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What If the Tea Party Wins?

What If the Tea Party Wins?
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Editor’s note: As we at Care2 prepare for the upcoming 2012 elections, we are planning to provide examples of what the US could face with a conservative majority in Washington D.C. We offer you this article from the Center for American Progress as an introduction to our upcoming “If they win…” coverage.

Written by Ian Millhiser, a policy analyst at the Center for American Progress

In the Tea Party’s America, families must mortgage their home to pay for their mother’s end-of-life care. Higher education is a luxury reserved almost exclusively to the very rich. Rotten meat ships to supermarkets nationwide without a national agency to inspect it. Fathers compete with their adolescent children for sub-minimum wage jobs. And our national leaders are utterly powerless to do a thing.

At least, that’s what would happen if the Tea Party succeeds in its effort to reimagine the Constitution as an antigovernment manifesto. While the House of Representatives pushes Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) plan to phase out Medicare, numerous members of Congress, a least one Supreme Court justice, and the governor of America’s second-largest state now proudly declare that most of the progress of the last century violates the Constitution.

It is difficult to count how many essential laws would simply cease to exist if the Tea Party won its battle to reshape our founding document, but a short list includes:

  • Social Security and Medicare
  • Medicaid, children’s health insurance, and other health care programs
  • All federal education programs
  • All federal antipoverty programs
  • Federal disaster relief
  • Federal food safety inspections and other food safety programs
  • Child labor laws, the minimum wage, overtime, and other labor protections
  • Federal civil rights laws

Indeed, as this paper explains, many state lawmakers even embrace a discredited constitutional doctrine that threatens the union itself.

What’s at stake

The Tea Party imagines a constitution focused entirely upon the Tenth Amendment, which provides that “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people”—which is why their narrow vision of the nation’s power is often referred to as “tentherism.” In layman’s terms, the Tenth Amendment is simply a reminder that the Constitution contains an itemized list of federal powers—such as the power to regulate interstate commerce or establish post offices or make war on foreign nations—and anything not contained in that list is beyond Congress’s authority.

The Tea Party, however, believes these powers must be read too narrowly to permit much of the progress of the last century. This issue brief examines just some of the essential programs that leading Tea Partiers would declare unconstitutional.

Social Security and Medicare

The Constitution gives Congress the power “to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States,” thus empowering the federal government to levy taxes and leverage these revenues for programs such as Social Security and Medicare. A disturbingly large number of elected officials, however, insist that these words don’t actually mean what they say.

In a speech to the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, Texas Gov. Rick Perry listed a broad swath of programs that “contradict the principles of limited, constitutional government that our founders established to protect us.” Gov. Perry’s list includes Medicare and “a bankrupt social security system, that Americans understand is essentially a Ponzi scheme on a scale that makes Bernie Madoff look like an amateur.” And Perry is hardly the only high-ranking elected official to share this view.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) mocked President Franklin Delano Roosevelt for calling upon the federal government to provide “a decent retirement plan” and “health care” because “the Constitution doesn’t give Congress any of those powers.” Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), who engineered the House of Representatives’s dramatic reading of the Constitution earlier this year, claimed that Medicare and Social Security are “not in the Constitution” and are only allowed to exist because “the courts have stretched the Constitution to say it’s in the general welfare clause.” Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) said we should eliminate Medicare because “that’s a family responsibility, not a government responsibility.”

Because this erroneous view of our founding document is rooted in an exaggerated view of the Tenth Amendment’s states rights’ provision, many so-called tenthers claim that eliminating Social Security and Medicare wouldn’t necessarily mean kicking millions of seniors out into the cold because state governments could enact their own retirement programs to pick up the slack. This proposal, however, ignores basic economics.

Under our current system, someone who begins their career in Ohio, moves to Virginia to accept a better job offer, and then retires in Florida pays the same federal taxes regardless of their residence. These taxes then fund programs such as Medicare and Social Security. If each state were responsible for setting up its own retirement system, however, the person described above would pay Ohio taxes while they worked in Ohio, Virginia taxes while they lived in Virginia, and would draw benefits from the state of Florida during their retirement. The state which benefited from their taxes would not be the same state that was required to fund their retirement, and the result would be an economic death spiral for states such as Florida that attract an unusually large number of retirees.

