There’s a lot of murmuring in the right-wing grassroots that the reform-minded Congressional freshmen elected by the Tea Party movement are not turning out to be nearly as principled or effective as many had hoped they would be. There’s a serious concern that they are selling out to establishment interests or were never really sincere in their beliefs and were just pandering to the activists in order to get elected.
The problem here is exemplified by the newly formed Tea Party Caucus in the House. A look at their membership list reveals many long-time incumbents, some of them with terrible voting records on fiscal issues and on reducing the size and intrusiveness of government. I need only point to two of the worst from my own state of Texas, Lamar Smith and Joe Barton, two of the worst pro-establishment, big-spenders in the House and ones who have been there a long time. In fact, both of them are likely to face Tea Party primary challengers in 2012. There are some good legislators and serious reformers on the list like Roscoe Bartlett, Louie Gohmert and Joe Wilson, but they’re all established incumbents. The problem is that nobody owns the Tea Party brand, so anyone can claim to represent them, no matter how ridiculous that claim is.
Some of the biggest names associated with the Tea Party have been among the most disappointing, particularly Allen West and Marco Rubio from FLorida, while a small number have stuck to their guns like Justin Amash, Rand Paul and Mike Lee. Rubio remains one of the darlings of the more mainstream Republican wing of the Tea Party, but he’s a long-time political insider in Florida politics and it’s clear from his latest press release that he really doesn’t get it.
In this press release Rubio talks about the obstructionism of Demcorats in the Senate in blocking passage of the proposed budget bill, while he acts as if what he and other House Republicans sent to the Senate was actually a good bill full of meaningful cuts, which is far from the truth. Rubio writes:
“Democrats’ unwillingness to engage on this issue is leading us closer to a catastrophic debt spiral that will irreversibly damage our government, our economy and ultimately our country.”
Which makes a valid point about the utter irresponsibility of Senate Democrats in trying to pass a budget with only $4.7 billion in cuts, which Rubio points out is just the amount the government spends in 30 hours. I also have to give Rubio a nod for great political rhetoric when he says “I did not come to the U.S. Senate to be part of some absurd political theatre.” The problem is that he is himself engaging in the most twisted act of political theatre on the national stage, the attempt to present the budget passed in the House as a meaningful cut in spending.
What Rubio does not mention here in his otherwise very positive sounding press release is that the Republican-authored budget bill which he was supporting only cuts $57 billion in spending, enormously less than is necessary — by his metric less than 2 weeks of government spending. He also fails to mention that he is as unwilling to touch war and defense spending as the Democrats are to touch entitlement spending. If he’s serious about being the fiscal conservative he promised to be then he should be just as angry with Congressional Republicans who failed to make more meaningful cuts or to make cuts which could get bipartisan support.
What Rubio demonstrates here is that he is willing to talk big and bash the Democrats but he and other Tea Party endorsees are unwilling to follow their big talk with meaningful action or creative solutions. Where are all those members of the Tea Party Caucus? Most of them voted for the bloated budget they sent on to the Senate and few of them made any effort to propose more substantive cuts, Rubio among them. They have left us no better off than we were before, because they have not offered substantial cuts which could also pass with bipartisan support in the Senate, and the only way to do that would have been to end the wars and cut military spending substantially in addition to more of the small cuts they did propose.
This problem goes beyond just the budget fiasco. During the last couple of weeks most of those Tea Party representatives also voted for the renewal of three key provisions of the Patriot Act which are widely opposed by the people who voted them into office. They are also doing nothing to block the implementation of the REAL ID bill which is also strongly opposed by the grassroots political right. Some of these failures can be dismissed as the result of inexperience, but surely the many seasoned legislators in the Tea Party Caucus are giving the newer members wise advice and guidance? I’m sure they are, and that advice is to not rock the boat, line their pockets and do nothing substantive.
Many in the Tea Party and many grassroots Republicans are feeling some buyer’s remorse right now and with 2012 coming around the corner this may lead to a renewed push for change and a movement which becomes more hostile to Republican incumbents as it pushes a second generation of insurgent candidates.