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Published: Wednesday, 12/8/2010

Midterm-election trust was misplaced

Any minute now, members of the Tea Party movement will be taking to the streets with pitchforks. Surely, voters who are angry about unrestrained government spending must be apoplectic over the tax-cut deal struck between the White House and congressional Republicans.

Extending all the Bush-era tax cuts, along with several other write-offs, will add as much as $900 billion to the rising national debt. Tax reductions financed with borrowed money from China are a far cry from the aggressive deficit-slashing promised by Tea Party candidates during the midterm campaigns. It's more like staying the course and going for broke on the backs of generations to come.

The crushing debt burden mobilized many Americans in protest before the recent election. Washington's maddening reluctance to tackle the nation's long-term fiscal imbalance had them seeing red, lots of it.

Government couldn't keep adding hundreds of billions of dollars to future deficits if the country ever hoped to tame its out-of-control federal debt. Republicans campaigned as the only choice to rein in excessive Washington spending and balance the budget.

Then, heady with victory, they returned to work and promptly proposed new Washington spending. They put their deficit-hawk affirmations in storage for another election.

Spineless Democrats appear powerless to stop the GOP steamroller ready to swamp America with even more debt. But sticking to pay-as-you-go principles is hard.

It requires discipline. So does offsetting tax cuts with spending cuts. Why bother when you can just borrow? Why put off today what your grandkids and their grandkids can pay for with interest tomorrow?

The change from pandering rhetoric that stressed tough budget choices to reduce the deficit to insisting on tax breaks for the rich that would balloon it is astounding. Even more remarkable is the acquiescence of leading Democrats who could have made a difference.

But continuing the Bush administration tax cuts - even if the country can't afford to - is a compromise the gutless wonders say they can't refuse. It's better to extend extravagant perks than let them expire at the end of the year as part of some silly commitment to curb spending and lower the deficit.

High-end tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans have to be secured for the welfare of the super-rich. They have houses, cars, private jets, yachts, and other expenses to pay for too.

Saddling ordinary, middle-class folks - not to be confused with people earning six figures and above - with extra debt for millionaires is sold as a panacea for helping the economy. But the public isn't buying the ruse.

They see the ghost of Marie Antoinette nudging emboldened Republicans to urge the little people, scraping by on depressed wages or their last unemployment checks, to eat cake. No need to justify lavish spending on the richest 2 percent of U.S. households while working families clip coupons to stretch depleted incomes.

In a couple of years, the economy will rebound and the presidential campaign will be in full swing. No one will remember how Republicans dragged the nation further down in debt, after campaigning for months about deficits being the devil. At least, that's what the GOP is banking on.

The uproar from betrayed Tea Party backers should be deafening. They strengthened Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's hand and made House Speaker-to-be John Boehner of Ohio weep with gratitude.

This is how fiscal conservatives fighting for smaller government and deficit reduction have been repaid? With across-the-board tax cuts financed entirely by adding to the national debt?

Their election heroes are ramming through a tax package with something for everyone, from the jobless to the most prosperous. It will come at a staggering overall cost to the U.S. Treasury. On his way out of Congress, Ohio Republican Sen. George Voinovich commendably refuses to support tax cuts without paying for them.

But he may be the lone GOP opponent of the deal. Even the feckless Democrat in the White House is on board. Despite a campaign pledge to roll back the 2001 and 2003 tax breaks, President Obama predictably folded when he should have fought.

Democrats who still control the House and Senate will probably do the same. But Tea Partiers who voted for change have been played for fools. Surely a revolt is coming. Any minute now.

Marilou Johanek is a Blade commentary writer.

Contact her at: mjohanek@theblade.com



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