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“More About Marketing Than Math”: The Tea Party’s Big Idea To Shrink Government Is A Vacuous Nothingburger

Insurgent political movements are usually built around a big idea, like abolition or workers’ rights. The Tea Party certainly has a big idea: Shrink the government.

Wanting to shrink the government is a perfectly reasonable impulse given the state of Washington’s finances. The federal debt has more than doubled as a share of GDP since 2007, and future spending projects are off the charts. The latest academic evidence suggests an increase in government size is associated with slower annual GDP growth.

It’s easy to see why this shrink-the-government idea is powerful, and how it fueled the Tea Party’s rapid ascent into a rocket-powered force on the right.

However, a big idea alone is not sufficiently enough, in and of itself, to guarantee success. And therein lies the Tea Party’s big problem.

The Tea Party’s blueprint for turning their raison d’être into reality is flawed. Called the “Penny Plan,” it’s a favorite of the Tea Party Patriots, media supporters such as Sean Hannity of Fox News, and fellow travelers in Congress, including possible 2016 presidential candidate Rand Paul and — perhaps most importantly — Mike Enzi, the new Republican chairman of the Senate Budget Committee.

First devised by Georgia businessman Bruce Cook, the Penny Plan would cut government spending by 1 percent a year until the federal budget is balanced. After that, federal spending would be capped at 18 percent of GDP, to match the long-term revenue trend. Here’s how Enzi touts the plan on his website:

Though only a 1 percent cut, the savings add up quickly to balance the budget. And if it’s done right, where we’re eliminating duplication and sensibly prioritizing, discomfort will be manageable. … Living with 1 percent less is a small price to pay in order to help bring this country back from the brink of catastrophic fiscal failure. [Enzi]

It sounds so simple! Well, it really isn’t.

For starters, the “penny” part of the plan is a gimmick, more about marketing than math. The Enzi version would cut 1 percent a year from total government spending, other than debt interest payments, for three years. Maybe that doesn’t sound like much. But once you factor in inflation, that works out to a 10 percent cut in real terms after three years.

Now maybe that still doesn’t sound like much. But getting such a reduction is tough enough that there are no details in the Penny Plan about what exactly would be cut. To balance the budget in 2018, according to CBO, it would require $540 billion in reduced spending. It can’t all come from reducing non-defense discretionary spending such as foreign aid or scientific research. That part of the budget, just 17 percent, or around $600 billion, is already at its lowest levels since the 1960s as a share of GDP.

That leads to a bigger problem with the Penny Plan: Is it realistic to cap long-term government spending at 18 percent of GDP — well less than the post-WWII average of 21 percent — when an aging population means increased spending on entitlements such as Medicare and Social Security? Remember, most of the spending increase from health-related entitlements and Social Security — 75 percent over the next quarter century — comes from simple demographics, more people getting benefits over a longer period of time. That works out to about 3 percentage points of GDP in additional spending baked into the budgetary cake. Overall, CBO projects total spending at 26 percent of GDP by 2039.

Just keeping long-term spending at its historic average will be a huge challenge, much less sharply reducing it. If you also want to spend a bit more on important public investments such as infrastructure and basic research while keeping military spending constant — well, good luck. Even the GOP Senate’s new balanced budget amendment — which doesn’t calculate debt interest payments as spending — would have a tough time hitting its 18 percent target.

That the Penny Plan offers zero specifics on how to make the numbers work undercuts its seriousness. It would obviously require sweeping entitlement reform — and more. But Enzi, for one, argues that “we should focus on identifying and eliminating all of the wasteful spending that occurs in Washington before we look to other important programs and services.” That’s an evasion, though hardly a surprising one from a party that depends on older voters.

In fact, some on the right are trying to fudge that political reality by distinguishing between “earned” entitlements — Social Security and Medicare — that go to GOP-leaning voters and “unearned” entitlements — such as Medicaid and ObamaCare subsidies — that go to Democratic-leaning voters.

So yes, the Tea Party has a big idea. But it has no idea how to make it happen.

