Why the Tea Party's "Contract From America" is Stupid
On April 12, 2010 the loose collection of individuals and organizations known as the "Tea Party" issued its "Contract From America," a document supposed to put forth the basic principles and policy suggestions of the Tea Party.
Unfortunately, though well-intentioned, the Contract From America's ten articles range from the politically naive and fiscally irresponsible to the incoherent and self-contradictory.
Here is an article-by-article debunking of the proposals put forth in the Contract:
1. Protect the Constitution
Require each bill to identify the specific provision of the Constitution that gives Congress the power to do what the bill does.
The single most common former profession of Congressmen and women is lawyer, and even those who have no previous legal experiences have constitutional law attorneys who help them prepare bills.
Everybody in Congress knows how to justify anything they want to do with the Necessary & Proper Clause (USC 1-8-18) or, failing that, SCOTUS constitutional case law, so the practical effect of this requirement would be zilch.
2. Reject Cap & Trade
Stop costly new regulations that would increase unemployment, raise consumer prices, and weaken the nation’s global competitiveness with virtually no impact on global temperatures. (72.20%)
I actually agree that cap & trade should be rejected. Unfortunately, cap & trade is one of the biggest corporate giveaways in decades and hundreds of prominent corporations are supporting it, from Goldman Sachs to General Electric, Coca Cola to Lockheed Martin.
Given the wide variety of potential corporate donors supporting the measure, the chances of it being rejected by enough members of either party to actually fail are slim to none, especially after the Supreme Court's disastrous Citizens United ruling:
3. Demand a Balanced Budget
Begin the Constitutional amendment process to require a balanced budget with a two-thirds majority needed for any tax hike. (69.69%)
Um, no. Haven't any Tea Partiers been paying attention to the situation in California? California requires a 2/3 majority for any tax hike and passed a balanced budget amendment in 2004. By 2009, the state was bankrupt, slashing services right and left and unable to pay its own employees. There's "starving the beast" and then there's hamstringing it and leaving it to blunder around trampling everything in its path until it finally bleeds to death.
A Progressive Rebuttal of the Flat Tax Myth
4. Enact Fundamental Tax Reform
Adopt a simple and fair single-rate tax system by scrapping the internal revenue code and replacing it with one that is no longer than 4,543 words—the length of the original Constitution. (64.90%)
I find this the single most revealing article of this 2010 Contract From America. Here is the ultimate end game of the super-wealthy businessmen and corporations funding the Tea Parties through front organizations such as Freedom Works and Americans for Prosperity.
What the 64.90% of rank-and-file Tea Partiers supporting this article apparently don't realize is that a single rate "flat" tax would amount to a massive tax hike on poor and middle class Americans. Real poor and middle class Americans, not millionaires so out of touch with reality that they try to claim they're middle class.
Under the current system, 47% of Americans pay NO federal income tax. (They still pay payroll taxes, investment taxes, and any other federal taxes they might be eligible for, as well as state and local taxes). By definition, a flat tax would raise the tax rates of nearly half of Americans!
A single rate tax would also eliminate innumerable deductions, incentives, and other types of tax wrangling that are complicated, yes, but also genuinely helpful for many poor and middle class Americans trying to make ends meet.
5. Restore Fiscal Responsibility & Constitutionally Limited Government in Washington
Create a Blue Ribbon taskforce that engages in a complete audit of federal agencies and programs, assessing their Constitutionality, and identifying duplication, waste, ineffectiveness, and agencies and programs better left for the states or local authorities, or ripe for wholesale reform or elimination due to our efforts to restore limited government consistent with the US Constitution’s meaning. (63.37%)
So the way to reduce bureaucracy is to... create more bureaucracy?
This is especially funny because only Congress has the power to eliminate government programs, so the taskforce wouldn't have any actual power to do anything but make recommendations. Which Congress could ignore at will. Giving the agency any actual power over Congress would be *gasp* unconstitutional!
6. End Runaway Government Spending
Impose a statutory cap limiting the annual growth in total federal spending to the sum of the inflation rate plus the percentage of population growth. (56.57%)
An interesting idea, but not particularly practical. Everything's fine and dandy until we get hit with with an $81.2 billion repair bill from the next Hurricane Katrina, or get attacked by swarthy men with box cutters and start up not one but TWO wars in response, costing a combined total (as of April 2010) of nearly one trillion dollars.