For this reason, tenther proposals to simply let the states take over Social Security and Medicare are nothing more than a backdoor way to eliminate these programs altogether. If the Tea Party gets its way, and our nation’s social safety net for seniors is declared unconstitutional, millions of seniors will lose their only income and their only means to pay for health care.

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Photo from mar is sea Y via flickr creative commons

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2:09PM PST on Dec 29, 2011

"Sinclair Lewis said it best in 1937 "When Fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in a flag and carrying a cross." Debra G.
That is so true, Thank you, Debra G.

11:37AM PDT on Oct 26, 2011

@ Christian By telling me how the Republicans did this or that badly, you seem to be suggesting that I think they are somehow good or right. I do not. I am VERY unhappy with them. They are corrupt to the core... but, then again so are the Democrats.

All things boil down to a simple truth. In this case, my statement that the parties are equally to blame for the state we are in. Proof? They have, more or less, equally shared power for many years. The country is falling deeper and deeper into a hole. No progress is made, largely due to the inability of the factions to work together. Hence, they are equally responsible.

George Washington in his farewell address warned the populace of the dangers of party politics. He could foresee such problems with the system as it was. If you blindly follow one side or the other... canonize one, demonize the other... you are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

11:30AM PDT on Oct 26, 2011

@ Christian... a few more flubs on the part of the Dems;

-NAFTA. Dems and Repubs both supported. Manufacturing jobs moved south, borders opened to Mexican truck drivers who often do not know, or at least abide by, laws of the road in the US. NAFTA allows for Mexican (as well as Canadian) firms to SUE the U.S. government. Removed the right of Mexican Indigenous population to keep their land to themselves, free of unwanted outside influence.

-Abortion/gun control… hypocritical. (let me start by saying; I am on the fence about abortion, I will support the right to chose as long as it is the law of the land) Democrats want it to be easy for a woman to have an abortion, destroying a fetus. (This is questionable when it would be considered murder in the eyes of the law if done without the woman's consent. If it is murder in one case, why not the other? Just playing Devil's advocate)… YET they want to deny me the right to defend myself against a witting assailant who threatens my home and life. Where is the logic in that?

-Support of the UAW (the Dems are securely in the UAW's pocket… again, BOUGHT AND SOLD DEMOCRATS) The policies and demands of the UAW lead directly to the breakdown of the U.S. auto industry and the bailouts… While the workers and retires did not deserve to lose all that they did, bailing out the companies was a questionable act… saved a few jobs, which are desperately needed, but at what cost? Would have been bette

11:28AM PDT on Oct 26, 2011

@ Christian. First, you claim that my "rant" was devoid of a single fact. That is patently untrue! Yet you say I am spinning lies... Facts that I stated; the two major parties bicker and infight, accomplishing nothing. They each nay say the positive ideas of the other on the basis of party affiliation. The DOJ raided a Republican contributing U.S. industry for, alleged, violations of the Lacey Act, when Democrat contributing corporations were ignored. i.e. The Democrats were bought and sold...

You want more facts? I will give you a few;

RE Filibusters (you described the Republican use of such as "draconian" I believe)

-In June, Dems filibustered their OWN debt bill because Republicans wanted the STANDARD 60 vote margin… Dems insisted it have a lower threshold than the long standing rule, yet blamed the Republicans for the delay…

-Republicans filibustered Judicial nomination of Liu because Democrats insisted that the margin for approval be 51 votes as opposed to the standing 60 vote margin… which they had insisted on for Republican nominees. Double standard there Dems...

-in 2003 Reid spent over eight hours on the senate floor reading his own book, now he wants to complain about Republican filibusters?