 

By: James Pethokoukis, The Week, February 19, 2015

February 22, 2015 Posted by | Federal Budget, GDP, Tea Party | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Company He Keeps”: Tea Party Unloads On ‘Complete Imbecile’ Rick Perry

When Texas Gov. Rick Perry was indicted last month on two felony charges stemming from how he dealt with a misbehaving Democratic state official, the image of the stuttering 2012 Republican primary challenger was replaced with that of a hero-cowboy in the eyes of many conservatives. Perry was under attack from the left wing, and his response was not to apologize but to walk through a hail of blue-hued bullets and emerge laughing, without a mark on him. But some conservative true believers have begun to notice something rather suspicious: The company Perry keeps seems more suited to a mainstream Republican—or a right-of-center Democrat—than to their hero-cowboy.

Perry is associated with three operatives who have concerned some members of the die-hard right wing: lobbyist Henry Barbour, former Bill Clinton aide Mark Fabiani, and McCain-Palin campaign chief and MSNBC pundit Steve Schmidt.

Well, maybe “concerned” is putting it somewhat mildly.

“The only two options are that Rick Perry is a complete imbecile and he has no idea who these people are and what they’ve done and how the conservative base—who votes in primaries—feels about these guys, or he’s doing it on purpose because that’s the kind of message he wants to send,” said Keli Carender, the national grassroots coordinator for the Tea Party Patriots. Either way, she assured: “It will be an issue. We will make it an issue.”

Barbour is already working on Perry’s 2016 bid for the White House. But conservatives know him best for his role running the political action committee Mississippi Conservatives, founded by his uncle, Haley Barbour, the former governor of Mississippi. In this year’s Magnolia State primary fight—and “fight” is an understatement—between U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran and state Sen. Chris McDaniel, Barbour reportedly played an influential and controversial role. According to National Review, his PAC funneled money to produce ads against McDaniel that alleged he would set back “race relationships between blacks and whites and other ethnic groups.” The ads, which seemed intended to drive African-American voters to the polls, enraged McDaniel’s Tea Party supporters.

As reported by Breitbart News, some conservatives loathe Barbour so much that they tried to get the Republican National Committee to censure him, to no avail.

“Republicans should not hire Henry Barbour unless and until he apologizes for the tactics he helped fund in Mississippi…I don’t think [keeping Barbour around] necessarily means Perry is endorsing what he did, but it means he’s certainly not properly condemning it or taking it seriously enough,” Quin Hillyer, a conservative writer and activist, told The Daily Beast. “What he helped finance was so far beyond the pale that he should be blackballed by conservatives, and if Perry wants to be considered a conservative, he should no longer employ Henry Barbour.”

Rick Shaftan, a Republican consultant who involved himself in the Mississippi primary, offered a somewhat different view of Barbour to The Daily Beast: “I don’t like what he did in Mississippi, but you know what? It shows he’s a ruthless, cutthroat operative, and there’s something to be said for that on the Republican side. Because we don’t have enough of them. If the force of evil can be brought to do good, then that’s a good thing.”

Normally, staffers don’t matter much to voters, Carender noted. But Mississippi is different for many on the far right. It’s become the ultimate test of Tea Party fidelity, a measuring stick for whether a conservative will sell out his principles to inside-the-Beltway Washington RINOs or will stay true to the cause and the grassroots activists who are the heart and soul of the movement.

People don’t recognize, Carender said, just “how plugged in the conservative base is to Mississippi…If you’re a man of integrity, you don’t associate with Henry Barbour as far as we’re concerned.”

Perry has associated with Barbour since at least 2012, when Barbour served on his ill-fated but memorable presidential campaign. (Haley Barbour, for his part, supported Newt Gingrich.)

Publicly, Perry may have shrugged at last month’s indictment—but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been taking Lone Star State-size measures to ensure it doesn’t sink him for good.

As part of his legal team, Perry has hired the Harvard-educated Mark Fabiani, best known for his ties to the Democratic Party. From 1994 through 1996, Fabiani worked as special counsel to President Bill Clinton. He then served as Al Gore’s communications director during his 2000 presidential campaign. Fabiani has worked for the Democratic former San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom as well.

