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On debt, Tea Party should put up or shut up


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, a Mount Pleasant Republican, is the former lieutenant governor. This commentary originally was published in The Texas Tribune. It is reprinted here through a news partnership between the Tribune and the Mercury.

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5 Comments To "On debt, Tea Party should put up or shut up"

#1 Comment By Eric On 12/05/2010 @ 1:52 pm

The Tea Party will succeed or fail based upon if it holds its candidates, and others, responsible to the responsibilities they were voted into office for in the first place. I am eagerly hopeful.

Concerning National Debt and a plan: I would like to hear real conversation’s to include limiting ANY governmental budget increase(s) to the population increase (proportionality), and inflation. Ergo: Limited Government.

#2 Comment By Lynny Moore On 12/05/2010 @ 2:30 pm

Mr. Ratliff, they are not just saying no new taxes they are saying to continue to cut taxes. While President Bush was in office government spending went through the roof while taxes were cut. Bad formula for balancing a budget.

#3 Comment By Bill Haney On 12/05/2010 @ 5:40 pm

Someone said recently that the difference between the Democrat and Republican parties is that the Democrats are racing to socialism at 100 miles per hour, whilst the Republicans race there at 50 mph. My view is that both Democrats and Republicans know what needs to be done, yet few have the will to stand up to the special interests who have have influenced policy for decades and those without that will deserve to go.

The so-called tea partiers’ best contribution remains to support candidates from the two major parties who further their goals.

Ratliff errs in attempting to pigeon-hole the tea partiers into a “responsible movement” whatever that means, lest they be “regarded as just another group of malcontents.”

Malcontents built this nation from its inception.

We will know when the tea party movement has failed when “leaders” emerge only to be subject to being co-opted by the same special interests who have influenced destructive policy in the past. That appears to be what Bill Ratliff calls for. The tea party remains strong by being an amorphous mass of like-minded individuals whose contributions and support for like-minded candidates remain intact and beginning at the local level.

#4 Comment By Todd Giberson On 12/05/2010 @ 7:00 pm

Lt. Gov. Ratliff is aiming at the wrong target as he zeroes in on the Tea Party. The Tea Party is a grassroots movement, consisting of a lot of people who are tired of the same old tax and spend, spend, spend. The Tea Partier says the federal government is way too big and needs to pare itself back down to its Constitutional duties.

Does Mr. Ratliff agree with this sentiment? If so, he ought to take his experience and be suggesting ways to cut back on unnecessary government spending, not issuing ultimatums to the people who are trying to prod their legislators in the right direction.

#5 Comment By Charlie On 12/06/2010 @ 9:11 am

For those of you who subscribe to the FoxNews & Mitch Mcconnell nonsense about keeping tax cuts for the millionaires and billionaires, I suggest you read yesterdays’s Austin Statesman article “A debunker’s guide to myths surrounding income tax showdown” which provides an analysis of the effects of tax cuts on the wealthy & small business.