As the Tea Party continues to set its sights on astronomical and unsustainable government growth, Republicans have been eager to sing the movement’s tune. Promising to slash spending and balance budgets, the GOP’s newfound right-wing fiscal rhetoric has been characterized by mainstream pundits as a once “respectable” Republican Party kowtowing to conservative “extremists” for whom the debt crisis continues to represent the one and only crisis.
But mainstream defenders of America’s economic status quo (aka broke) can rest easy. Washington’s political establishment has nothing to fear from the Republican Party. Though good at talking the conservative talk, when it comes down to actually walking the walk—the GOP remains handicapped as ever.
Just ask the man The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart recently described as the “walkiest” of Tea Party Republicans, Senator Rand Paul. Paul rejected the budget proposals of both parties this week, pointing out that the GOP countering a Democratic plan which features a $1.6 trillion deficit with a Republican plan which features a $1.5. trillion deficit, is no counter at all. Said Paul on the Senate floor: “The president’s plan will add $13 trillion to the debt, and the Republicans say ‘oh, well ours is a lot better.’ Theirs will add $12 trillion to the debt. I think it’s out of control, and neither plan will do anything to significantly alter things… they also pale in comparison to the problem.”
Pale indeed. While Democrats, predictably and laughably, could only come up with $4 billion in budget cuts, Republicans—whose “Pledge to America” during the midterm election promised to slash spending by $100 billion—could only come up with $57 billion in cuts. To put this in perspective, recently deposed Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak received over $60 billion from the United States during his reign. To further put this in perspective, when Sen. Paul proposed we cut foreign aid last month, critics—including most Republicans—dismissed his proposal immediately and pointed out that what America spends on foreign aid is too small to substantively address our debt. Now many of these same Republicans expect grassroots conservatives to be satisfied with a paltry $57 billion in cuts.
In keeping his promises to the Tea Party, Paul isn’t completely alone but he virtually is. Joined by Mike Lee of Utah and Jim DeMint of South Carolina, Paul was one of only three Republican senators to reject the GOP’s budget plan as being so weak as to virtually mean nothing. Not surprisingly, Paul, Lee and DeMint make up the Tea Party Caucus in the Senate, a group Senator Marco Rubio of Florida—who was voted into office riding the Tea Party wave in the midterm election—says he will not join, fearing that the movement could be co-opted by the Washington establishment. But Rubio voted for the Republicans weak budget plan this week. The Tea Party Caucus did not.
But in Rubio’s defense, this is what Republicans typically do. For decades Republican politicians have used conservative rhetoric to win elections yet come to Washington, DC to spend as much as the Democrats. Critics on both the Left and Right who say the Tea Party represents a radical departure from plain, old vanilla “conservatism” are correct in the sense that the Republicans who’ve typically exploited that term haven’t accomplished anything conservative for decades. For the Tea Party to mean business it necessarily must deviate dramatically from the Republican status quo, and given the weight of our debt and the radical growth of government, any Tea Party-worthy proposals must necessarily be comparably radical in the opposite direction. How radical? Paul has proposed $500 billion in cuts, which as he explained on the Senate floor this week, still isn’t drastic enough:
“I recently proposed $500 billion in cuts and when I went home and spoke to the people of my state, spoke to those from the Tea Party, they said, $500 billion is not enough and they’re right… $500 billion is a third of one year’s problem. Up here that’s way too bold, but it’s not even enough… So I implore the American public and those here to look at this problem and say to Congress, we’re not doing enough; you must cut more.”
Needless to say and despite their rhetoric, the vast majority of Republicans are wholly unwilling to do anything to substantively address our big government woes, including some who’ve carried the Tea Party banner. The chasm between voters’ desires and the establishment’s will remains wide as ever, reflecting the same disconnect that has long frustrated Americans from across the ideological spectrum with Washington politics.
Any real conservative movement would be up in arms that more Republicans didn’t join Paul, Lee and DeMint in rejecting the GOP’s joke of a budget. But American “conservatism” has confused partisanship for principle for so long that talk radio finds more value in complaining about the First Lady’s travel schedule or worrying about the Muslim Brotherhood than discussing the fiscal terrorists in this country and in both parties who continue to hold America’s children and grandchildren hostage.
The Senate Republicans who voted for this week’s GOP budget proposal proved once again that they are not the revolutionaries they pretend to be. They are liars. And the Tea Party must not forget it.