Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Like Herding Cats?

The prevailing "wisdom" being tossed about by the parties to the debt ceiling compromise and amplified by the main stream media is that the deal was obviously a good one because nobody is happy with it. Of course no one is happy with it: the deal will probably turn out to be yet another disaster for our economy, which even those on either end of the ideological spectrum acknowledge. So, how did that deal get put together, what drove it?

Well, a president who obviously never completed The Art of Negotiation-101 in law school can take a whole chunk of the blame, as can congressional leaders with their eyes more focused on 2012 than 2011. Key to the "compromise," however, was the assumption that the entire country has been gripped with Tea Party fever and that this political movement is monolithic in nature. That assumption, I believe, is unfounded, as recent polls indicate.

From the NY Times:

Few Republicans or Democrats would disagree that the Tea Party and its designs loomed over the debate on the debt limit. But the power of the Tea Party as a singular force may be more phantom than reality.

While Tea Party groups and members of the Tea Party caucus in the House loudly insisted that they would not support any increase in the debt limit, many rank-and-file Tea Party voters did support it. In interviews and in recent polls, many voters said they backed the Tea Party in the midterm elections because they wanted a change from the status quo, or because they felt that the government spent too much money, but not because they considered reducing the federal debt the nation’s biggest concern. ...

When Tea Party supporters were asked if the debt-ceiling agreement should include only tax increases, only spending cuts, or a combination of both, the majority — 53 percent — said that it should include a combination. Forty-five percent preferred only spending cuts. ...

But the Tea Party is no monolith. It is not an official party with policy positions, and its members — some loosely affiliated, some not affiliated with any group but merely sympathetic to what they think the Tea Party stands for — arrived with often different and sometimes incompatible interests.

Most Tea Partiers want smaller government (the Libertarian streak), but they want more jobs and a stronger economy. For them, a smaller government does not mean a smaller military, nor does it mean no government spending at all. Some of the people they elected in 2011 were savvy enough to figure that out and cheerfully guided some pork back home to their constituents. I didn't hear any howls of outrage over that pork, so I assume at least some in the Tea Party movement were pleased.

Yet that group had both official parties scared half to death, so scared the deal went through with only spending cuts (including cuts to that sacred cow, the Pentagon), with no eye towards the best source of revenue enhancement, more jobs. The fact that the raising of the debt ceiling was tied to reducing spending instead of a stand-alone bill is further evidence of that nebulous fear.

So, after several weeks of intense posturing and huffing and puffing our elected representatives have managed to avert a credit crisis for the nation, but have managed to anger just about everyone in the country in doing so.

Heckuva job.

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