Don’t believe the hype: Ted Cruz and Tea Partiers weren’t big losers.
Most other people were. The recent partial shut-down and near default of the US government led by rogue deficit hawks cost American taxpayers at least $24 billion (according to Standard & Poor’s), paid furloughed workers not to work, cut economic growth and, as part of the solution, provided a nearly $3 billion Kentucky dam earmark sweetener for Mitch McConnell. So much for fiscal prudence.
Headlines proclaim an overwhelming Democratic victory. Polls indicate much greater public disfavor of Republicans. Speculation is afoot that Democrats today appear better positioned to hold the Senate and could even take back the House in 2014. Some think this paves the way for Hillary to win easily in 2016, dwarfing Reagan’s 1984 landslide. National Review, Wall Street Journal and other conservative organs bemoan the intra party feuding and near debacle. Remember when 2008 betokened the end of the GOP? The American people are a fickle lot, and even 2014 is a long way off in political terms.
Institutional memory in our capital is the size of a gnat. And sustained public outrage may be smaller still. Soon images of NIH scientists blocked from their research labs and furloughed Centers for Disease Control workers will be but distant memories.
Have any lessons been learned? Will comity reign and rational arguments prevail as budget negotiators meet to hammer out a grand bargain? Not likely.
The current budget debate starts with the indiscriminate, draconian sequester cuts, which continue to put at risk national security, public health and safety. The anti-tax absolutists are gathering on one side, and entitlement protection absolutists on the other. The parties are far apart on the big issues. Focus seems to be on discretionary spending and nibbling at entitlement and tax reform.
In making most of the Bush tax cuts permanent earlier this year , Obama seems to have bought into the no new taxes rhetoric. I would be surprised if there were movement on little more than closing some tax loopholes and mitigating worse sequestration cuts.
As Larry Summers pointed out in the Washington Post this week, the focus should be more on developing growth strategies than chasing after budget deals. Business Week notes that, since Republican successes in the 2010 congressional elections, federal discretionary spending has been dropping more dramatically “than in any three year period since the demobilization following World War II.” There are also fewer federal employees. According to CBO data, just 0.2 percent in annual growth would entirely eliminate the projected long term budget gap.
Once again we’re kicking the can down the road (I’ll try to make this the last time I use this awful cliché), and the ones most likely to be hurt long-term are the young and apathetic, the least engaged politically.
Mid-term elections are usually decided by the popularity of the President and the state of the economy. The President’s favorables are down, and the bold post-election victory agenda laid out in the State of the Union is largely forgotten. Thanks to the shutdown, there will be a lasting drag on economic growth. As for the Tea Party zealots, most come from overwhelmingly safe districts, and most of their constituents are pleased as punch with them. They’re not going away.
Ted Cruz may be an anathema to many of his colleagues, but he got much of what he wanted. He has raised his public profile, doubled the funds his PAC raised this quarter, and expanded his fundraising list by “over two million people.” Can you say presidential candidate Ted Cruz?
Respective budget chairs Patty Murray and Paul Ryan said they had a cordial first meeting. After weeks of rancor, I guess this should be a banner headline. But I fear more coal in our stockings by Christmas and more brinksmanship by early next year.
There was an inauspicious sign at Friday’s Capitol Hill press conference. Behind Murray and Ryan hung a portrait of legendary South Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun whose concept of “concurrent majority,” in which a minority exercises veto power over the majority, has made him a Tea Party patron saint. Battered but unbowed, the Tea Baggers and their allies have driven the debate yet cry that they’re underdogs. What chutzpah!
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