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Tea Partiers and Entitlements

Ross Douthat says liberals are propounding myths about the tea party movement, but he’s willing to give some credence to one complaint:

THE TEA PARTIERS ARE HYPOCRITES. That is, they say they’re for small government, but they don’t want anyone to touch their Social Security and Medicare. This is by far the most persuasive liberal storyline. Poll after poll suggests that Tea Partiers are ambivalent about trimming entitlements, even though that’s the spending that will ultimately send either deficits or taxes through the roof.

On the other hand, some Tea Party-backed candidates have been refreshingly courageous on this front — whether it’s Rand Paul telling Fox News that he’d support higher deductibles for seniors, or Buck apologizing to Michael Bennet, his Senate opponent in Colorado, for Republican demagoguery on Medicare.

I’m not sure this one is so difficult to puzzle out. We recently had a major piece of legislation — the Affordable Care Act — that involves some increases in spending on health care for non-seniors, some reductions in spending on seniors, and some increases in taxes. According to the Congressional Budget Office, it will reduce the deficit. According to many conservative critics, the CBO score isn’t credible.

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So now let’s imagine that John McCain, Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe, Scott Brown, Robert Bennett, and Lindsay Graham had joined forces at a crucial juncture in the debate and said to Barack Obama and Harry Reid, “guys — we’ll vote for your bill but only if you agree to tweak the financing mechanism. Make the spending increases a little less generous, make the tax hikes less dramatic, and pare deeper on Medicare.” Then imagine Obama had cut the deal. Liberals, obviously, would generally have been displeased with this just as they were displeased with a lot of Obama’s real world dealmaking. But at the end of the day, it’s a universal health care bill. And tea partiers reaction to this would have been what? To back off their criticisms of Senator Bennett? Or to doom John McCain in his race against JD Hayworth? The latter seems an awful lot more plausible to me than the former. In general I don’t here “we had a Democratic President interested in cutting Medicare, but the Republican establishment refused to try to cut any kind of deal with him” as figuring prominently in the grassroots conservative critique of the party leadership.