ignorance and their leaders are committed to continuing that ignorance.

  8. Submitted by Peder DeFor on 07/28/2011 - 02:09 pm.

    Dan, the people on the right that supported Porkbusters, are the same ones that are now Tea Partiers. Twenty years ago they were Perot supporters. They’ve long been worried about overspending. Sometimes they’re called fiscal hawks.
    There was bipartisan support with Porkbusters, true. I’m not sure where the leftward contingent went since then. (I don’t mean this as snark, I honestly don’t know.) I know there are plenty of people on the left that want to believe that fiscal fears only started when Obama became President but it’s patently, provably not true.

  9. Submitted by David Greene on 07/28/2011 - 02:19 pm.


    “Obama has added at least a third more to the debt”

    No, not at all. He’s added some, but not nearly 1/3. Remember that Obama put the two unfunded wars on the books. GWB had left them off the books so they would not appear to inflate the deficit.

    The “Obama radically increased the deficit” talk is misleading. He only increased it that much through a technical shift in how the budget gets reported.

    In short, he’s being more honest than GWB.

  10. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 07/28/2011 - 02:26 pm.

    Peder, there are some people that have always been fiscal hawks, but the phenomenon that is the tea party is made up of people who had no qualms about about spending under Bush and who never uttered the word deficit until Obama took office. Clinton left Bush with a surplus and Bush left Obama with a trillion dollar deficit, but the tea party movement started with Obama.
    If you look at the voting records of Republican members of congress going back through the Bush years, you wonder how these guys can say what they are saying with straight faces.

  11. Submitted by Lance Groth on 07/28/2011 - 03:36 pm.

    @David –

    Your point is well taken.

    I was simply looking at a table on showing gross federal debt from 1960 – 2009. For 2008 it was 9.9 trillion, for 2009 12.8 trillion (estimated), and I believe now it’s somewhere around 14 trillion.

    Bookkeeping shenanigans are certainly part of the problem as well. We see it at all levels – from raiding social security to plug some of the deficit gap, to subtracting items that show significant inflation in order to reduce the official inflation rate (usually the things people spend most of their money on, like energy and food), to counting inflation on the revenue side but not the expenditure side in Minnesota’s budget.

    I don’t know how we’re supposed to honestly address our problems when we don’t keep honest books.

  12. Submitted by Ann Spencer on 07/28/2011 - 04:22 pm.

    @ Lance #3: “They also pummel him for enacting health care reform during a time of fiscal crisis, yet for many this is a moral issue.”

    Yes, it is. But health care also one of the biggest, if not THE biggest, cost drivers of government spending at both the state and federal levels, as well as a drag on employer costs and employee wages. Bill Clinton said it in his first State of the Union address: getting control of health care costs is vital to the financial sustainability of the federal government. It was true then, and it’s truer now because those costs have only escalated and will continue to do so as baby boomers move into Medicare.

    The ACA may not be perfect, but it is a first step at gaining control of those costs. As such, it is intimately related to reducing federal spending and creating a sustainable path for programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. It was not a distraction from dealing with fiscal crisis, but a vital part of addressing it on a long-term basis.

  13. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 07/28/2011 - 04:56 pm.

    So true, Ann #12.

    The “hard-nosed” politicians of the right have no answers there. Medical costs are what is ruining the budgets at the local, state and federal level, yet the most the right is willing to talk about is “tort reform” and other very minor cost-drivers.

    If the Republicans were truly interested in solving the budget problems, this would be Job # 1.

    What is even more maddening, out-of-control health care costs make the US a less competitive place in the big, global economic world–never, ever considered in the same manner as tax breaks for the ever-elusive “job-creator”.

  14. Submitted by Peder DeFor on 07/28/2011 - 05:00 pm.

    Dan #10, I think you’re wrong about the typical Tea Partier, but if you want to bring some evidence rather than just your flat opinion, I’ll certainly look at it.
    Re: Republican votes during the Bush years. If you look at any of the current members that are labeled as Tea Party favorites/leaders that were serving back then you’ll find plenty of quotes from them worried about the money that was being spent. They held their noses and voted anyway as part of the compromise that they’re being asked for today. Would we be better off if they hadn’t compromised then? Yeah, I think so and it doesn’t make me wish that they’d fold up now.

  15. Submitted by Robin Holt on 07/28/2011 - 10:22 pm.

    Borrow and spend!!! Now is not the time to be fiscally conservative. Spend a couple days understanding economists who are correctly observing we are at the zero lower bound for fiscal policy. If we want to avoid a lost decade (or more) of economic loss due to Bushonomics, we need to follow Keynes’ guidelines and follow them now. We are two years too late and can not wait any longer.

    Tea Party politics are just plain wrong in our current situation.

  16. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 07/28/2011 - 11:24 pm.

    The notion that the US has plenty of money to keep paying its bills may be true, but from what I last read, we cannot pay those bills once we hit that ceiling. If the government were to choose to pay some (the most critical) bills and not others, who would make those decisions? Eric Cantor? Rand Paul? And how much time would it buy? Not a good idea.

    We may have “plenty of money,” but it can’t be spent without Congressional approval to raise the debt ceiling. Unless, of course, Congress would choose to eliminate the ceiling altogether.

