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The Tea Party: Too Little Too Late, An Honest Look at 20+ Years of Deficit Spending and Increased Federal Debt

June 5, 2010

A few years back I read a book called, “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” The premise of this book was to show a history of how the Republican Party doesn’t look out for the little guy and yet; Middle American voters can often be relied upon to vote Republican anyway. The author stated that “the little guy” had a long and unfortunate history of voting against his own interests. The author’s conclusion was that “the little guy” was voting for the party that, in theory, most represented his social values (read pro-life) rather than his economic fortune. In other words, many who vote Republican often vote against their own interests simply because GOP candidates tend to claim the mantle of pro-life (even though nothing much is ever done legally to overturn legal abortion).

This brings me to a discussion I had with my father a while back. He asked, “Why is it that you and the TEA (Taxed Enough Already) Party bellyache about the national debt and deficit and then lay the blame for overspending on the Democrats? Although President Obama has increased both in his short time as president, history is not on your side. In modern political history, it is the Democrats that have both decreased the deficit, and decreased the federal debt. Why do you continue to side against your own beliefs?”

I had to admit, for an atheist, commie, baby killing, peacenik, Democrat Obama Zombie; he had a point. If one is to be intellectually honest, it is inconsistent to demand less spending and to be hyper vigilant (the TEA Party) about the national debt and then to look at the Republican’s as the party of responsible spending. It is a fact that since 1980, the only time the national debt went down and there was no deficit (for a short period of time) was during the presidency of one Bill Clinton. Observe:

nationaldebt

And more to the point:

clintondebt

The TEA Party defines itself as a movement against irresponsible spending and increases in taxation. The TEA Party seems to have manifested out anger with President Obama’s stimulus plan, which was passed in order to prop up the economy. However, in order to pass the stimulus bill, huge deficits would have to been enacted and thus down the line, the average tax payer would have been paying more towards interest on debt than on any other part of the budget. This is the mindset behind the TEA Party; sudden awakening to the fact that you can’t keep borrowing and spending ad infinitum without eventually falling into bankruptcy (see Greece). Having said that all that, my biggest problem with the TEA Party is that while I’m glad the nice people involved in this movement have finally decided to pay attention, it’s a little too late for me to be sympathetic to their cause.

Where was the hue and cry about deficits when Dick Cheney famously said, “Reagan proved deficits don’t matter?” Cheney uttered this remark after Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, raised objections to a new round of tax cuts despite the fact that cutting taxes would have raised the deficit.

According to O’Neill in his own book as well as other sources, he said he tried to warn Vice President Cheney in between 2001 and 2002 that growing budget deficits-expected to top $500 billion that fiscal year alone-posed a threat to the economy. Cheney cut him off. “You know, Paul, Reagan proved deficits don’t matter,” he said, according to excerpts. Cheney continued: “We won the midterms (congressional elections). This is our due.” A month later, Cheney told the Treasury secretary he was fired.

Again, where were the protests? The answer is there was none because shortly after Cheney gave voice to the idea that most Americans are lousy at math and don’t vote based on which party is worse on the deficit, many Americans got a tax cut…one we couldn’t and still can’t actually afford.

That brings us to another pillar in the TEA Party platform, the budget. Talk to any Republican voter and their main issue (outside of abortion) is taxes. Regardless of their household income, nobody seems to want to pay taxes or if they deign to pay, then the taxes have to be mighty low. However, here the TEA Party and the Republican voters at large are inconsistent once again. They want low or no taxes but these are mostly the same people that were very much for the Iraq War (which we borrowed to pay for). These are the same people that are perfectly OK with Medicare (which we borrow to pay for). These are the same people that are OK with Social Security (which Reagan and Greenspan stole from).

So what doesn’t the TEA Party like? What would the TEA Party cut? Well anyone that’s ever talked with a Republican for more than five minutes without breaking down into histrionic insults would learn that the first thing Republican voters want cut are social services/welfare. Education is another area people think we spend too much money. Every GOP candidate talks about cutting pork/discretionary spending. The assumption is that if you cut all of the above then we can still have Social Security, a big badass military and Medicare (however Medicaid can be cut, that’s fine).

Now let’s look at reality:

federalbudget

The chart above is the 2009 federal budget. Here’s the breakdown:

# Mandatory spending: $1.89 trillion (+6.2%)

* $944 billion – Social Security
* $408 billion – Medicare
* $224 billion – Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP)
* $360 billion – Unemployment/Welfare/Other mandatory spending
* $260 billion – Interest on National Debt

# Discretionary spending: $1.21 trillion (+4.9%)

* $515.4 billion – United States Department of Defense
* $145.2 billion(2008*) – Global War on Terror
* $70.4 billion – United States Department of Health and Human Services
* $68.2 billion – United States Department of Transportation
* $45.4 billion – United States Department of Education
* $44.8 billion – United States Department of Veterans Affairs
* $38.5 billion – United States Department of Housing and Urban Development
* $38.3 billion – State and Other International Programs
* $37.6 billion – United States Department of Homeland Security
* $25.0 billion – United States Department of Energy
* $20.8 billion – United States Department of Agriculture
* $20.3 billion – United States Department of Justice
* $17.6 billion – National Aeronautics and Space Administration
* $12.5 billion – United States Department of the Treasury
* $10.6 billion – United States Department of the Interior
* $10.5 billion – United States Department of Labor
* $8.4 billion – Social Security Administration
* $7.1 billion – United States Environmental Protection Agency
* $6.9 billion – National Science Foundation
* $6.3 billion – Judicial branch (United States federal courts)
* $4.7 billion – Legislative branch (United States Congress)
* $4.7 billion – United States Army Corps of Engineers
* $0.4 billion – Executive Office of the President
* $0.7 billion – Small Business Administration
* $7.2 billion – Other agencies
* $39.0 billion(2008*) – Other Off-budget Discretionary Spending

Now a free lunch is a free lunch regardless of whether or not it’s the kind you like or the kind you despite and for far too long American’s of all political persuasions have been convinced that they could have a free lunch. The TEA Party can blame Obama all they want for the current financial problems but he’s only doing what the last three Republican President’s did before him, AND NOBODY SEEMED TO CARE!

This is my ultimate problem with the TEA Party. If you didn’t want this country to be up to it’s neck in debt then there should have been these kinds of protests during the Reagan administration. But no, those that make up the TEA Party movement did well during those years and thus no protests. And when it came to President GW Bush, second verse same as the first. One could argue that he was paying for two wars that were needed BUT in order to be intellectually honest then those that were for the war should have insisted on tax increases to pay for them, not the free lunch they were given.

Going forward, any GOP candidate for president or congress needs to address these points in total in order for me to take them seriously. They must be brave enough to say out loud that there needs to be cuts in defense, Medicare/Medicaid and Social Security. There must be tax increases (specifically doing away with the Bush tax cuts). Anything less than a guarantee on all of the above and we might as well throw Obama another four years; at least he’s being true to his party’s platform.

To learn more about the budget and maybe test your own skills at being a budget hawk, click here to play Budget Hero.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Tamara Boyll-Olah permalink
    June 5, 2010 6:56 pm

    I couldn’t agree more with this article. Kudos for hitting a the heart of a major problem.

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