Deep reductions in domestic and defense spending are set to begin Friday in a process known as sequestration, which will make progress toward the tea party’s goal of shrinking the government. What unfolds over the following months will be a high-stakes test of whether significant cuts in spending will help or hurt the economy — and the Republican Party’s brand.
The cuts, worth $1.2 trillion over 10 years, are slated to become reality after a period when the tea party — a movement, represented by a group of Republicans elected in 2010, whose goal is to radically cut the government — has struggled to have a lasting impact on Washington. The tea party saw President Obama win reelection and enact more than $600 billion in tax increases on the wealthy, while GOP leaders agreed to allow more federal borrowing without anything in return.
But many Republicans say the sequester is the moment when the tea party can claim it has made its mark. Although Democratic and Republican leaders are pointing fingers, the tea party and its allies are happily accepting credit for the cuts.
“This will be the first significant tea party victory in that we got what we set out to do in changing Washington,” said Rep. Tim Huelskamp (Kan.), a tea party Republican elected in 2010.
Rep. Reid J. Ribble (R-Wis.), a conservative elected in 2010 who doesn’t consider himself a member of the tea party, said the movement “was significant in getting the American people’s attention on this problem. You have to give them credit.”
‘Can’t be both bad and good’
The sequester, which will begin slowly but build over time, has put Republican leaders in a difficult corner. They say they oppose the cuts to defense spending and see little wisdom in indiscriminate, across-the-board reductions elsewhere.
But they also say they agree with the magnitude of the budget reductions — and in fact want to eventually go much further, reducing discretionary spending and entitlement programs.
House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) recently advocated an approach that has been a hallmark of the tea party: reduce federal spending so the budget is balanced in 10 years, without any increase in taxes.
To do that, experts say, such cuts would need to generate $4 trillion to $5 trillion in savings over a decade — more than three times the $1.2 trillion under sequestration.
Huelskamp, who voted against the original bill authorizing the sequester because he wanted even more cuts, said he expects Boehner and other Republican leaders to come through but is nervous about recent statements suggesting that they might be looking for alternatives.
“They promised the sequester would happen,” said Huelskamp, who voted against Boehner for speaker this year. “For them to go back on their word certainly threatens their ability to lead.”