In Bid for Control of GOP, Tea Party Brings U.S. to Brink of Economic Calamity

For many, it's a head-scratcher. Don't those Republicans see the danger in their hardline stand against allowing the U.S. government to borrow the money it needs to continue operating? GOP members of Congress not only insist on tying any deal for raising of the debt ceiling to a deficit-reduction scheme, they are demanding that such a scheme not raise a dime of revenue -- not even from the wealthiest Americans, who are still basking in their Bush-era tax-cuts. On Friday, House Speaker John Boehner walked out of debt-limit talks with President Barack Obama, even after Obama offered the speaker a plan that would have made $650 billion in cuts to safety net programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

But, really, Boehner had no choice but to walk out -- if he wants to continue on as speaker, that is. The Obama deal, you see, included the elimination of certain tax breaks for the rich, and the closing of corporate tax loopholes, the president told reporters. And Boehner is on notice from the Tea Partiers within the ranks of the GOP that no means of increasing revenue is acceptable, not even for the easing of America's economic woes. Hot on Boehner's heels is the ambition of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.

There's a temptation, when assessing the showdown over the debt ceiling that is bringing the United States to the brink of defaulting on its debt, to view the confrontation in terms of Republicans vs. Democrats, liberals vs. conservatives, Obama vs. Boehner.

What we're really witnessing, though, is a ruthless power-grab by the architects of the Tea Party movement for control of the Republican Party. And if they have to destroy House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to do it, they will. Heck, if they have to destroy the United States in order to grab the levers of GOP machinery, they will, content in the knowledge that, as elites, they will have first pick of the spoils.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the newfound love between Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity (AFP), the Tea Party organization founded by David Koch, and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., the Tea Party-allied second-in-command of the House of Representatives. Cantor has made a specialty of undercutting his own speaker's negotiating power as Boehner tries to cut a deal with the president.

When, two weeks ago, Vice-President Joe Biden and GOP leaders were close to making a deal that would have given in to Republican demands for budget cuts, Cantor refused to go along because the deal included some tax increases. By walking out of the talks, Cantor won the hearts of Tea Party leaders, and, many said, a shot at the speaker's job. For if Cantor can prevent Boehner from brokering a deal with the president, the logic goes, the speaker could be so weakened as to lose his footing as the House Republicans' top man. That would leave Cantor positioned to step in.

Cantor's intransigence led Tim Phillips to laud Cantor in an interview he gave to Major Garrett in the Atlantic. "He has clearly emerged as the conservative on free-market economic issues," Phillips told Garrett. "Cantor's become the 'go-to' guy. There's no question about that."

Things were not always so chummy between Phillips and Cantor. When Cantor first ran for Congress in 2000, Garrett reports, Phillips, then a consultant to the George W. Bush campaign, opposed him. Phillips helped set up a group called the Faith and Family Alliance, which sent out campaign mailers and issued robo-calls against Cantor calling Cantor's primary opponent, Stephen Martin, "the only Christian in the race." (Cantor is Jewish.) Cantor squeaked out a win with a 263-vote margin, and set out to make friends with the right.

The election of Barack Obama to the presidency in 2008 breathed new life into the institutional right, which created the Tea Party movement on the winds of racial resentment and the economic distress that came with the 2007 bursting of the housing bubble, and the September 2008 stockmarket crash. Cantor, then House Minority Whip, wasted no time cashing in, even meeting in 2009, as AlterNet reported, with a neo-Confederate Virginia group, the Constitutional Sovereignty Alliance, to receive a letter from its Virginia Sovereignty March delegation.

As the August 2 deadline looms for avoiding default on the U.S. government debt, the GOP Tea Party Caucus in the House pushed through a plan for raising the debt ceiling called "Cut, Cap and Balance," which would deeply cut government spending, even on social safety net programs, cap government spending and send a balanced-budget constitutional amendment to the states for ratification. The Washington Post's Ezra Klein and Dylan Matthews write that the plan:

...would increase the debt ceiling in exchange for $111 billion in immediate cuts next year, statutory caps on spending, and a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution that includes a spending cap of 18 percent of the previous year's GDP and would require supermajorities to raise taxes or increase the debt ceiling. If the amendment was ratified, spending would have to drop to its lowest levels since the 1950s -- despite the fact that we now have Medicare, Medicaid, more seniors, etc. -- and taxes would be almost impossible to raise. The White House has promised to veto the bill, saying that deficit reduction does not require changes to the Constitution, and that the cuts involved are draconian.

On Friday, when Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., that chamber's Tea Party kingpin, attempted to put the measure before the Democratic-controlled body, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., was having none of it. No sooner was the measure tabled than AFP president Tim Phillips, Eric Cantor's champion, sent out an email to his activists decrying Reid's halting of the bill, and encouraging recipients to click through to a Web-form email instructing members of Congress to reject any deal that includes tax increases.

Note that it was not Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who put the Cut, Cap and Balance deal up for consideration. Thanks to the power of such Tea Party astroturf groups as Americans for Prosperity and Dick Armey's FreedomWorks, McConnell leads only at the mercy of DeMint and his merry band of Tea Party allies, who threaten to launch primary challenges to any Republican Senate candidate who doesn't toe their line. It's a lesson Cantor has taken to heart, doubtlessly observing that while the House Tea Party caucus does not comprise a majority, it does have enough members to deprive the speaker of a majority on any measure behind which its members unite. Like DeMint's cadre of fellow travelers in the Senate, theirs is the power of "no."

Today in the Washington newspaper the Hill, an op-ed penned by Jenny Beth Martin and Mark Meckler of the Tea Party Patriots threw down the gauntlet at the feet of any lawmaker who might be inclined to raise a tax or two in order to prevent any further collapse of the economy that is almost sure to come if a debt-ceiling deal eludes the August 2 deadline. They also took a swipe at Boehner:

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) found time to commend the president for making the case to raise the debt ceiling, saying on July 11: “I would agree with the president that the national debt limit must be raised. I'm glad he made the case for it today.”

It is clear they are not serious about cutting wasteful spending or they would have found a way to do it. When a family is on the brink of bankruptcy and can't make ends meet, what do they do? They cut back on their spending. It's very simple.

Tea Party Patriots is a "grassroots" group founded by FreedomWorks, which is led by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas. (FreedomWorks was also founded with Koch money, although both the organization and Koch say they have parted ways.) Armey earns a total of $500,000 per year from FreedomWorks and its foundation. It's doubtful his family has any trouble making ends meet. But if the cost of pushing Boehner from the speaker's podium in favor of Cantor (or another player more to his liking) is the economic calamity that would almost certainly result if the U.S. government fails to meet its obligations, he probably won't mind a bit. Your family might face financial disaster, but Dick Armey, Tim Phillips and David Koch will still be sitting pretty.

The House speaker has clearly gotten the message. He may not be a Tea Partier himself, but he stands ready to do the bidding of movement leaders. With the debt-limit talks having failed at the executive level, only Congress can provide a solution. And in the House, the Tea Party caucus still carries the power of "no."

Editor's Note: To learn more about how a failure of the debt-ceiling talks could impact your life, read 5 Desperate Consequences of a Debt Ceiling Meltdown, by Joshua Holland.


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