  17. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 07/29/2011 - 10:32 am.

    //Mostly to rescue the nation from the financial collapse of 2008.

    I’m surprised that no on here has commented on the primary reason for our fiscal crises- tax cuts. Everyone keeps going on about spending without considering 30 years of tax cuts. Sure spending has increased, but the problem is increased spending in the face of decreased revenue. The Bush Tax cuts cost more than the wars- $1.8 trillion. And that was on top of 30 years of previous tax cuts. If you look at deficits since 1980 you see a clear pattern of increases when taxes are cut. There was a small reprieve in the 90’s when Clinton raised some tax revenue but then Bushy plunged us back into deficits.

    Now the thing to remember about all of this, is that WE’RE NOT BROKE. Yes we’re in a bad recession but we still have the largest economy in the world, twice as large as the next largest economy. We can afford to pay for our government, and there’s economic reason to refuse to do so.

    The fundamental flaw in the Teapublican rationale is this magical thinking that tax cuts are good for the economy and the nation, and all tax hikes are the spawn of Satan. This is simply childish thinking. They look at a budget number and decide it’s big enough or too big without any information. You can deal with this issue without asking why the budget has increased? Teapublicans just assume it’s wasteful government but no one asks them to prove it. Turns out the government isn’t as wasteful as the private sector for the most part so decades Republican promises to “reform” government and make it more efficient, to give us the same government for less… have never materialized.

    It has been pointed out for instance that health is one of the single greatest drivers of cost increases. Well you not going to fix that by spending more, you only going to fix that getting control of health care costs, and the only way to do that is to implement a national health care plan. This idea that you going to control costs by cutting spending is just a recipe for making health care more expensive for people, it will just increase patients share of the bill.

    Declaring this or that budget is it, and it’s big enough is just stupid. Our Tea Partyier here may be well spoken, but he’s not intelligent or knowledgeable.

  18. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 07/29/2011 - 11:09 am.

    Paul U–
    Good points!

  19. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 07/29/2011 - 01:05 pm.

    Back from Colorado, where dew points are in the 40s and 50s instead of the 70s…

    I’m something of a deficit hawk, and Peder makes some appealing arguments, but in the end, I have to agree with Paul (#17).

    Falling back on the not-entirely-appropriate “family budget” metaphor, when the unexpected big bill (aka: 2008) shows up, it’s no time for Dad to quit his job, while simultaneously failing to mention whoever it is in the family that ran up the credit card and bought the new boat and trailer besides.

    Taxes are at their lowest level since the days of the first President I actually remember – Dwight Eisenhower. Republican and Tea Party whining about tax levels should have no credibility at all. It’s simply not true that we have “crippling” tax burdens, especially on the “job creators.”

    We are in trouble because previous administrations and Congresses have routinely taken the easy / popular way out and adopted additional programs (and, more expensively, additional wars) while simultaneously cutting the revenue stream. At the same time, there has been a stupendous transfer of wealth in the society from the middle class to the upper 2 percent or so, and there are plenty of statistical studies to prove it. There’s no evidence that the über-wealthy do, in fact, “create jobs,” but even if there were, it’s not a credible or moral reason to exempt the wealthy from shouldering their share of the burden to maintain the society that makes their wealth possible.

    In short, most of the right-wing arguments regarding the “tax burden” and supporting further tax exemptions for the wealthy, whether Tea Party or C of C-inspired, are not only pure, unadulterated horse droppings, they verge on the treasonous.

    After not one, but two divorces, I’m very much a believer in the maxim that there’s no free lunch, and implementing some new social program or military obligation without paying for it is a recipe for disaster, which we now see coming over the horizon. For the looming fiscal consequence, both parties can be blamed, but not to equal degrees. Starting with Mr. Reagan’s logically foolish mantra that government – to which we’re all supposed to be slavishly loyal – is essentially the enemy, we’ve had a succession of Republican presidents who have consistently adopted the self-serving policies of corporate America and its overpaid executives. Dubya is merely the most recent example, though an egregious one.

    As Paul has suggested, health care is the elephant in the right-wing room that no one wants to talk about in public. That 45 million Americans don’t have some sort of health care available beyond what they can pay for directly should shame everyone, Republicans included, and Mrs. Bachmann’s lunatic ravings about doing away with “Obamacare” are notably silent about what her constituents ought to do about health care once she’s slain the dragon of national health insurance. Right-wing hysteria about a national program is stupidly ideological, and includes nothing – NOTHING – in the way of serious policy to reduce costs when it’s those costs that are driving us over the fiscal cliff.

  20. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 07/30/2011 - 06:03 pm.

    I would like to amend the end of my comment#17 if I could. I say our Tea Partyer is not intelligent or knowledgeable, that harsher than I’d like to be. He doesn’t appear to be stupid or completely ignorant, I just think his reasoning his seriously flawed and not evidence based.

  21. Submitted by Dale Hoogeveen on 08/09/2011 - 11:30 pm.

    Without a an organized set of fantastically financed PACs there is no Tea Party. The Tea Party is a funnel for levels of special interest payments into the American political process to a degree never even closely approached before. Without the specter of that fantastic amount of money, the rest of the Republican party wouldn’t be falling all over themselves to placate their radical fringe either.

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