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Is the Tea Party's Dream Of Smaller Government An Illusion?
"There is no education in the second kick of a mule," said Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
With some such thought in mind, Speaker John Boehner strode to the floor of the House to offer a "clean" debt ceiling bill and relied on Nancy Pelosi's Democrats to pass it. They did.
"Surrender" and "betrayal," are among the epithets coming the Speaker's way.
Yet Boehner was holding a losing hand. Had he added a GOP wish-list bill to the debt ceiling, Harry Reid's Senate would have rejected it. President Obama would have denounced it as putting at risk the full faith and credit of the United States.
A clamor to pass a clean debt ceiling bill or risk a new recession would have arisen. And the House Republicans would have caved, as they finally had to cave on the budget bill last fall.
Yet, the Tea Party has a right to feel cheated.
When does the Republican Party, put in power by the Tea Party, plan to honor its commitment to halt the growth of the Federal monolith and bring the budget back into balance? Is there is any hope things will be different, should the Tea Party help produce a GOP Senate in 2014?
If the Tea Party is in some despair, is it not understandable?
For while there are countless proposals and plans to cut back on federal spending, from Simpson-Bowles on, it is impossible today to see in either party the political will to do the surgery.
Consider what would be needed to roll back Big Government.
First, the major entitlement programs Medicare and Social Security would have to be peeled back. But any effort to raise the age of eligibility, or reduce the benefits, or trim cost-of-living adjustments, would meet with ferocious resistance, led by the AARP.
Indeed, many Tea Party members are themselves among those enjoying, or about to enjoy, the benefits of these programs. Would they back cuts in either one? Democrats say these programs must be expanded, and they will resist any cuts as fiercely as the Republicans would resist any increase in payroll or income taxes.
Social Security and Medicare recipients number in the scores of millions. Four million Baby Boomers reach eligibility every year now. That is more than 10,000 every day. Is any party, even a GOP that controls the White House and Congress, going to take on this army?
Consider that other entitlement, Medicaid.
Thanks to Obamacare, the number of beneficiaries of Medicaid is soaring. And even should the GOP capture the Senate in 2016, a Democratic minority would filibuster to death any bill to cut Medicaid.
As for interest on the debt, another major element in the budget, it has only one way to go, up. For the Fed freeze that has held interest rates near zero for five years must someday end.
Defense is the other big item in the budget. But while the wind-down of our trillion-dollar wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has made cuts possible here, most of these have already been made.
And this week the House voted 326-90 to repeal the small cut in the COLA in pensions for working-age military retirees under 62, which was part of the bipartisan budget deal last fall. Members of Congress panic at any suggestion they are shortchanging the troops.
Yet, since Y2K, the cost of military personnel has doubled, while the number of those on active duty has fallen by 10 percent.
Invariably, bipartisan budget deals between Capitol Hill liberals and conservatives move the ball further toward the liberals' goal line.
The farm bill just signed by President Obama contains a tiny cut in a food stamp budget that has exploded during his days in office. But nice new subsidies are in there for peanut and corn growers and producers of maple syrup. Embarrassed at what the House went along with, not one Republican Congressman showed up at the signing ceremony.
Can it be that the Tea Party's dream of a balanced budget, and of a government that ceases to eat up ever more of the GDP, is simply an act of self-delusion?
Have the beneficiaries of Big Government become so powerful that any champion of the national interest who challenges them in fixed battle invites almost certain defeat?
For today, America appears to be maintaining speed, or even accelerating, toward that cliff that they all warn us is out there.