Perry also has hired Steve Schmidt, a Republican strategist and former consultant to John McCain in 2008. Schmidt has long enraged Tea Party conservatives with his candor about members of his own party. Schmidt has called McCain’s VP pick, Sarah Palin, “someone [who] was nominated to the vice presidency who was manifestly unprepared to take the oath of office should it become necessary and as it has become necessary many times in American history.” Asked whether Palin would have a future in politics, Schmidt once remarked: “I hope not…And the reason I say that is because if you look at it, over the last four years, all of the deficiencies in knowledge, all of the deficiencies in preparedness, she’s done not one thing to rectify them, to correct them.”

Then Schmidt described Palin’s unflattering qualities, which could, unfortunately for Perry, double as descriptions for most members of the Tea Party: “She has become a person who, I think, is filled with grievance, filled with anger, who has a divisive message for the national stage…”

Conservative radio host Mark Levin wondered of Schmidt, “Why would Perry hire this conservative attacker and Palin hater?”

Schmidt made those comments on MSNBC, where he is employed as a political analyst. Shaftan said of Perry hiring the strategist: “If they have Steve Schmidt working for them, why are they telling people? That I don’t understand.”

Perry has been basking in the glory of the conservative credibility his fight with Texas Democrats has lent him—so much so that his mugshot features a prominent smirk, one you can wear on a T-shirt being sold by his PAC for just $25. Some Republicans made that same image their Facebook profile pictures in a show of support, in the way some do for gay marriage, or to end violence against children. But you’re only as good as the company you keep, according to some members of the far right who have in the past proved themselves to be loud enough to get their way.

Conservative HQ columnist Richard Viguerie wrote of Perry’s team: “When you hire a consultant, you hire his reputation, strategy, and tactics. We doubt that Governor Perry plans to win the Republican presidential nomination by race-baiting, recruiting Democrats to vote in Republican primary elections, and trashing as ‘poisonous’ conservatives such as Rush Limbaugh…”

Hillyer agreed: “A very important law of politics and government, as emphasized again and again by conservative movement leader Morton Blackwell, is that personnel is policy. If somebody wants to get a sense of how a political leader might govern, it certainly is important to see who he hires.”

 

By: Olivia Nuzzi, The Daily Beast, September 4, 2014

September 8, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, Rick Perry, Tea Party | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Defeat Has A Thousand Fathers”: If A Majority Leader Loses And Everyone Hears It, Who Made The Sound?

If a towering incumbent falls in the forest and no national groups were around to push him, who deserves the credit? House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s stunning, historic defeat last night raises the question again of what exactly is the tea party. It’s fair to characterize Randolph-Macon College economics professor Dave Brat as a tea party candidate, but at the same time analysts, activists and lawmakers should remember that included in the universe of people who had no idea this was coming (excepting U.S. News’ Peter Roff) were the national groups that pass for the tea party movement’s establishment.

There’s a tendency to refer to the tea party movement as a homogenous, monolithic enterprise, but the fact remains that there is no “tea party.” Lest I be accused of trying to undercut the conservative insurgent movement, I will note that this is a point I made when “tea party” candidates were getting routed in the Texas and North Carolina senate primaries; movement obituaries should be tempered, I argued then, because the major tea party groups hadn’t shown up for those fights. They showed up in Kentucky in force and lost. They showed up in Mississippi and won. And I would make the same point about South Carolina, where Sen. Lindsey Graham – who is a much more vocal immigration reform supporter than Cantor – cruised to an easy victory last night: Don’t draw too many conclusions from races where one or both sides in the fight declined to engage. “The tea party” isn’t dead because Lindsey Graham is alive any more than it is resurgent because Eric Cantor went down.

