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Don't Blame the Tea Party

Since the beginning of the debt ceiling debate, Democrats have criticized Tea Party representatives for taking a hard-line stance on spending cuts and caps. During the debate they were described as “rebels” and attacked as unwilling to compromise. 

Now, the Obama administration is attempting to blame the Tea Party for Standard & Poor’s downgrade of the government’s credit rating last Friday. And some critics are even insisting that members of the Tea Party should be viewed as “economic terrorists.”

On CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday, Obama advisor David Axelrod said the loss of America’s AAA-rating was “essentially a Tea Party downgrade” and claimed the Tea Party “brought us to the brink of a default.” 

The accusation is false, but it’s also irrelevant. The credit rating downgrade had nothing to do with how close the U.S. came to the August 2 “deadline” for raising the debt ceiling. The Tea Party argued all along that the catastrophic predictions were little more than a tool used by opponents of fiscal responsibility to push for a watered-down compromise.

Rather, the downgrade had everything to do with the medium- and long-term outlook for spending and debt. S&P stated in its rationale for the downgrade that “the fiscal consolidation plan that Congress and the administration agreed to this week falls short of the amount that we believe it necessary to stabilize the general government debt burden by the middle of the decade.” In other words – the debt ceiling compromise didn’t go far enough.

From the outset of the debt ceiling debate, the freshman Tea Party class in Congress made one point clear: that without substantial cuts in spending, the U.S. would be downgraded. Simply stated, we have a massive debt crisis being driven by a failure to rein in federal spending. 

As Tea Party members warned, S&P said that unless $4 trillion was cut from the budget, the U.S. would face a downgrade. Washington only managed half that target, passing a debt ceiling bill that aims to cut $2 trillion over 10 years, and sets the U.S. up for trillion-dollar deficits as far as the eye can see.

The Tea Party has argued all along that now is the time to rein in out-of-control spending and get the government on a path toward long-term fiscal responsibility. 

Conservative members of Congress were criticized for insisting that we must address this problem immediately, and the establishment was unfortunately successful in kicking the debt can further down the road. The Tea Party was vindicated by the S&P rationale for the downgrade, however, which noted that waiting until after the 2012 elections to enact real change will mean facing an even higher government debt burden and greater “fiscal adjustment.”

Responsibility for the credit downgrade rests not with the Tea Party, but with an administration that has added $4.3 trillion to the national debt in less than three years and with an establishment that has balked at efforts to enact substantial reforms. Tea Party members are the people who have been sounding the alarm about our financial mess for years. Tea Party representatives in Congress are the only ones presenting substantial reforms, such as the Cut, Cap, and Balance Act.

Members of the Tea Party shouldn’t be apologizing for the credit downgrade or the rest of our financial mess. They should be saying, “We told you so.”

Matt Kibbe is the president and CEO of FreedomWorks and co-author of "Give Us Liberty: A Tea Party Manifesto."

Matt Kibbe is the president of FreedomWorks and author of the "Hostile Takeover: Resisting Centralized Government's Stranglehold on America" (William Morrow 2012) Follow him on Twitter at @MKibbe.