The battle on the debt limit has been fought before
© by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, July 28, 2011

Among many happy memories as a taxpayer activist: times spent on the Boston waterfront, tossing tea into the harbor. We had to keep the tea boxes on a rope, for recovery, so we wouldn't pollute.

Eventually tiring of tea-tossing, Citizens for Limited Taxation focused on tax-issue ballot questions instead of symbolism. But always in mind, the similar theme: citizen activists in revolt.

Over the years, we won some, lost some; got older, perhaps a tad discouraged. Then in early 2009, reinforcements, calling themselves the tea party, arrived: symbolism organized for action here in Boston again, and across the nation. While Sam Adams-like leaders eventually appeared, the initial and dominant activism was spontaneous, citizens waking from a dream of government competence as the national debt hit 60 percent of GDP.

In fact, a similar awakening had happened before, in the early '90s. Back then, most people didn't seem to know the difference between the deficit and the national debt; we used the words interchangeably. Then Ross Perot came along with his simple charts and a pointer, warning about irresponsible borrowing, teaching us the already worrisome numbers. He was running for president at the time; my partner, Chip Ford, was Massachusetts media liaison for his 1992 campaign.

Like most political activists, Mr. Perot didn't make a good politician; his presidential bids failed, and his tea party-like movement, the Reform Party, fell apart when it tried to become an actual political party. But the effect was lasting, for a while: The newly educated voting population demanded a balanced budget, and the effort became part of the Clinton presidency, supported by the Republicans who controlled Congress in his second term. The end of the Cold War helped with the balancing, but without public pressure, the "peace dividend" would have been quickly spent on new programs, leading to even more new borrowing.

In the mid-'90s, the House actually passed the National Taxpayer Union's federal Balanced Budget constitutional amendment. It failed in the Senate by just one vote; that would be Sen. John Kerry's. Remember that as you hear him bemoaning the current debt ceiling crisis: It's his fault.

Soon the public moved on to other issues, and when it wasn’t looking, the annual deficits piled up again. Some of us thought that with Republicans controlling the executive and both legislative branches after 2002, the deficits would be controlled. We also fantasized about addressing the “alternative minimum tax” that was once levied on “the rich” and had inevitably trickled down to the middle class, and getting another shot at a balanced budget amendment.

In fairness to President Bush, we also got a new ongoing War, Hot instead of Cold, with Islamic terrorists. But this should have reminded the U.S. of its priorities, national defense trumping social spending as the primary reason government was invented in the first place. Instead, voters became infatuated with an unknown presidential candidate vaguely promising "hope and change."

So here we are, with a national debt of $14.3 trillion. In 2009, the public started paying attention again, organizing around the issue as the tea party, which to its credit has resisted the temptation to become a third political party or, for the most part, get distracted by non-fiscal issues.

I'm not an organizer of the new tea party, though as a generic tea partyer for more than 30 years, I'm a practicing member, grateful it's here in time to save the country. Because it's deliberately and often viciously misrepresented by its enemies, I hope I'll accurately clarify its position on the present debate about raising the debt limit while expressing mine.

We can't responsibly raise the debt limit unless there are cuts in federal spending to prevent the total debt from increasing. Borrowing to pay operating expenses, including interest on debt, is insane fiscal policy for individuals and governments. Burdening a child born today with $46,000 in debt is governmental child abuse.

Once the growth in debt is stopped, there are various plans to start reducing it. This will take time; we must be open to discussion of all ideas except defaulting on our debt, which is unthinkable, and raising new taxes, which delays reform. The supermajority vote on a balanced budget amendment may have to wait until more Republicans or Blue Dog Democrats are elected in 2012. The debt ceiling may have to be raised a month or so at a time, with matching cuts so the debt doesn't increase.

As an independent, I don't relate to and am thoroughly fed up with partisan posturing, the blame game, appeals to "institutional congeniality," not to mention the lies, scandals, power-seeking and pandering to special spending interests, Big Business and Big Labor. I do admire those politicians who stand up for fiscal responsibility even when attacked by irrational constituents who support the status quo.

Despite the mistakes of the past, I still believe in America, in the essential common sense of its voters, in our ability to meet this challenge together without compromising basic American principles. Tea party on!

The comments made and opinions expressed in her columns are those of Barbara Anderson
and do not necessarily reflect those of Citizens for Limited Taxation.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and other Eagle Tribune newspapers; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette.

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