Minnesota’s political left, right and center agree on debt ceiling deal — but not Tea Party activist

Walter Hudson
MinnPost/Terry Gydesen
Walter Hudson

The political left, right and center in Minnesota all agree: The debt ceiling agreement is a deal that had to be done.

But there is an outlier group these days in American/Minnesota politics, the Tea Party Patriots. The immediate response from an activist in that Minnesota organization says the budget deal that has been so painful to watch take shape is a bad deal.
Start with the more traditional right, left and center political thinkers.

Political spectrum says deal essential
Agreeing that the budget deal being reached  this weekend in Washington is  essential are: Mitch Pearlstein, who heads the conservative Center for the American Experiment; Dane Smith, president of the progressive Growth & Justice think tank; and Tim Penny, a former congressman, Independence Party gubernatorial candidate and co-chair of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

“I’ll take any deal,” said Pearlstein. “The dangers of default outweigh any failings in an agreement.”

Smith’s view: “You can’t gamble with things like this.”

“Doing nothing was not an option,” adds Penny. Now, go to Walter Hudson, chairman of the North Star Tea Party Patriots, which probably is the largest Tea Party organization in the state.

“I am pre-supposing that people in our organization will not be happy,” Hudson said. “But I do have to say there’s a difference between not happy and surprised.”

Mitch Pearlstein
Scott Theisen, courtesy of Greater Twin Cities United Way
Mitch Pearlstein

He’s not surprised that a deal is on the verge of being cut. It’s been forever thus in D.C., says Hudson, who makes it clear he does not speak for the Tea Party. (Tea Party leaders are always careful to say they do not speak for the body.)

Hudson is basing his assumption that Tea Partiers will not be happy based on the unhappiness he heard last week when two Minnesota GOP congressmen, John Kline and Erik Paulsen, supported a budget deal that was being floated by House Speaker John Boehner.

“The rank and file are not patient people,” said Hudson. “The debt ceiling being raised is only a symptom of the problem. The issue is spending. This looks like $2.4 trillion more on the credit card to most of us.”

Both Penny and Pearlstein raise their eyebrows at the rigidity of the Tea Party and pat them on the back.

Tea Party draws some praise
“On balance,” said Pearlstein, “they’ve provided a real useful service. We’re in a new era, and we just can’t keep continuing to spend. But you can’t do everything at once.”

Penny seems to essentially agree with Pearlstein. The Tea Party has been right to focus on spending, but the willingness to push the country into default — the willingness to gamble with the stock market — was far too risky.

Smith, on the other hand, is dismayed by how much  the Tea Party has changed the Republican Party.

“How do you negotiate with people who have contempt for government?” Smith wondered.

Tim Penny
Tim Penny

He compares President Obama’s action to Gov. Mark Dayton’s decision to make the best deal he could with Republican legislative leaders in Minnesota and then move forward.

 “I respect the judgment of those two executives [Obama and Dayton],” Smith said. “There are those who accuse them of blinking, caving in, kicking the can down the road. But it was clear they were negotiating with people who will not negotiate.”

The solution, Smith said, is to get a deal, don’t step into the default unknown “and wait for the elections [of 2012]. … The president’s decision was tactical. Take the deal and live to fight another day. It worked for George Washington and Sam Houston.”

Few can have much confidence in the ability of Washington to lead after watching the political slapstick of the last several weeks. The inability of congressional leaders to see aside party gamesmanship for the greater good was surprising, even to an old pro such as Penny.

Can anybody put the country first?

“I always hesitate before I say anything too harsh,” said Penny. “I think electoral consideration is so imbedded that it’s hard to say that it hasn’t always been an overriding consideration. But this was, ummm, more obvious than usual. I do think they [members of Congress] want to do the right thing, but they are conscious of where they get their money or whether they’ll be challenged in a primary. A lot of rationalization goes on in the minds of individual members. They convince themselves they aren’t being influenced by outside factors. … They’re so good at spin, they sometimes spin themselves. They convince themselves they are doing what’s right for the country.”

Dane Smith
Dane Smith

Deal echoes bipartisan committee approach
Penny, it should be noted, believes this deal does start the country down the right path. It’s not so dissimilar to solutions that the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget has been pushing for more than two decades, Penny said. The committee is made up of a number of former members of Congress and federal budget experts.

“It’s a group that has the naïve notion that experts and people with math skills matter,” he said, laughing.

Both parties have to give up on some basic beliefs, Penny said. Democrats have to accept the notion that the country’s spending habits have become unsustainable. Republicans have to give up the idea that no new tax revenues are needed to solve the nation’s fiscal problems.

Without having studied the details, Penny believes this deal nudges the discussion in that direction.

But future agreements may be no easier to reach than the messy process we have been watching.

“It’s tough right now,” said Pearlstein. “Everybody knows how the destructive blocks seem to be greater than the building blocks. Now, you only pay attention to the media you agree with. There is the decline of the parties. The list goes on and on. … It’s easy to say leaders should be more oblivious to their bases and just do what’s right. But it’s far more difficult to challenge folks in your own base than it is to challenge the people in the other side’s base.”

Maybe, hints Pearlstein, that is the ray of sunshine in this dismal debate.

“Boehner ended up having to challenge his right flank, Reid has had to challenge the left.”

Smith sees light only when he looks ahead to the next elections.’

What the Congress and the president are attempting to achieve now is, at best “a temporary fix like we have in Minnesota,” he said.

There can be no long-term fix, Smith believes, without new tax revenues.

“I have confidence [in voters],” Smith said. “I believe they will figure it out. We cannot retain our quality of life without paying for it.”

Penny, though, only partially agrees with Smith.

