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A Tea Party Take on U.S. Debt, Federal Budget Deal Negotiations

December 27, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
Where does the tea party movement stand on the fiscal decisions being hashed out today? Margaret Warner talks to Matt Kibbe, president and CEO of FreedomWorks, a national organization behind tea party protests and rallies and past congressional campaigns.

MARGARET WARNER: We return to our series of different voices and viewpoints on the nation’s fiscal cliff debate.

Tea party activists took aim at government spending three years ago, with protests and rallies in Washington and elsewhere. The national group FreedomWorks helped organized many of those events and financed fiscally conservative tea party-backed candidates in 2010 and this year.

So, where does the tea party movement stand on the fiscal decisions at hand today?

For that, we turn to Matt Kibbe, FreedomWorks’ president and CEO.

And welcome back to the program.

MATT KIBBE, FreedomWorks: Thank you.

MARGARET WARNER: So the fiscal cliff is now nearly upon us. Does that alarm you or do you welcome it?

MATT KIBBE: It alarms me, but this is not a crisis that wasn’t predicted at least 10 years ago, when the Bush tax rates were first established.

I think — I remember a time when December was quiet in Washington, D.C., because Congress actually did its job and passed the budget by the beginning of the fiscal year in October. So this government by crisis, this budgeting at the last minute is a new thing, and it’s a real problem.

MARGARET WARNER: But do explain to us the tea party’s view here.

Last week, when Speaker Boehner — when House Republicans, some of them revolted against his attempt they have to this plan B, tax on millionaires, many in the tea party, at least that I read about and heard, cheered him, cheered the revolt. Why?

MATT KIBBE: Right. Oh, yes, we did as well. The problem is that you can’t get to real tax reform at the end of the day in a crisis.

And if Barack Obama, who’s the only man that can stop a massive tax increase on Jan. 1, wants to do that, there’s nothing that House Republicans can do to stop it.

MARGARET WARNER: No, but explain why they were — I mean, was it just that any deal that raised taxes, period, no compromise was worth that?

MATT KIBBE: Yes. Well, it’s hard to compromise when there’s not two sets of ideas on the table.

The Senate Democrats have never passed a budget resolution, so how do you split the difference? What we’d like to see, the only rational solution at this late end of the game is to extend the current rates for another year, like was done in 2010, and let’s go through regular order.

Let’s actually write a tax bill out of the Ways and Means Committee. Let’s have the Senate Democrats debate that. Let’s go through the normal budget process, pass a budget resolution by Apr. 15, because the only way you are going to get to the real issues, which are tax reform and real entitlement reform, that has to be done through regular order. It’s not going to be done in a backroom at the end of this year.

MARGARET WARNER: But, I mean, that’s what was said last December, when this Budget Control Act was adopted …


MARGARET WARNER: … with this sword of Damocles hanging over the whole process. And it didn’t happen.

MATT KIBBE: Well, the sequester, remember, is a separate issue. But that is what was promised.

MARGARET WARNER: Those across-the-board spending cuts.

MATT KIBBE: It was promised to us in exchange for another $2 trillion increase in the debt limit.

So I view that as a promise that was made by both Republicans and Democrats to cut just a haircut off of the rate of growth, the spending.

MARGARET WARNER: So let’s go back to the Tea party’s approach here.

Would you say, though, that the tea party has made its influence felt anyway, in that it helped elect many of the fiscally conservative House Republicans who revolted against Boehner last week?

MATT KIBBE: Well, I think part of the chaos you’re seeing is that seismic shift in the conversation starting with the 2010 class, because we were debating up until that point how many trillions in new spending to put on the table.

Instead, we said, let’s talk about how we’re going to balance the budget. So we’re still having that fight today. We’re debating what to cut.

We have both Republicans and Democrats who have actually put some nominal reductions in the rate of growth of spending. That’s a healthy start, but it’s such a baby step when you’re debating $100 billion out of a $1.3 trillion deficit.

That’s not draconian. That’s not even that serious.

MARGARET WARNER: Let me ask you this. The tea party has been, since its at least inception when it burst on the national scene in ’09, against the Obama health care plan, been very vocal, had rallies and protests to voice its view and put pressure on lawmakers.

They have not done that this — in this go-round. There have been no rallies calling on members of Congress to stand firm against any compromise. What explains that?

MATT KIBBE: Well, I think it’s a social movement, and it’s evolved dramatically from those big protests in 2009. We were involved in those, and those were very important at that time.

You’re seeing an evolution and a developing sophistication at the very local level amongst activists. They’re very aware of what’s going on, on the fiscal cliff. They’re fluent on what a budget resolution is. They’re paying attention. And you see that pressure applied to both Republicans and Democrats.


MATT KIBBE: Well, it’s not going to be — we’re not a protest movement anymore. We’re something else.

We’re going to be seating candidates, recruiting candidates in the next cycle. And that’s a level of sophistication that we just didn’t have in 2009.

MARGARET WARNER: Will the tea party, do you think, exact retribution on Republicans who do vote for any sort of compromise that includes any tax increases?

MATT KIBBE: I think — I can just speak for FreedomWorks. I think we look at the entire two-year cycle of a representative’s voting records, and it’s not just about one thing.

I think what we’d really like to see is not just a debate about taxes, but how about spending? How about doing something to actually balance the budget? All of these things matter if we are going to get this burden off of the economy and see some growth again.

MARGARET WARNER: Well, I think most of you would agree on that, that it needs a holistic view.

But, in the meantime, if a member of Congress wanted to know how his tea party supporters in his district felt, would they be saying to him or her, let it go over the cliff, then, if you have to vote for something, you can be voting for tax cuts?

MATT KIBBE: Well, I think they’re going to hear is, don’t raise taxes, balance the budget, do what you promised you would do in your election.

And none of that, nothing rational is going to come out of a last-minute panic Washington, D.C. So let’s extend the current rates. Let’s promise to go through the normal process.

They didn’t do that after the super committee. Why not go through the regular order, so that all Americans can see what their representatives are actually up to?

MARGARET WARNER: Matt Kibbe of FreedomWorks, thank you so much.

MATT KIBBE: Thank you.