The Tea Party Debt Commission

ORLANDO, Fla. – Two candidate cattle calls and a debate? That seemed like a bit much for 24 hours. At noon, instead of racing back to the main hall of CPAC Florida to watch a few presidential candidate speeches, I dropped into the second Tea Party Debt Commission meeting, sponsored by FreedomWorks. Dick Armey’s Tea Party collossus took over the dining room of a Denny’s, put a powerpoint presentation on a flat screen TV, and began 90 minutes of debate about how to cut the budget.

I grabbed a seat at a table with a group of Frederick Douglass Republicans, black conservatives who shared their stories of speaking at Tea Party events and making converts. They were having some success, they said, in converting fellow black men. “Frederick Douglass is a badge of honor,” explained K. Carl Smith, who was selling a book about his politics. “Barack Obama is a shield of shame.”

The presentation by FreedomWorks economist Dean Clancy was simple and terrifying, all of the scary charts and data of Paul Ryan’s pitches boiled down to seven minutes. Conservative shibboleths were destroyed; conservative shibboleths were reinforced. A complicated visualization of federal spending revealed that foreign aid was a fraction of the speck of the budget. Lesson: You can’t make a dent if you just kill that. Another chart, demonstrating how tax revenue overaged around 18 percent for the past few decades, reinforced another idea. “Outlays are currently 25 percent of GDP,” said Clancy. “Therefore, we cannot balance the budget by raising taxes.”

How to fix it? We were given a chance to vote with FW’s Debt Commission web widget. Two programs would be proposed; we would have to cut one and only one. (Clancy gently told us that “both” was not an option when “end TARP” and “end Fannie and Freddie” came up.”) We were readed to cut “sacred cows,” but they didn’t come up in the quick voe. Killing a bunch of programs most everyone hated cut more than $2 trillion over a decade.

According to Clancy, as the event wrapped up, the previous commission hearing in Utah was a little more wonky, and this one (which a German film crew joined us for part of) was “more of a normal Tea Party meeting.”