The $38 billion in budget cuts Republicans got Democrats to accept over the weekend amount to a non-dent in the $14.3 trillion federal debt and leaves tea party activists feeling let down by Republicans in Congress, despite the movement's apparently crucial role in pressuring GOP leaders to push as hard as they did on the budget.
"We pay anywhere between $3.5 billion to $5 billion per day in interest alone on our debt," Dallas Tea Party leader Lorie Medina told The Washington Times. "With our country in such dire economic peril, I'm not interested in window-dressing budget cuts that will get grass-roots America off lawmakers' backs for another day. Yes, the GOP wouldn't have gotten the $38 billion without the pressure from the tea party. But, quite frankly, it's a pathetic amount."
Whether or not fiscal conservative activists like it, the budget resolution is now a battle for spin win over which side's knees buckled minutes before the threatened government shutdown - and whether it will be construed as a clear win for the tea party mentality shaping national discourse.
"The tea party gives the Republican Party energy [and] Ronald Reagan might be leading it" today, former Reagan Administration Treasury Secretary James A. Baker III told Fareed Zakaria on CNN on Sunday morning.
The movement already knows that and says it expects a lot more from the party it supports.
The partisan spinners' efforts to make Republicans or Democrats the perceived heroes are a vacuous exercise in the minds of analysts looking ahead not to the 2012 elections, but to what happens if the nation's debt is already past the point of no return on the highway to financial disaster.
Republicans got a little more than half of what they originally promised in cuts from President Obama's original budget proposal, but significantly more than what the Democrats were originally offering to give up. Fiscal conservatives say at best that is a restroom stop on the way to achieving responsible governance over what many consider the infantile disorder of profligate wealth redistribution paid for by a U.S. indebting itself to communist China, among others.
"The country is going broke," said Republican pollster and strategist John McLaughlin. "This was only the first battle to let the country realize the truth. There are much tougher and more important battles ahead in the very near future. The real victory was beginning to educate the American public that the country is headed for disaster."
Some conservatives think the GOP might have gotten even more spending concessions but for the mistake of letting the Democrats complain the Republicans were more interested in side issues, such as federal abortion funding, than in major budgetary issues.
"It was a shame that rather than stick to higher cuts, some Republicans were more insistent on their pet 'riders' than they were fiscal issues," said former Maine Tea Party Patriots coordinator Andrew Ian Dodge. "Many Americans will see riders as no better than earmarks."
Ohio Democrat and tea party activist Steve Salvi said it "was likely politically impossible for Congress to pass the serious budget cuts tea party supporters wanted last, but then, would even $60 billion or $100 billion in cuts have made a difference" with the national debt topping $14 trillion?
Mr. Salvi predicted that despite tea party pressure, "Congress won't take serious action until foreign nations' stop purchasing our financial paper. We will learn in the coming months if this weekend's deal is a 'pit stop' for more significant spending cuts to follow or politics as usual, which is too little, too late."
If the Republicans in Congress let down fiscal conservatives represented by the tea party and other groups on the right in 2012 budget negotiations with the White House and congressional Democrats, the effect on the 2012 presidential and congressional elections is anybody's guess.
One outcome for Republicans if they fail to get significant spending reductions is that the tea party and its supporters sit on their hands or, as Mr. Baker hinted, worst of all, would be for the tea party to go third party.
"If they were to split off and become a third party, that would be very bad for the Republican Party, but that's not where they are," Mr. Baker said.
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