Tea time

Those who watched President Barack Obama’s speech about debt reduction and raising the debt limit Monday night, followed by House Speaker John Boehner’s opposing remarks, may have been struck by a key point in both speeches.

Simply put, the debate has moved significantly over the past few months, to the point that both men were talking about how to cut trillions of dollars of federal spending.

As recently as February, Obama introduced a 2012 budget plan that would have significantly increased federal spending, even as it claimed to reduce the federal debt over the next decade.

Credit the tea party and its supporters with moving the discussion more in the direction of spending cuts. Whether one loves them or hates them, it’s clear the intransigence of those members of Congress who claim tea party support has moved the goal posts with respect to the debt. Raising the debt ceiling isn’t the automatic action it once was, and it now must be tied to spending cuts.

Despite their agreement on spending cuts, a chasm still divides Boehner and Obama. Obama wants to include revenue increases, through closed tax loopholes, in a settlement. Boehner says, “No.”

Closing some of those loopholes and reforming the tax code is necessary for dealing with our long-term debt. But that now appears to be off the table for the short-term effort to raise the debt ceiling. Even the plan offered Monday by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid contains no revenue increases. For that, you can also thank tea partiers who have refused to budge on the tax issue.

We don’t know whether Congress will act this week in time to prevent the federal government from defaulting on some debt and possibly sending the economy into a tailspin. We hope David Brooks is right, in his column below, that Boehner and Reid are now in a position to craft a limited compromise to prevent default.

But even those who detest the tea party must admit it has changed the debate and made debt reduction a key part of both parties’ platforms. In the long run, that will be good for this country.


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