Trouble In Tea Party Paradise
Will the Tea Party Movement grow up?
With the new Congress set to convene in only a few days, there are already signs of tension between the Tea Party movement and the people they put in power:
As Tea Party politicians prepare to take their seats when the 112th Congress convenes this week, they are already taking issue with Republicans for failing to hold the line against the flurry of legislation enacted in the waning weeks of Democratic control of the House of Representatives and for not giving some candidates backed by Tea Party groups powerful leadership positions.
Just a month ago, Tea Party leaders were celebrating their movement’s victories in the midterm elections. But as Congress wrapped up an unusually productive lame-duck session last month, those same Tea Party leaders were lamenting that Washington behaved as if it barely noticed that American voters had repudiated the political establishment.
In their final days controlling the House, Democrats succeeded in passing legislation that Tea Party leaders opposed, including a bill to cover the cost of medical care for rescue workers at the site of the World Trade Center attacks, an arms-control treaty with Russia, a food safety bill and a repeal of the ban on gay men and lesbians serving openly in the military.
“Do I think that they’ve recognized what happened on Election Day? I would say decisively no,” said Mark Meckler, a co-founder of Tea Party Patriots, which sent its members an alert last month urging them to call their representatives to urge them to “stop now and go home!!”
“We sent them a message that we expect them to go home and come back newly constituted and do something different,” Mr. Meckler said. “For them to legislate when they’ve collectively lost their mandate just shows the arrogance of the ruling elite. I can’t imagine being repudiated in the way they were and then coming back and saying ‘Now that we’ve been repudiated, let’s go pass some legislation.’ ”
“I’m surprised by how blatant it was,” he added.
But Tea Party activists did not reserve their criticism for Democrats. “The Republicans, frankly, have been a disaster,” Mr. Meckler said. “They stood strong on some things, but the only reason they stood strong is because we stood behind them with a big stick.”
Over the next several months, we’re going to see this tension between the grassroots and the Washington leadership play itself out. In some ways, the Tea Party is in the right to keep the pressure on Republicans like spending and the national debt. In other ways, however, the people in the grassroots are failing to recognize that they are walking into the 112th Congress with unrealistic expectations and a complete misunderstanding of how things work in Washington. With a Democratic Senate and President, the ability of Republicans in the House simply aren’t going to be able to get their agenda enacted into law in a “pure” form. Either they’ll have to compromise, or they won’t get anything done at all.
This is what the debate of the extension of the tax cuts was all about. It wasn’t perfect for either side, but it was the best bill that could have been enacted into law at the time, and probably better than anything that could have been enacted this year, but even that simple fact seems to be evading the Tea Party:
Tea Party leaders scoffed at the Republicans’ greatest victory from the lame-duck session — the extension of the Bush tax cuts as part of a compromise with the White House. Instead, Tea Party leaders complained that Republicans had abandoned a push for a full repeal of the estate tax
As I noted last month, this argument about the estate tax was just sheer nonsense:
The first problem that many on the right seem to have with the deal is the fact that it would reimpose the estate tax, which currently doesn’t exist thanks to an odd quirk in the law, from a rate of 0% to a rate of 35%. What this argument ignores is the fact that, if nothing is done before December 31st, then the estate tax will be coming back anyway, and it will be far more widely applicable than it would be under the deal worked out between Senate Republicans and the President. Under current law, the estate tax would return in 2011 with a rate of 55% on estates worth $1,000,000 or more. Under the terms of the deal, the estate tax would return at a rate of 35% on estates worth $5,000,000 or more. How anyone other than the most partisan ideologue cannot see this as a victory is beyond me.
If the Tea Party movement is going to have any impact on American politics in the years to come, it’s going to have to grow up and learn that sometimes you have to take a 50% victory and all it a day.