If something like that happens with a law like this on our books, we have two options:
1. Frantically reshuffle the federal budget to find enough money to pay for the disaster/war/whatever, cutting other important services in the process (more about the probability of that below), or
2. Tell New Orleans to go screw itself/allow Osama bin Laden to continue plotting the destruction of the American people in comfort instead of a miserable cave/whatever
Now, you can make a case for just abandoning New Orleans to the waters of the Gulf and an even stronger case for staying out of Afghanistan and Iraq (I've done both), but your chances of getting the majority of Congress or even the majority of ordinary Americans to agree with you are, well, slim to say the least.
7. Defund, Repeal, & Replace Government-run Health Care
Defund, repeal and replace the recently passed government-run health care with a system that actually makes health care and insurance more affordable by enabling a competitive, open, and transparent free-market health care and health insurance system that isn’t restricted by state boundaries. (56.39%)
Ugh, the recent health care reform bill creates a system that will be government regulated, yes. Government-funded, even, in some cases. Government-run, absolutely not. Government-run would be a public option, which was not in the final bill. Government-run would be single-payer, like the British system, which was never even on the bargaining table.
So, I guess the idea is to repeal Medicare and Medicaid then, huh?
LOL. WHY DO YOU HATE OLD PEOPLE?
Leaving semantics aside, though, progressives aren't particularly thrilled with the HCR bill either (much happier than socialists, though!), but the same clauses included to appease us are going to make the bill very hard to repeal. These include:
- Allowing adult children to remain as dependents on their parents' policy until their 27th birthday
- The end of lifetime or annual caps on coverage
- Free preventative care for all
- Closing the "donut hole" for Medicare patients, making prescription medications more affordable for seniors.
- No more rescissions! Effective immediately, you can't lose your insurance because you get sick.
Who is going to vote to kick adult children off their parents' health insurance plans again? Or raise drug prices for Grandma? Or let the insurance companies go back to dropping the health insurance of paying customers if they have the gall to actually get sick? (Yes, it really happens.) I'm not seeing many hands.
8. Pass an ‘All-of-the-Above” Energy Policy
Authorize the exploration of proven energy reserves to reduce our dependence on foreign energy sources from unstable countries and reduce regulatory barriers to all other forms of energy creation, lowering prices and creating competition and jobs. (55.51%)
In other words, drill, baby, drill!
Obviously, I disagree with the majority of Tea Partiers about the existence of global climate change and its causes, but even if I didn't, this article completely ignores the reality that it would be both physically and fiscally impossible for America to meet its thirst for oil from domestic sources, even if we increased the massive subsidies we already pay to Big Oil and Big Coal even further.
Nuclear is, at best, a stop-gap measure, since the earth's uranium reserves are expected to be depleted within the next 70 years. It's also expensive and dangerous.
Wind and solar energy are better bets in the long term, but not yet at a level of technological innovation capable of filling all our energy needs.
In the meantime, it makes sense to put much greater emphasis on energy efficiency and conservation.
9. Stop the Pork
Place a moratorium on all earmarks until the budget is balanced, and then require a 2/3 majority to pass any earmark. (55.47%)
This one I actually support, but so does everybody else, and it hasn't happened yet. It ignores the reality of how politicians get money (by getting nice stuff for the folks back home) and therefore, how they get elected.
10. Stop the Tax Hikes
Permanently repeal all tax hikes, including those to the income, capital gains, and death taxes, currently scheduled to begin in 2011. (53.38%)
Second, after all the talk about "balanced budgets" and "fiscal responsibility," this article shows how much Tea Partiers really care about those things. A recent analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities revealed that the Bush-era tax cuts (income, capital gains, and death taxes) that Obama currently plans to repeal in 2011 and this article wishes to extend have added more to the federal deficit than the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the TARP program, the Obama stimulus package, and the recession combined.
So, you can have tax cuts or a balanced budget. You can't have both, at least not without some truly enormous spending cuts.
Obama's proposed federal budget for 2011 is $3.8 trillion, and it is projected to produce a $1.3 trillion deficit. If you leave defense spending, Social Security, Medicare, and interest on the national debt, as the majority of Tea Partiers apparently think we should, that leaves $1.6 trillion left over. To balance the budget without raising taxes, you have to cut $1.3 trillion. Where are you going to find it? Recent polls have found that the only area of the budget that more than 1/3 of Americans support cutting is foreign aid, which makes up 1% of federal spending. Anybody else foresee a problem?
The blue line is the percentage of Americans willing to cut spending on a particular program.
The red line is the percentage of the budget actually spent on the program.
If the Tea Party wants to be taken seriously, it needs to put forth serious, workable solutions to the problems facing this country. Unfortunately, the Contract From America doesn't.