8:15PM PDT on Oct 25, 2011

Wall Street did the greatest bank heist in world history. Banks created intentionally risky loans by ignoring people's ability to pay those loans. They then mixed the bad loans with solid, non-risky loans, and sold them on the world market.
This crashed the housing market in 2007, which crashed the banking system worldwide in 2008. This panicked investors and tightened credit, drying up business and killing jobs, leading to foreclosures and record unemployment. This, along with the Republican administration running up 13.5 trillion in debt has created a nightmare.
The Bush administration lost 800,000 jobs *per month* in the last year of his term, and now 17 million people are out of work.
The 1999 Republican bill to repeal the Glass–Steagall Act of 1933 removed the separation that previously existed between Wall Street investment banks and depository banks, allowing this to happen.
Banks betted against their own loans and made billions. They *knew* that their loans were going to crash. Then they gave themselves billions in bonuses. Now they are intent on taking people's homes, and they are just sitting on 2.4 trillion in cash that could be invested in small businesses that create jobs, but they won't do it because they want to be able to continue to steal, and they want a bad economic picture so that they can sway an election cycle toward those Republicans that will help them steal some more.

That's why I'm with the 99%. The so-called Tea Party supports the 1%

7:11PM PDT on Oct 25, 2011

@George G.

Your rant was devoid of a single fact.
I factually asserted that Republicans have blocked progress on every single bill proposed by Democrats by abusing the filibuster rule hundreds of times, and you cannot deny this.
No, both parties are not to blame, that's a fiction that you've made up without factual support.
Republicans alone created the political environment for the largest bank heist in world history, under the Bush administration. It's called TARP. Bush urged banks to lower their requirements for downpayments and created the climate for people to get in over their heads with underwater mortgages. Banks then took those bad loans and rolled them into good loans and sold them on the world market, and crashed it in 2008.
Democrats had nothing to do with this. The legislation that allowed this to happen was created by Phil Graham (R) of Texas. Look it up.
You're spinning lies George G. The facts don't back you up.

7:15PM PDT on Oct 24, 2011

@Christian... You honestly think that the Democrats are any less corrupt? Please... They are two sides of the same coin. Think Democrats are not bought and sold? Look at what just happened with Gibson Guitars... Raided at gunpoint over wood imported from India that the Indian government says is legal? hmm... Know what? Fender, Paul Reed Smith and other manufacturers get wood from the same source. No issues with the DOJ. The ONLY difference? Those companies send big $ to Democrats, Gibson to Republicans. That is just ONE of many examples of Democrats being bought and sold. It is VERY naive to think that they are any better than their counterparts.

They (repubs and dems) bicker and infight and never make progress. Both parties have had good ideas as well as bad, they will each decry the ideas of the other party simply on the basis of the fact that it comes from the other party. They conspire between themselves to hold onto power collectively, keeping Independents and other parties out of the loop. They are both Machiavellian to the extreme, do not doubt it for a minute.

They each CLAIM to be for personal freedoms, yet they each attempt to deny freedoms to the public. They each make bold statements that "the small business man is the backbone of America" (how many times have you heard that from both sides?), yet they continue to create situations that make it harder and harder for small business to prosper.

You may stop spinning the truth yourself Ch

6:55PM PDT on Oct 24, 2011

"the blame for the shape of our country is squarely on the shoulders of BOTH the Republicans and Democrats."

This is factually inaccurate.
The Republicans (and this includes the rebranded extremist Tea Party faction) are bought and paid for, and are completely corrupt and completely responsible for the wars and the enourmous debt that we now have, and for the draconian way in which they have obstructed everything through the abuse of the filibuster.
The Democrats have partially sold out, and have partially allowed themselves to be alligned with the opposition, which is why the Democratic Party never had a true majority, due to abuse of power.
So please, stop spinning the truth. One party is to blame for creating the mess. The other party is to blame for not lowering themselves to the lowest level to stop them.

12:06PM PDT on Oct 23, 2011

It DISGUSTS me when allegedly intelligent people resort to name calling against the opposing faction. How exactly do you expect to further your position? Further, the blame for the shape of our country is squarely on the shoulders of BOTH the Republicans and Democrats. It is ludicrous to blame one, and canonize the other. Please people, WAKE UP!

12:37PM PDT on Oct 22, 2011

I hope that Americans will stop being the stupidest citizens of the educated world when these teapots come up for re-election.

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