The Tea Party Won?

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from Bloomberg BusinessWeek,

The Tea Party’s belief that things are slipping away is misplaced. Obamacare aside, events have actually gone the movement’s way ever since Republicans wrested control of the House of Representatives in the 2010 midterm elections. Discretionary spending has been falling. Federal-employee head count is down. And since 2010, deficit reduction has been more rapid than in any three-year period since the demobilization following World War II.

Discretionary spending (i.e., spending excluding transfer payments and interest) will fall even more in the decades ahead if the laws that the Tea Party helped get on the books stay there. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projects that, under current law, by 2038 total spending on everything other than the major health-care programs, Social Security, and interest will decline to the smallest share of the economy since the 1930s.

Tea Partiers like to see themselves as underdogs in a war against profligate spending. But the truth is they’ve already won.

That victory, however, has come at a high price. The Tea Party pushed for heavy spending cuts when the economy was weak, needlessly depressing output and keeping the unemployment rate high. The International Monetary Fund, which supports long-run deficit reduction, declared in June that the U.S. program was “excessively rapid and ill-designed.”

What’s worse, the cuts the Tea Party achieved have come almost entirely on the discretionary side of the budget, choking everything from medical research to antipoverty programs to food inspection. Discretionary spending is the most vulnerable because it must be appropriated annually. The Tea Party, and Washington in general, have scarcely touched the real problem: entitlements such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, which are on track to soak up huge portions of the national income in coming decades.

In political terms, the Tea Party’s scorched earth strategy has produced some impressive legislative wins but damaged the movement’s popularity. The Greek king Pyrrhus, after whom Pyrrhic victories are named, once said, “If we are victorious in one more battle with the Romans, we shall be utterly ruined.”

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