Typically, he said, if Washington gets new tax money, the nation gets new programs. The nation needs new revenue, Penny said, but that revenue must be used to bring balance to the budget.

Relief, if not happiness
For now, though, left, right and center are relieved, if not happy, that Washington finally appears to have a deal.

Meantime, the Tea Party’s Hudson says this is an aspirin fix to a much bigger problem.

“Your 401(k) may feel a little better today,” he said. “but what of two years from now?”

Hudson also vowed that this ugly political battle will only make the Tea Party stronger.

“We’re in transition,” Hudson said. “I’ve heard the phrase used, ‘rally and protest fatigue,’ and we may be there, but we’re going to transition to a more activist role. We’re starting to prep people for participating in caucuses. We’re going to do that in a nonpartisan fashion. We may become quieter, but I believe we’ll be more effective.”

Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.

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Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 08/01/2011 - 04:59 pm.

    Until the Tea Party come up with a credible federal budget or a budget outline based on “no new taxes” and “no deficit ceiling increase”, they can be seen as nothing more than a bunch of ignorant “know-nothings”.

    Seems that there are a lot of Medicare recipients in Tea Party gatherings with signs telling the government to “keep their hands off of my Medicare”.

    So, lay it on the line–put the details of your “no new taxes” and “no debt ceiling rise” plan in writing, with detailed spending cuts. If it’s your principles, shouldn’t you have clearly thought out consequences? If you think there is enough “foreign aid” or studies of frogs in Arkansas to make up the difference, you are in for a surprise.

    Like I said, until then, they are just noise-makers, not a serious party. Why do people take them seriously if they will not commit to serious planning?

  2. Submitted by Annie Grandy on 08/01/2011 - 05:41 pm.

    Interesting, the head of the Tea Party Caucus in the House, Michelle Bachmann, has taken Medicare and Medicaid money through her business, farm subsidies through her farm, welfare support of some kind to support the 23 foster children she claims, State and Federal House health plans and a huge loan from Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac to buy her mansion. She has been drinking from the government well for a looooooonnnng time. Where do Tea Party members think that money comes from? It comes from the taxes patriotic and honest citizens pay. ‘No new taxes’ won’t cut it until the top 2% are paying their fair share and people like Bachmann stop milking the system. The Tea Party needs to read some economic history. Abuse, fraud and waste need to be addressed but higher taxes, in the top tax tiers, have proven, in past experience, to be what ‘raises all boats.’

  3. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 08/01/2011 - 11:17 pm.

    Our budget is not unsustainable. We have the largest economy in the world, twice large as the next largest economy. We can pay for our government. The thing about budgets is you have make the payments, and that requires revenue. Obviously you can’t increase budgets without increasing revenue to pay for it. Penny’s statement that tax increases get dumped into new programs is simply false. The majority of tax increases are incurred in order to pay for increased costs, and 95% of those costs come from existing programs, not new ones. Penny’s a good example of why the Democrat’s are such a disaster.

  4. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 08/01/2011 - 11:28 pm.

    You know I just gotta say, it gets real tiring when people don’t acknowledge that this debt crises and budget crises are entirely artificial crises. If you have sufficient revenue you can pay your bills, if you cut your revenue and refuse to raise it in the face of increasing costs you create a crises. When will Democrats realize the ending these Republican created crises is the most potent political agenda imaginable? People are tired of constantly being in crises, these are all deliberately created, artificial crises that were predictable, and were predicted.

  5. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 08/02/2011 - 07:16 am.

    By the way, there’s no representative from the “left” in this article, and no, the left does NOT agree on the debt ceiling deal.

  6. Submitted by Jackson Cage on 08/02/2011 - 08:21 am.

    Just another unfortunate article that refuses to ask Hudson and the Tea Party what “their” plan is!

    When will somebody in the media have the courage to force the Tea party behind their brainless talking points and lay out their vision for this country?

  7. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 08/02/2011 - 08:36 am.

    It’s instructive that the people who are saying that $14 trillion in debt is enough and we really should control our spending are the ones called “terrorists” and “know-nothings,” while the people who are oblivious to the debt and deficit and want to continue spending money we don’t have are considered reasonable and “moderate.”

    Oh, and to those who think Bachamnn shouldn’t be calling for an end to subsidies when her in-laws’ farm gets $11-12,000 a year in farm subsidies, are missing the point.

    I’d rather a person who’s getting government assistance now be calling for its end than to be calling for its increase. The former is principled and willing to sacrifice, the latter is corrupt. So which are you?

  8. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 08/02/2011 - 08:41 am.

    “So, lay it on the line–put the details of your “no new taxes” and “no debt ceiling rise” plan in writing, with detailed spending cuts.”

    It’s called the “One Percent Spending Reduction Act”

    It cuts spending across the board by 1% to cut the debt by $7.5 trillion over 10 years and brings spending to 18% of GDP. Here’s a chart that compares it to the other plans:


  9. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 08/02/2011 - 11:42 am.

    //It’s instructive that the people who are saying that $14 trillion in debt is enough and we really should control our spending are the ones called “terrorists” and “know-nothings,”

    Dennis, that debt was produced by 30 years of tax cuts. The problem with the No-Nothings of this century isn’t that think the debt is too high, the problem is that they created it and now they don’t want to pay it off, they just want to create one budget and economic crises after another. For some reason they think this perpetual crises is good for the economy.

  10. Submitted by Carol Flynn on 08/03/2011 - 07:02 pm.

    What ever happened to jobs, jobs, jobs? We know the Bush tax cuts did not produce jobs. We know that we need to replace our aging infrastucture. We need to put people to work. How will cuts do that?
    P.S.#3: Penny is not a DFLer.

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