Default Position

Time for the GOP to cut the Tea Party loose

Media reports are touting the Senate's Gang of Six and its new budget outline. But the news that explains why the nation is caught in this debt-ceiling fiasco is the gang warfare inside the Republican Party. We are witnessing the disintegration of Tea Party Republicanism.

The Tea Party's followers have endangered the nation's credit rating and the GOP by pushing both House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor away from their own best instincts. Cantor worked amiably with the negotiating group organized by Vice President Joe Biden and won praise for his focus even from liberal staffers who have no use for his politics. Yet when the Biden group seemed close to a deal, it was shot down by Tea Party's champions. Boehner left Cantor exposed as the frontman in the Biden talks and did little to rescue him.

Then it was Boehner's turn on the firing line. He came near a bigger budget deal with President Barack Obama, but the same right-wing rejectionists blew this up too. Cantor evened the score by serving as a spokesman for Republicans opposed to any tax increase of any kind.

Think about the underlying dynamic here. The evidence suggests that both Boehner and Cantor understand the peril of the game their Republican colleagues are playing. They know we are closer than we think to having the credit rating of the United States downgraded. This may happen before August 2, the date everyone is using as the deadline for action. We have less time than we think. Unfortunately, neither of the two House leaders seems in a position to tell the obstreperous Right that it is flatly and dangerously wrong when it claims that default is of little consequence. Rarely has a congressional leadership seemed so powerless.

Compare the impasse Boehner and Cantor are in with the aggressive maneuvering of Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell. He knows how damaging default would be and is working with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to concoct a way out. McConnell can do this because he doesn't confront the Tea Party problem that so bedevils Boehner and Cantor. Many of the tea party's Senate candidates -- Sharron Angle in Nevada, Christine O'Donnell in Delaware and Joe Miller in Alaska -- lost in 2010. Boehner and Cantor, by contrast, owe their majority in part to Tea Party supporters. McConnell has a certain freedom to govern that his House leadership colleagues do not.

And this is why Republicans are going to have to shake themselves loose from the Tea Party. Quite simply, the Tea Party's legions are not interested in governing, at least as governing is normally understood in a democracy with separated powers. They believe that because the Republicans won one house of Congress in one election, they have a mandate to do whatever the right wing wants. A Democratic president and Senate are dismissed as irrelevant nuisances, although they were elected, too.

The Tea Party lives in an intellectual bubble where the answers to every problem lie in books by F. A. Hayek, Glenn Beck, or Ayn Rand. Rand's antigovernment writings, regarded by her followers as modern-day scripture -- Rand, an atheist, would have bridled at that comparison -- are particularly instructive.

When the hero of Rand's breakthrough novel The Fountainhead doesn't get what he wants, he blows up a building. Rand's followers see that as gallant. So perhaps it shouldn't surprise us that blowing up our government doesn't seem to be a big deal to some of the new radical individualists in our House of Representatives.

Our country is on the edge. Our capital looks like a lunatic asylum to many of our own citizens and much of the world. We need to act right now to restore certainty by extending the debt ceiling through the end of this Congress.

Boehner and Cantor don't have time to stretch things out to appease their unappeasable members, and they should settle their issues with each other later. Nor do we have time to work through the ideas from the Gang of Six. The Gang has come forward too late with too little detail. Their suggestions should be debated seriously, not rushed through.

Republicans need to decide whether they want to be responsible conservatives or whether they will let the Tea Party destroy the House that Lincoln Built in a glorious explosion. Such pyrotechnics may look great to some people on the pages of a novel or in a movie, but they're rather unpleasant when experienced in real life. 


(c) 2011, Washington Post Writers Group

Related: Get on with It, by E. J. Dionne Jr.
Over the Brink, by the Editors

Topics: 

Comments

Commenting Guidelines

I believe default is not only possible but likely. The 21st century TP/GOP know nothings see financial chaos as a first and only step to winning in 2012. They ignore all financial advisors and will huddle together next week to shut down the government. Bachmann and pals  keep saying there is enough revenue to pay the interest on debts first. When it is pointed out that under her  and TP plan, the  Chinese government  and Chinese investors will be paid first  and SS oldsters, Vets and troops will be given rain checks.. how long will the TP ever be heard from again.

I am putting my money where my guess is and moved my investments to FDIC insured cash. The good news is the insurance of 250K is something that helps the retired middle class but is no help to the wealthy class with too much more than 250K, They may be  stuck in the down market where even US  treasuries are vulnerable. Is scheudefraude a moral feeling?

I don't believe that the President will allow a default.  I believe, if all else fails, he will raise the debt limit himself, by whatever constitutional means possible.  The Tea Party appears to believe that they can destroy the country to make their points, and they must be independently wealthy, since they want to destroy all the safety nets people rely on.

Believe whatever you want, the danger is real and holds the potential for all out disaster. It is unreal that supposedly intelligent elected representatives are driving this broken down car head on over a cliff. There will be no easy rescue once default is defacto. I don't want to move my funds from stocks into cash assets. It is entirely possible that doing so would be fruitless anyway. If we blow a big enough hole in the boat, we are all going to sink. How long can you tread water?

Share

About the Author

E. J. Dionne Jr. is a syndicated columnist, professor of government at Georgetown University, and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. His most recent book is Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent (Bloomsbury Press).