How will the Tea Party respond now that its favorite welfare programs are under the guillotine?
Medicare cuts are "on the radar" in the second phase of Congress' new debt deal. The agreement reached this week already includes the possibility of a two percent cut to Medicare reimbursements, but the "super-committee" that will convene to come up with $1.5 trillion in more cuts will probably be looking at least partially toward medical spending. This is in addition to the cuts that are set to befall Medicare reimbursement starting in a couple months. Many op-ed columnists are calling these attacks on entitlement spending a victory for Tea Partiers, whose beef with big government has shaped politics for several years now. What those columns fail to consider, however, is how many Tea Partiers rely on the very programs they've forced to the chopping block.
In preparing for the coming months of massive budget cuts, one should note that, in April 2010, a CBS/New York Times poll found 44 percent of Tea Party supporters were either receiving Medicare themselves or had a family member receiving Medicare. When it came to Social Security, that percentage was even higher (48 percent). Exactly one year later, in April of this year, it came as no surprise that 70 percent of tea party supporters said they were against Medicare cuts. They're also against Social Security cuts by a two-to-one margin. It makes sense: Would you want to slash programs from which you were benefiting so greatly?
The point isn't that tea partiers are hypocrites—they're not, at least not because of this. Most of the cuts in the debt deal have nothing to do with Medicare or Social Security. Rather, the point is that the political climate conjured by the tea party's anti-spending push is one that seems to have gone too far even for them. Riding high on a big victory in November, GOP lawmakers have made good on their promise to obstruct government growth. The only problem is that they're now doing it at the expense of even their right-wing base.
It should be interesting to see how the Tea Party responds. Cutting government spending is all well and good when it's happening in the ghettos; what happens when austerity comes to their door?
photo (cc) via Flickr user Fibonacci Blue