In his Saturday internet address, President Obama was right on when he said,
“. . . Republicans in the House have been more concerned with appeasing an extreme faction of their party than working to pass a budget that creates new jobs or strengthens the middle class. And in the next couple days, these Republicans will have to decide whether to join the Senate and keep the government open, or create a crisis that will hurt people for the sole purpose of advancing their ideological agenda.”
In fact, that farthermost reactionary faction in the Republican caucus has a history of blocking practical economic legislation. Whether they’re called tea partiers or just conservatives, their whole “agenda” is all about shutting down the federal government – so it’s no wonder they’re about to do so. They are the new anti-Federalists. A shutdown would be the realization of their dream.
These are the folks that voted against their own president – George W. Bush – in implementing emergency TARP funding legislation after the economic collapse of 2008; that came to power in the House after the 2010 mid-terms by railing against the Affordable Care Act and the lackluster recovery that they helped to slow; that threatened a debt-ceiling default, caused a downgrade in our nation’s credit rating and gave us sequestration in 2011; that voted against the fiscal-cliff deal on New Year’s Eve 2012 because the Bush tax rates on the rich were not preserved; and that now have us, again, on the precipice of shutdown and default.
The irony is that almost all practical politicians in Washington understand two things: (1) especially now with the annual deficit shrinking, we do not have a short-term debt problem, and (2) the real issue is a long-term one of balancing revenues and spending, while providing a short-term stimulus to encourage growth and jobs. In 2011, the president and John Boehner were even able to hammer out a so-called “Grand Bargain” that would address the debt on both the revenue (meaning tax) and spending (meaning entitlements) sides, but the speaker couldn’t sell it to that “extreme faction” within his own caucus.
There is a deeper irony about the Tea Party and its effect on elections. It has turned “being primaried” into a new English phrase. The Republican primary electorate now demands Jacobin purity. In the last two election cycles in the Senate, this purity has cost the GOP up to 5 senate seats (due to the likes of Christine O’Donnell, Richard Murdoch, Sharon Angel and company).
In a sense, politically, it is easier for Democrats to run again, and demonize the craziness, of the Tea Party wing of the GOP, which is enveloping the carcass of the whole. And without that faction, sensible legislation on the debt – and pretty much every area of governing – would be possible. But also without the Tea Party, we might also now have a Republican House and Senate, and one-third of the government is a stronger platform than the one-sixth over which the reactionaries now hold legislative veto power.