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.”
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.
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.”
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.