Which brings us back to the national groups, which were apparently as oblivious as the rest of us to what was happening in the Richmond area leading up to yesterday’s election.  The Washington Post’s Matea Gold made this point last night, noting that the major tea party groups spent a grand total of nothing on Brat’s behalf:

But it’s worth noting that many of the national tea party groups that have been the most pugilistic about this year’s intra-party fights have not invested much money into helping the candidates on the ground. As we reported earlier this year, organizations such as Tea Party Patriots and the Madison Project are spending huge sums on fundraising, salaries and consultants, while just putting a tiny fraction of the millions of dollars they have raised into political expenditures.

The fact that Brat took off without the help of those organizations now makes it harder for them to claim his victory as their own.

And National Journal’s Shane Goldmacher made the same observation last night, including this damning anecdote about Jenny Beth Martin, the chief of the aforementioned Tea Party Patriots:

In an extensive interview with National Journal earlier Tuesday, Martin did not mention the Cantor race as among the tea party’s top opportunities in 2014. Hours after his defeat, however, Martin issued a triumphant statement congratulating Brat and “the local tea-party activists who helped propel him over the top.”

Certainly the local tea party activists deserve some measure of congratulations. But what remains honestly unclear – whether you’re sympathetic to the GOP establishment or to the tea party insurgency – is what it means nationally. And what does that say about the national party movement and groups like Tea Party Patriots? Tea Party Express strategist Sal Russo told National Journal’s Goldmacher that Cantor’s defeat was a sign of the movement’s strength: “They can strike anywhere. It’s not dependent on a top-down direction.” So where does that leave the top end of that equation? Leading from behind?

To flip the old JFK aphorism around, Eric Cantor’s defeat may have a thousand fathers (and mothers). Political observers would be wise to discern which ones are actually legitimate.

 

By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, June 11, 2014

June 13, 2014 Posted by | Eric Cantor, Tea Party | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Tea Party Scam”: Reminder To Republicans, The Tea Party Is Stealing Your Money

After David Brat pulled a stunning primary upset over House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) in Virginia’s 7th congressional district on Tuesday, Tea Party groups almost immediately began dancing on the deposed incumbent’s grave.

“The grassroots are taking their seat back at the table and returning accountability to Washington. Votes on Capitol Hill will be heard back in the district,” FreedomWorks for America president Matt Kibbe wrote. “If you stop representing your voters, they will hold you accountable at the voting booth. We are proud to stand with Dave Brat in his election and look forward to working with him to reform Washington, D.C.”

Madison Project policy director Daniel Horowitz took to Twitter to gloat:

Daniel Horowitz @RMConservative

Hey if GOP establishment wants they could move to Mexico and run for office

9:22 PM – 10 Jun 2014

And perhaps nobody enjoyed the victory lap more than Tea Party Patriots chairman Jenny Beth Martin, who penned an op-ed in the Daily Caller bragging that Brat “blew up” the narrative that “grassroots conservatism is on the wane, that the tea party movement has run out of steam and is destined for the ash heap of political history.”

“[A]ctivists who belong to a variety of tea party groups coalesced behind a strong candidate and carried him to victory,” Martin wrote. “It is with them that Brat shares the credit.”

Brat may question how much credit he owes to the variety of Tea Party groups credited by Martin, however. While they are more than happy to spike the football after Brat’s win, Tea Party groups spent exactly nothing to help him during the primary campaign.

Zero dollars.

Brat wasn’t ignored for lack of trying.

“I met with them all,” the Republican nominee said of the major Tea Party groups in a February interview with The New York Times. “But it’s tough. Everybody just wants to see the polls, how much money you’ve raised. But they do not know what’s going on on the ground.”

At least Martin was decent enough to learn Brat’s name before attempting to co-opt his victory. In her statement on election night, Martin congratulated “David Brent” on his win, praising him for defeating “the man many consider to be one of the most powerful member [sic] of the House, second only to Mitch McConnell himself.”

Memo to Republicans: If you give political donations to a woman who doesn’t know the difference between Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, or the House and the Senate, you aren’t a fiscal conservative.

Of course, this is nothing new for Tea Party groups, which have never fully put their money where their mouths are. But in recent years, the Tea Party scam has reached Nigerian prince levels. As The Washington Post’s Matea Gold reported in April, “Out of the $37.5 million spent so far by the PACs of six major tea party organizations, less than $7 million has been devoted to directly helping candidates.”

