The Tea Party’s Moment of Truth

The Tea Party looks like it’s won a big victory—the “grand bargain” that President Obama and Speaker of the House John Boehner were negotiating has collapsed, and with it any hope by Democrats that a big deficit-reduction package would include anything like tax increases.

Tea Party Rally in Washington. Photo Credit: Rena Schild / Shutterstock.com.

Now, as the clock ticks towards August 2nd, when Administration officials and many private forecasters warn that the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling must be raised, the Tea Party has a big decision to make: take “yes” for an answer or snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Republicans took over the House of Representatives last November with the help of more than 80 Tea Party freshmen. Their focus has been on cutting government spending, and by standing firm they’ve held the whip hand in this crisis. Both the president and Speaker Boehner have caved to their pressure, and now only spending cuts are on the table.

The Tea Party has shown the power of a determined minority—they represent maybe 25% of the American public, according to polls—and they’ve performed a public service by putting the deficit front and center for the first time since H. Ross Perot in the early 1990s.

But now with default looming they’re in danger of overplaying their hand. Having passed the “cut, cap, and balance” bill last week with almost no Democratic support and no chance of getting through the Senate, they actually think they’ve done their job.

“Then what else is there?” freshman Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY) told the Washington Post. “Honestly, I don’t think there’s any more the House can do.”

Really? Comments like this are either naïve or delusional—or maybe Grimm and his colleagues really believe a default by the US government is just a small battle in a much bigger Holy War.

Lots of people are responsible for the long-term debt problem, Democrats and Republicans alike, and I’ll have more to say about the president’s role later.

But the Tea Party took the routine legislative procedure of raising the debt ceiling and manufactured a crisis. Instead of engaging in the long, hard work of educating the American public on the dangers of deficit spending, which would likely take years but would actually build a consensus for real change, they are holding the country’s credit rating hostage.

Now it’s time to face reality. Pick a plan, any plan, and vote for it. Extend the debt ceiling and keep hammering away at the deficit and spending. But don’t let the country default. Or you and everyone else will face the consequences.

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