Monday, February 7, 2011

Bright Lines and Bold Colors

My Dear Fellow Patriots;

When the Staten Island Tea Party got its start, in an attempt to codify the reasons for its existence, I wrote a Mission Statement that can still be found today on our website. It is much too long for a Mission Statement, and I smile when I read it because it reminds me of how green we all were back in March of 2009. The sentiments expressed in it still represent my beliefs, however, and it's worth remembering that there was no charted course, the tea party "movement" did not yet exist and we were all just feeling our way in the dark.

Without realizing it when it was written, I stumbled blindly into the three principles that other organizers throughout the country would find, and would become the legs of the stool upon which the entire movement sits: fiscal sanity, free markets, and a constitutionally-limited federal government. These three beliefs, as simple as they are, have sustained this movement - and the Staten Island Tea Party - through its explosive growth. Why? Because they are so simple and so universal. If you aspire to these three principles you have a home, a comfortable one, in the tea party movement.

If you've ever wondered why you feel so "in sync" with everyone at tea party rallies and events - whether you've stood with 350 people on New Dorp Lane or a million people in Washington, D.C. - it is because everyone shares those three common beliefs. That simplicity, and our unwillingness to try to do your thinking for you on ANY issue, has sustained us.

So it is with some trepidation, but mostly optimism, that I point out the first issue that we cannot ignore and over which we may, as a group, find ourselves divided.

Last year, when freshman Democratic Congressman Mike McMahon voted with his party's leadership to raise the debt ceiling, I referred to it as fiscal insanity. It was a snap declaration, born of the belief that raising the debt ceiling, like raising the credit limit on the plastic in your wallet, would lead to evermore spending and would simply be feeding our addiction to finding uses for money we didn't have.

This year, freshman Republican Congressman Michael Grimm has indicated his intent to vote with his party's leadership to raise the debt ceiling. Does such a vote still represent fiscal insanity?

It depends on how you look at it. Newly-elected House Speaker John Boehner warns that we have to make an "adult" decision about this, as he tries to herd Republican freshman into voting in favor of raising the debt ceiling. Overlooking his insulting choice of words directed to those candidates who promised on the campaign trail that they would slash the budget and never vote to raise the debt limit, he warns that shutting down the government - and risking defaulting on the debt - is not an acceptable outcome.

Then along comes the Republican Study Committee, who introduces legislation that would give the Treasury Secretary (yuck!) the power to prioritize spending as a way of protecting the full faith and credit of the United States government - thereby taking default off the table as a downside risk when making a decision on raising the ceiling.

Congressman Grimm and some other freshman Republicans are siding with Boehner and attempting to tie their votes to a balanced budget amendment. Dozens of others, however, are sticking to their guns - and their promises - and vowing to vote against their leadership. Their tough-love approach has the potential to be very painful; look no further back than 1995, when the government shutdown stalled the Gingrich Revolution and had the unintended consequence of boosting President Clinton's popularity.

Who's willing to risk this outcome now?

Republicans are split over this, and so the first fault lines in GOP unity have appeared. It was not unexpected, and the fact that even though they had months to prepare for the vote they have not been able to formulate a strategy acceptable to 100% of Republicans, speaks to how daunting the conundrum is.

Not surprisingly, divisions exist within the tea party movement, too. Many accept as perfectly rational the explanation that the interest on our debt alone will push us through the ceiling sometime this spring, even if not one penny of additional spending takes place. Or that this is, as the congressman alludes, a great opportunity to advance a much-desired balanced budget amendment.

Other tea partiers are not buying it. Many are taking a "damn-the-torpedoes" approach, believing that there is no point in further propping up this house of cards, that we should blow it down and build it up again on a foundation of fiscal sanity.

In the meantime, those on the left are gleefully waiting to pounce. "Grimm has thrown the tea party under the bus," they will crow. They will say he's a hypocrite who ran as a tea party candidate (he did not, by the way) and is now becoming the same kind of Washington go-along guy as the rest of them.

Let them have their fun. If Congressman Grimm votes in accordance with my beliefs 90% of the time, I think it's a helluva lot better than the former Congressman, who voted with Nancy Pelosi 90% of the time.

But you make up your own mind. I urge you to call both the district (718- 351-1062) and the DC offices (202-225-3371) of Congressman Grimm and let them know how you feel - whether you're for or against a vote to raise the debt ceiling, or what conditions you might put on it.

Me? Personally? I think it stinks, and I don't feel like being "adult" about it. The tea party movement should be about bold strokes and bright lines, and I am loath to see the debt ceiling raised because it's too hard not to, and I long to see Rand Paul's "modest" $500 billion in cuts instituted, which will leave 85% of the government in place without touching Social Security or Medicare.

But I am not the Congressman, and he must find his own way to do the best job he knows how for his district and his country.

If he believes that raising the ceiling is a fait accompli and that he can use his vote to further the cause of the elusive balanced budget amendment, then go ahead, Representative Grimm - hold your nose and vote to raise the limit one more time. But I would counsel you to put your colleagues, your leadership and your constituents on notice - this will be the last time you vote for it.

Your in Liberty,

Frank Santarpia

Staten Island, NY