Tea Party Patriots had a particularly dismal record; of the $7.4 million that the group had raised at the time, just $184,505 went to supporting political candidates. By contrast, TPP paid Martin a $15,000 monthly fee for strategic consulting, in addition to $272,000-plus yearly salary as president of the its nonprofit arm.

Brat’s upset victory proved that right-wing activists can still shake up Republican politics to startling degrees. But it also proved that they don’t need the do-nothing Tea Party groups to do so. That’s a lesson that Martin and her fellow Tea Party leaders hope that the grassroots never learns — because after all, traveling the country to rant about wasteful spending isn’t cheap.

 

By: Henry Decker, The National Memo, June 11, 2014

June 12, 2014 Posted by | Eric Cantor, GOP, Tea Party | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Circle Of Scam Keeps Turning”: In The Conservative World, Everybody Gets Rich At Some Stage Of The Game

A couple of times in the past I’ve written about what I call the conservative circle of scam, the way so many people on the right are so adept at fleecing each other. Here’s a piece about high-priced consultants milking the Koch brothers for everything they can get, and here’s one about my favorite story, the way that, in 2012, Dick Morris played ordinary people who wanted to see Barack Obama driven from office (he solicited donations to a super PAC for that purpose, laundered the money just a bit, and apparently kept most of it for himself without ever spending any of it on defeating Obama). The essence of the circle of scam is that everybody gets rich at some stage of the game, with the exception of the rank-and-file conservatives who fuel it all with their votes, their eyeballs, and their money.

Today there are two new media stories showing that the circle of scam is humming along nicely. The first comes from Michael Calderone at Huffington Post, who reports on an interesting relationship between Sean Hannity and the Tea Party Patriots. Here’s how it works: TPP is a sponsor of Hannity’s radio show. Then Hannity appears in TPP’s fundraising appeals, and some of the money generated inevitably goes back to Hannity’s radio show. Then Hannity goes on his Fox News show and talks about the terrific work the Tea Party Patriots are doing. Everybody wins!

The details of Hannity’s contract with his syndicate have never been made public, so I have no idea if he shares in the show’s advertising revenue. But even if he doesn’t, he benefits from keeping that revenue high. Last year he moved from Cumulus, where he reportedly made $20 million a year, to Premiere Radio Networks, which, one would presume, pays him something similar.

The second story comes from Kenneth Vogel and Mackenzie Weinger of Politico, who report that it isn’t just Hannity. A bunch of conservative media figures are in on the action, none gaining more than Glenn Beck, who has been paid an astounding $6 million by the Tea Party group FreedomWorks in recent years to promote its efforts. As Dick Armey, who was ousted as FreedomWorks chief in a recent coup, says, this kind of arrangement “compromises the integrity of the pundit-guru, as it were, and it’s an undignified expenditure of the part of the outfit that’s mining the attention.” Well put, Dick. One does need one’s pundit-gurus to have integrity. But even if they don’t, they’ve still got authority, and that’s what the organizations are paying for: the hosts’ ability to tell their audiences: “This is where you should send your money.” And send it they do.

What’s most interesting is that all of this expenditure is fueling an occasionally vicious internecine battle within the conservative movement. Sure, all these hosts spend much of their time bashing Barack Obama. But they’ve been successfully enlisted on one side of the war between the Republican establishment and the ultra-conservative Tea Party, a war that still rages even if the Tea Party is having somewhat less success ousting incumbent Republicans than it did in 2010 or 2012. Instead of conservative media being a force for unity, one that educates the base on what they should be angry about and where to focus their energy, they’re fomenting division and strife within the conservative coalition.

Would the likes of Hannity and Beck be doing so anyway even if they weren’t getting paid? Maybe, maybe not. But it’s certainly something to see. Remember when the right was a smoothly functioning, terrifyingly unified monolith of opinion and action? I wonder if they’ll ever get that back.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, April 17, 2014

April 18, 2014 Posted by | Conservative Media, Conservatives, Tea Party | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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