The “tea party” may be largely a mirage — these days the teabaggers seem to have more “leaders” and “organizers” and “spokespeople” than actual members — but it’s a mirage with clout. And the mirage has decided the debt ceiling must not be raised.
I’ve wandered into some rightie blogs discussing the debt ceiling, and my impression is that 99.9 percent of them have absolutely no idea what the debt ceiling is. They seem to think that not raising the debt ceiling means that the debt can’t go any higher. And, of course, no one in movement conservatism has the guts or inclination to explain to them that isn’t what it means.
So the “serious” conservatives are taking the stand that of course we must stand firm on the debt ceiling, even though we actually have to raise it.
Seriously. I found this John Boehner quotation in an article headlined “Why Republicans Must Not Cave on the Debt Ceiling”
â€œItâ€™s true that allowing America to default would be irresponsible. But it would be more irresponsible to raise the debt ceiling without simultaneously taking dramatic steps to reduce spending and reform the budget process. To increase the debt limit without simultaneously addressing the drivers of our debt — in defiance of the will of our people — would be monumentally arrogant and massively irresponsible. It would send a signal to investors and entrepreneurs everywhere that America still is not serious about dealing with our spending addiction. It would erode confidence in our economy and reduce certainty for small businesses. And this would destroy even more American jobs.â€
In other words, they’re saying that “not caving” is demanding a package of suicidal cuts from the budget as a condition for voting to raise the debt ceiling. But they’re expecting an awful lot of teabaggers if they think the baggers can be that nuanced.
With TV ads, petitions and grassroots lobbying, tea party organizers are gearing up to send an absolutist message to Capitol Hill: Don’t raise the debt ceiling under any circumstances.
Baggers don’t do nuance.
Tea party activists have already clashed publicly with some of the 87 GOP freshmen they helped elect last year, and they’re warning that Republicans who don’t keep their fiscal promises will pay a political price.
“We will remove as many incumbents as we can that do not do the job they were hired to do,” Darla Dawald, national director of the tea party group Patriot Action Network, said in an e-mail. “We are watching every member of Congress, their votes, position and language.”
The problem is that polls say baggers don’t want Medicare and Social Security cut, just all that other stuff.
Ezra Klein says that the amount of cuts Boehner is talking about wouldn’t be that big a deal if they are over a ten-year period. My impression is that the baggers aren’t going to settle for that, although one guy — identified as a “tea party leader” — says baggers will accept raising the debt ceiling if gays in the military can be stuffed back into the closet. Whether this guy is a “leader” of any part of the tea party other than himself, however, I cannot say.
Republicans also seem adrift on the subject of cutting Medicare. A couple of days ago we were hearing that Republicans, having been thoroughly spanked by their constituents over Easter recess, were running away from the scheme for privatizing Medicare. Apparently not all of them got the memo; however. And in his recent speech, Boehner said Medicare is still on the table —
And with the exception of tax hikes — which will destroy jobs — everything is on the table. That includes honest conversations about how best to preserve Medicare, because we all know, with millions of Baby Boomers beginning to retire, the status quo is unsustainable.
“How best to preserve Medicare” is a nice weasel phrase that can mean whatever the hearer wants it to mean.
So here’s where the Republicans are at the moment — they will not raise the debt ceiling until they raise it; and they have to simultaneously insist that Medicare must and must not be cut and/or retooled.
One idea being floated by some Democrats as well as some Republicans is to enact a series of baby-step debt ceiling increases concurrent with somewhat larger budget cuts, so that the Republicans can go back to their teabag constituents and somehow argue that they raised the debt ceiling but cut the deficit. Given that the baggers have no idea what the debt ceiling is, except that they don’t want it raised, I don’t see that as a viable option.
The more reasonable thing for the Republicans to do is to go ahead and raise the bleeping debt ceiling, before serious 2012 campaigning starts, while simultaneously pointing toward Mexico and screeching ANCHOR BABIES! A diversionary tactic, in other words. Could work.