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Four Reasons the Tea Partiers Were Big Losers in the Debt Ceiling Deal

The professional political operatives behind the Tea Party movement were huge winners, but what about the rank-and-file Tea Partiers themselves?

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It's not that the ordinary Joes and Janes of the movement cared passionately about the debt limit fight — Gallup tells us that most Tea Partiers weren't moved by the debate. But they sent these freshmen to Washington to remain loyal to the movement — to stand up to politics-as-usual and stand firm on spending.

And the Tea Party organizations had made the vote a line in the sand that could not be crossed. Tea Party leaders said there were no circumstances that would excuse raising the limit. They said warnings about the catastrophe a default would cause were a bunch of “lies” and promised to “hold accountable” any Republican who voted for the deal. There was talk of primaries. Erick Erickson — whom I noted was the “ toxic idiot” advising the Tea Party caucus — told GOP lawmakers: “Don't you dare give up fighting against the debt ceiling increase until you get” the Right's crazy “Cut, Cap and Balance” act passed.

For their part, many within Congress's Tea Party caucus talked the talk – tough talk about holding the line. Macho-man Allen West, R-Fla. — whose alleged war crimes in Iraq launched him to prominence within Tea Party ranks — said all this talk of needing to raise the debt ceiling was “sad, pathetic fear-mongering.” The government doesn't need to raise the ceiling, he argued, asking, “If you want to rehabilitate a crack addict, why give them more crack?”

Then the Republican establishment ratcheted up the pressure, and West joined a majority of his fellow lawmakers in the House Tea Party caucus in voting for the deal — 33 of 60 to be exact. They included rising Tea Party stars Joe Walsh, R-Ill., Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., Lamar Smith, R-Texas, and Mike Pence, R-Ind. Without these Tea Partiers' votes, the deal would have fallen in the House. All told, about two-thirds of Republican freshmen went along with the party's leadership when the chips were down.

In the Senate, there were votes to spare as the deal passed easily, but Rand Paul, R-Ky., voted for it a day after saying he wouldn't, as did South Carolina's Jim DeMint — arguably the Tea Party's spiritual leader in the upper chamber — along with Tea Party heroes Marco Rubio of Florida, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Mike Lee of Utah.

2. Tea Partiers Will Be Hurt by Both Spending Cuts and the Austerity Recession.

When Tea Party politicians win, Tea Partiers lose. That's because while they tend to skew a bit wealthier than the country as a whole, they are, by and large, representative of the middle class. The New York Times found that they are “no more or less afraid of falling into a lower socioeconomic class” than the rest of us. A Gallup poll conducted last March found that 6 percent were unemployed, and another 6 percent were working part time.

As I wrote recently, deep cuts in spending are on their way, and they'll align with the last of the stimulus funds drying up and the expiration of extended unemployment benefits to depress demand at a time when a lack of demand is our core economic problem. The economy is going to get worse — an “austerity recession” is upon us — and the Tea Partiers will feel the pain just like everyone else.

And while most believe that the government wastes all its money on the "undeserving poor," and not people like them, they're wrong! Suzanne Mettler, a professor of government at Cornell University, found that there's a massive disconnect between who Americans believe various government programs serve and the reality. She looked at those who responded to a survey claiming that they “have not used a government social program” and found that a majority of them had.

 
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