Only the left went on the attack against President Obama’s compromise on extending the Bush-era tax cuts. Faced with intransigence from the Republicans in the Senate, Obama cut a deal. He endorsed a two year extension of historically low tax rates for the wealthiest Americans in exchange for Republican support to continue the Bush-era rates for middle-class Americans, and extend unemployment insurance. Liberals are now extending their anger at Republicans to include a president they had once claimed as one of their own.
What’s much more surprising is the silence from the Tea Party movement. The Tea Party’s rhetoric during the last two years emphasized the perils of deficit spending. It’s not surprising that Republican leaders would backburner their concerns about the deficit in order to secure low tax rates for their core constituents. Spending on unemployment and the Earned Income Tax Credit, financed through deficit spending, is a small price for them to pay–largely because they don’t have to pay it. (There is a strong Keynesian argument to make for these programs, which will translate into increased consumer spending and stimulate the economy; it’s not, however, an argument Republican leaders will make.)
But the populist anger that animated the Tea Party appeared to be more anti-government and anti-spending than pro-rich. The election dramatically strengthened the position of the Republican Party, but this is a clear instance in which the Tea Party identity promised something clearly different. Recall that they also expressed an anger at the deficit spending at the core of the George W. Bush program.
You would think that the deficit hawks at the grassroots would try to hold their Republican allies’ feet to the fire, forcing them to honor the (admittedly diverse and often contradictory) demands of the Tea Party. The silence here is another piece of evidence that the election has taken the wind out of the Tea Party’s sails.
And the Republicans elected to Congress have, for the most part, been quite eager to defer their concern with the deficit in favor of preferred programs, like tax cuts for the wealthy. Alaskans preferred independent patronage Republican Lisa Murkowski to a (perhaps) authentic Tea Partier, who might actually refuse Federal spending in Alaska. Even Rand Paul, the new Senator from Kentucky, has emphasized the need to keep Medicare payments to doctors at competitive rates.
The Tea Party was a coalition between well-funded organizations sponsored by large business interests and populist anger about government spending, immigration, the deficit, health care reform–and scores of other issues. How long can such a coalition hold together when Republicans actually participate in governance and make choices?