As has been forecast in this space before, the looming GOP establishment versus tea party movement conflict over how much and how fast to cut federal spending is going to rip the conservative movement apart.
And that day is fast approaching — probably keyed to the debt ceiling vote in February or March.
Here is where we are:
- John Boehner, Eric Cantor and Paul Ryan know they must do some heavy cutting. They pledged during the 2010 campaign to cut $100 billion in the coming fiscal year budget; but they have since revised that down to $50 billion.
- The tea party people, including South Carolina Sen. Jim Demint, have suddenly thrown out new and staggeringly enormous numbers that they say must be cut. The number they are bandying about is $2.5 trillion over the next several years. Other tea party people have cropped up on TV this week with all sorts of strong demands for major federal cuts. And they’re threatening those GOP establishment leaders by name that if these massive federal cuts are not made now, then in 2012 more new tea party GOP members will be elected and will replace Boehner and the rest.
- What the tea party people are not yet doing is specifying the cuts they want. Where are we to make these massive cuts? Who is getting cut? What are the economic ramifications of these cuts during a time of sluggish economic growth and huge underemployment?
OK. We know that we need to shrink the size and scope of the federal government. But 85 percent of the federal budget, other than the interest payment on the national debt, is spent on three things: the Pentagon, Social Security, and Medicare.
Is this where Demint and the tea party want to cut? And if so, how and when?
And how about this: it took 30 to 40 years to grow the federal government into this over-spending behemoth. Isn’t it going to take a period of several years — perhaps decades — to draw it back down?
Shouldn’t we create a plan to pay off the national debt over a 30-year period, year by year, until we are back at a truly balanced federal budget?
Isn’t that the better way to go rather than taking a meat clever to this monster at a time of almost-anemic federal growth?
Look for Paul Ryan – the new Chairman of the Appropriations Committee – to be the key player here. He is giving the GOP response to the President’s State of the Union on Tuesday night.
Paul Ryan must soon present a plan — with specific budget cuts — that satisfies both his fellow GOP leaders but also the tea party people. If he can, then the train wreck can be avoided.
But if he cannot, then the debt ceiling vote will be a watershed in the conservative movement. The GOP-tea party alliance will be ripped apart over the very thing that originally created the conservative movement: the size and role of government.
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