Over the last year or so, I have been seriously conflicted regarding the Tea Party movement. On the one hand, for many years I have been extremely concerned about our national debt and our national leaders’ inability to even approach a balanced budget. As a country, we simply cannot continue to push this ever-increasing debt balloon out onto our children and grandchildren. Nor can we expect the world to continue to buy our debt instruments without someday having this debt bring this great country to its knees. I heartily endorse the Tea Party’s criticism of this irresponsible fiscal policy and their attempts to force a recognition of its seriousness.
On the other hand, it is not good enough to adopt the mantra of “balance the budget with no new taxes.” While this mantra may be a starting point, I have witnessed no willingness by the Tea Party activists to show their seriousness by acknowledging the items in the budget that must be cut and the level of pain that the American people must endure to approach a responsible fiscal policy.
Up to now, the two major political parties, and their Washington officeholders, have been unwilling or unable to address the burgeoning debt. The members of Congress are all fearful of the political consequences that could result from the massive cuts that must be made. There is much rhetoric from both parties about the need to address the problem but no real courage to make the really tough decisions.
Now, the Bowles-Simpson draft report has called out not only the two political parties but also the Tea Partiers. They have shown, in a painfully graphic manner, the types and level of cuts that would be necessary to approach a balanced budget. And they have also shown that, if the goal of a balanced budget is to be reached, even deeper and more painful cuts would be required unless the Congress is willing to also adopt revenue measures — including some added tax revenues.
Having served as chairman of the Texas Senate’s Finance Committee and as lieutenant governor of Texas, I know a little about making the tough calls in budgeting. I was one of those responsible for adopting six years of balanced budgets for the state. The Texas Constitution requires a balanced budget. Deficit spending is not an option for the state’s budget, nor is there the option of simply printing more money. Unfortunately, there is no such restraint on our national budget writers.
The immediate reaction to Bowles-Simpson from some of Washington’s leadership has been a hue and cry criticizing the solutions puts forward. So far, it appears that even the Tea Partiers are reluctant to agree with the tough love concepts put forward by Bowles-Simpson. But the American people must not allow these folks to dodge this bullet.
If the major party leaders are not willing to make these tough decisions, and if the Tea Partiers are not willing to endorse these painful measures, the American people must ask them, “Okay, what is your solution?” Until the Bowles-Simpson report, neither the Tea Party nor any other credible group has had the courage to actually identify what specific measures will be necessary to address the deficit. It is simply time for these so-called leaders to show leadership — in other words, they should be told to “put up or shut up.”
When the Tea Party comes forward and endorses the types of measures recommended by Bowles-Simpson or comes forward with a detailed alternate plan for addressing the deficit, they will deserve to be considered a truly responsible movement. If they only stand on the sidelines and criticize the deficit without putting forward an alternative solution, they will become rightly regarded as just another group of malcontents. The time for generalities is over. It’s time for the Tea Partiers to demonstrate that they are a responsible movement by exhibiting the courage of their convictions.
Bill Ratliff is the former lieutenant governor of Texas.