By Cheri Jacobus - 07/29/10 09:43 PM EDT
Debt. It’s the four-letter word every American knows, hates and fears.
From the time we can comprehend the concept of spending what one doesn’t have and owing more than one can pay, most of us are taught to watch our pennies, spend wisely and frugally and never get ourselves into trouble with debt. From the allowance provided us by our parents, the cash we receive from babysitting or a paper route, to the thrill of our first measly paycheck from our summer jobs, we are taught to respect and know the value of a dollar.
While it’s one thing for Americans to be livid at their elected officials over out-of-control spending and unthinkable levels of debt that will be passed down to children yet to be born, we now have reason to be not only angry, but very, very afraid.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) just told us the painful, unvarnished, frightening truth this week — That unless federal spending is reined in dramatically and/or revenues increased, we are headed for certain, sudden economic catastrophe that would make this current economic crisis seem like a day at the beach. The CBO warns we are now in a most dangerous phase of federal spending that, unless slowed down significantly, “will cause debt to rise to unsupportable levels.” Facing projected debt levels of more than $100 trillion, Washington punts, apparently unaware that wishing super hard is not a workable strategy. Likewise, the cable news chatfests barely take notice, as such talk doesn’t score nearly the same ratings as Charlie Rangel’s sleazy ethics scandal (he does need to go, btw) or faux outrage over President Obama skipping a Boy Scouts Jamboree to visit with the ladies of “The View.”
“Increasing revenues” is the phrase to fear. Should a democracy tolerate a government that so cavalierly over-taxes those who invest and create jobs, as well as the middle class, before first and foremost getting federal spending under airtight control? The question is so simple that it borders on boring, as green-eyeshade lectures so often do. We ask and ask and ask, yet Washington simply waits us out, letting the clock run out so they can blame someone else and hope for the next dirty, sexy scandal to distract us.
Where is the courage, the resolve and the conscience of our elected officials that they can’t stop spending and start cutting? Rather than letting tax cuts expire, shouldn’t we let spending expire?
The Tea Party has forced a sharper focus on spending and debt, but rather than listening to them, many in Washington and the media instead demonize them. Many Republicans have sharpened their message in response to this renegade citizen revolt, as have a handful of Democrats. But too many others have dismissed the movement and therefore its message of fiscal sanity. While it is largely Republicans who are benefiting politically from the Tea Party’s growing strength and influence, it is the media of the left and partisan Democrats who, in their attempts to marginalize the movement, may actually be marginalizing themselves.
It didn’t have to be this way.
To continue to be effective, the Tea Party needs to remain untethered and refrain from being co-opted by partisanship. As a Republican, that’s hard to say. As an American, it feels right. Fiscal discipline and recognition of the looming fiscal crash can be embraced by many Democrats, too — and should. Rather than following Sen. Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) politically polarizing rhetoric denigrating the Tea Party movement, Democrats should break from such shallow leadership and practice true independence. In the House, perhaps a few brave souls with a D after their name should try to join the Tea Party Caucus, recently established by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) It doesn’t have to mean a party switch — just a sincere desire and commitment to prevent a massive economic cardiac arrest.
With the CBO’s dire warnings this week, the most patriotic move for a lawmaker can be to embrace the Tea Party message in order to benefit the nation and our future, rather than just one party in an election year. This new House caucus could be a powerful forum for ideas, discussion and coalition that actually does some good.
It’s certainly worth considering.
Jacobus, president of Capitol Strategies PR, has managed congressional campaigns, worked on Capitol Hill and is an adjunct professor at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management. She appears on CNN, MSNBC and FOX News as a GOP strategist.