The Tea Party’s Foolish Budget Consistency

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. —Ralph W. Emerson

On Wednesday, after Hal Rogers said he would cut $36 billion from current-year federal expenditures, the Kentucky Republican chair of the House Appropriations Committee was dragged into a dark corner of the Congressional playground and threatened by Tea Party bullies, the feathers of their Indian headdresses waving in the revolutionary breeze. “Cut more!” they cried. “Cut $100 billion! Or else!” 

So he did. His proposal on Friday to completely eliminate or severely reduce the size of hundreds of federal programs beginning on March 5 reads like the midnight fantasy of a Heritage Foundation intern: cut spending on HIV/AIDS, overseas food grants, juvenile justice,  neighborhood policing, space exploration, weather services, food and shelter programs for the poor, community-based health care clinics, the Internal Revenue Service. Completely eliminate the perennial conservative bugaboos of Head Start, NPR and AmeriCorps.

You have to give the Tea Party credit: they yearn for consistency. They promised that they would cut spending and this is their first attempt. They are going after programs that make their cultists writhe in glorious hatred. But they are incredibly foolish in their consistency. 

In the scope of a $1.5 trillion deficit, they have left untouched the real causes of the deficit: reckless tax cuts, over-reaching military adventures, Medicare and Social Security. Average monthly federal spending in FY 2010 in Iraq is $5.4 billion and in Afghanistan is $5.7 billion. That’s more than $125 billion a year ignored by Tea Party and its statesmen, philosophers and divines. 

But the foolish consistency of the Tea Party demands elimination of AmeriCorps, where AmeriCorps members spend at least a year serving their country, working in programs at nonprofits and schools. That’s going to save $1 billion as it puts thousands of nonprofits out of business. Not to mention the 100,000 people who will be unemployed on March 5 when the program ends. Of course, the Tea Party’s budget doesn’t have any extra money in it for unemployment insurance claims from out of work nonprofit staff and AmeriCorps members. For that would be inconsistent. 

And the Tea Party is not inconsistent. Foolish, yes. Inconsistent, no.

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