Tea Party: Right-wing 'nutters' or mature adults?

Speaker John Boehner and Republican colleagues, 25 July Speaker John Boehner has the Tea Party driving his party's position on the debt issue

My last blog before I went on holiday was about the debt crisis. It's still going on. President Obama is to address the nation this evening.

One of the most interesting interventions while I was away was from the UK's Liberal Democrat cabinet minister Vince Cable. He said the world's economy was being put in peril by "a few right-wing nutters" in the American Congress.

If they are nutters, they are remarkably successful ones.

The truth is that Tea Party-backed Republicans are winning this fight over raising the debt ceiling.

It is far from over. But they've already won the argument that America's debt has to be dealt with. They've wrung really deep cuts from Mr Obama.

They've probably stopped Democrats from putting up taxes as part of any final package. It is a pretty straight ideological fight between left and right. So why the charge of nuttiness ?

It's that Tea Party, again.

'Feet to the fire'

The reason House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner and the Republican leadership is being so hard-line is because the Tea Party put the iron in their soul.

Those Republicans who took control of the House last year believe they were elected on a wave of popular revulsion at the size of the national debt and government spending.

Start Quote

The only adults in the room are the Tea Party freshmen that are forcing an adult conversation about debt”

End Quote Mat Kibbe Freedomworks

They may be reading too much into their mandate, but they think that going back, that accepting a hike in debt with nothing in return, would be betraying their voters.

A radio host on Wisconsin's WTMJ, a conservative talk radio station, James T Harris, told me the Republican leaders have to do a tough deal. What would happen if they agreed to something his callers disliked?

"Their heads would explode. Right now my people do not trust anybody who wants to spend more of our money. Our Tea Party members are holding their feet to the fire, if they come out with a deal where we feel double-crossed they'll be gone in 2012."

But some of the Tea Party's opponents, even those outside the British cabinet, do think their behaviour is extreme. The White House says they want to balance the budget "on the backs of seniors and the middle classes".

The current Republican plan has more than a little party politics in it. The debt ceiling would be dealt with in stages: a bit now, a bit next year.

This would stop Obama swallowing the problem whole and getting it out of the way before the election. The Republicans would make sure it repeated on him throughout 2012.

But the charge that they are a few chocolate bars short of a fruit cake is because some of them see dealing with the debt as more pressing than borrowing enough money to continue governing.

That's even though many think that if the US defaulted on its debt for the first time in its history, the markets would melt down and the world would be tipped into another recession..

I put this to Mat Kibbe from Freedomworks, the Washington-based group that backs the Tea Party. He said: "The only adults in the room are the Tea Party freshmen that are forcing an adult conversation about debt, and the activists who are insisting the government stops spending money it doesn't have.

"If we didn't have that, if we didn't force Washington, DC to have that conversation, that would be a bigger crisis, a crisis we couldn't fix. They are essentially watching the theatre burn and they are yelling at us for having the audacity to say its on fire."

More when the President has spoken.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    All fine and Dandy but it was Bush Dubyah who set the theater on fire. Now BO has to deal with the downside economy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    The Tea Party faction does not represent the 69.5milllion who voted for Obama.The total 2010 federal vote was only 13million more. Tea party support is polled at 13%, but is morphing the Republican Party into a brand that is toxic to the vast majority of voters. This moment will wake up the public to the destruction of ordinary lives in the interest of the rich, the super rich and ultra rich.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    Republican agendas:
    1) No corporate tax.
    2) No tax on "job creators" (good adjective for corporate greed).
    3) Minimize wage (match China)
    4) No environment protection (like China)
    5) No corporate governance (allow big bosses to do whatever they like)
    6) Slash # of teachers, firefighters, police who earn peanuts (to save money)
    7) No gun control
    Recognize America with these dreams fulfilled!

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    second issue? where was the tea party before Obama? The deficit miraculously appeared in Jan '09... thats it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    I suspect the Tea Party support is going to dry up quite a bit when they see their parents medical and pension cheques drying up, subsidies to their farms disappearing, and so on. Many (not all, I admit) of them see all federal spending as fancy art projects and congressional salaries.

    If they do default then congressional salaries, staff and air con should be first on the block.


Comments 5 of 136



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