Immediately after the midterm elections, for example, one group released a letter warning Republican leaders that tea party members expected them to support “traditional moral values.” A week later, a different group advised party leaders to forget social issues and stick to fiscal issues. Which is it? Nobody knows.
Second, despite all the media hoopla, tea partiers were not all that successful at the polls. Yes, Rand Paul won. But Sharon Angle, Ken Buck, Joe Miller, Carl Paladino, and Christine O’Donnell lost. In fact, had not tea party candidates been successful in so many primaries, Republicans would easily have won control of the U.S. Senate.
Third, there is no coherent tea party message. They say they want to balance the budget, yet they support borrowing $800 billion from China, and further bloating the budget, in order to give millionaires a tax cut. They say they want less government, yet they cling to their own Social Security and Medicare. Politically, the tea party represents nothing less than the dumbing down of America. And nothing proves that more than the current flap over earmarks.
Tea partiers rushed into Washington this week proclaiming they were out to change the world. No more business as usual. No more out-of-control federal spending. No more budget deficit. How were they going to accomplish this? By getting rid of all earmarks.
And, what do you know? They succeeded. Sort of. They humiliated chief porker Mitch McConnell into doing a flip-flop on earmarks. First, he was for them; now, he’s against them. Then they cowed the Senate Republican Caucus into adopting a moratorium on all earmarks. They even got President Obama to sign on.
Now, on the surface, that’s an impressive victory for tea partiers who haven’t even been sworn into office yet. But what did they accomplish by banning earmarks? Absolutely nothing. It is a totally meaningless, empty gesture. All form, no substance.
For starters, the moratorium applies only to Republican senators, while placing no restrictions on Democrats. Not only that, it’s not binding on Republican senators, either. They’re free to pork happily ever after, with impunity.
Even if it did tie the hands of all senators, however, the moratorium is still a joke. Why? Because the significance of earmarks is vastly exaggerated. As congressional budget experts repeatedly explain, all House and Senate earmarks combined add up to only one-fifth of 1 percent of all federal spending. Posting them online, so everybody knows who’s sponsoring what, is key. That was done in 2007. Getting rid of them amounts to no more than removing a drop from a bucket.
But here’s the most important point: Just because it’s not done by earmark doesn’t mean a program won’t be funded. Earmarks are used by members of Congress to secure federal funding for some favorite project in their district: a road here, a bridge there, or a new research lab — all of which could be alternatively funded directly by federal agencies. The difference is: Who makes the decision on what to spend money on, Congress or the administration?
And that’s a significant difference. Because the Constitution clearly puts Congress, not the executive branch, in charge of deciding how to spend taxpayers’ money. By doing away with earmarks, members of Congress not only surrender their own constitutional responsibilities and give more power to the president, but they also violate the very Constitution that tea partiers pretend to uphold. But that, of course, presumes tea partiers are capable of reading the Constitution — which, as Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently pointed out, is not necessarily the case.
For one more example of tea party lunacy, consider freshman Congressman Andy Harris of Maryland. Like many other Republicans, he campaigned by promising to repeal “Obamacare.” Yet when he showed up for freshman orientation, he was suddenly singing a different tune.
Harris not only rushed to sign up for the “socialized medicine” he receives as a member of Congress, he loudly complained when informed that his health care plan wouldn’t kick in until Feb. 1 — 28 days after being sworn into office. What a hypocrite!
Bill Press is host of a nationally syndicated radio show and author of a new book, “Toxic Talk.”