Can Harry Reid wait out the Tea Party?
The Senate majority leader seems to think so.
Reid sat down with more than 30 Review-Journal staffers Friday afternoon for an hour-long Q&A session at the newspaper's offices. The bulk of the back and forth was dedicated to federal spending and how Congress might tame exploding budget deficits.
Reid blamed everything that ails Washington and the nation on Republicans. He slammed the GOP for its refusal to go along with tax increases as part of this month's debt-ceiling deal, saying hard-core fiscal conservatives are making it impossible to strike a long-term deal that slows the growth of the national debt.
"(Senate Minority Leader) Mitch McConnell has done a good job bringing the country to a standstill," Reid said.
The reason Republicans have drawn such a deep line in the sand on tax increases, of course, is the Tea Party movement. The populist uprising that was born from Washington's bailouts achieved critical mass after Democrats decided to start spending like no government before. The stimulus. The ObamaCare overreach. Budget deficits that made President George W. Bush look like a piker.
Democrats were tossed from office in record numbers last November. That groundswell is shaping the 2012 campaign.
But Reid doesn't expect it to last.
"The Tea Party was the result of a terrible economy," he said. "I've said that many times, and I believe that."
"That (the Tea Party) will pass. They will lose a number of seats next year."
Reid has amassed his considerable power by never underestimating his adversaries. And he has been known to throw out strategic fibs to create misdirection.
However, Reid left the indelible impression Friday that as long as he's leading the Senate Democrats, the Tea Party agenda is dead on arrival in his chamber. In exchange for a modicum of reduced growth in federal spending, Reid said someone will have to pay more. There will be no reductions and entitlement reforms without tax increases. He singled out the rich and oil companies as especially deserving of punishment.
Perhaps Reid is still savoring his November re-election victory over Tea Party darling Sharron Angle. Perhaps he's oblivious to the number of Democrats, in both House and Senate races, sprinting to the right to boost their 2012 chances. Perhaps it's just wishful thinking.
But there's no way the Tea Party is going away -- certainly not before the 2012 elections, and certainly not when the national debt is projected to shoot past $20 trillion before the end of the decade. Anyone who minimizes the Tea Party by extension minimizes the massive spending problems that created it in the first place.
Reid rationalizes that those problems are all Republicans' fault. He opened Friday's group interview with a two-minute reminder that George W. Bush is responsible for the country's spending and America's economic woes. After all, Bush inherited a projected $7 trillion budget surplus from Bill Clinton. (Never mind that Clinton served his final six years over a Republican-controlled Congress. They had nothing to do with that period of spending restraint.)
There's no denying that Bush did little to rein in the fat-and-happy Congresses that shoveled out the pork during his first six years in office. That deficit spending did incalculable political damage, allowing Democrats to position themselves to the right of Republicans on fiscal policy and falsely run as conservatives in 2008.
But budget deficits under Bush were in the $100 billion to $400 billion range, mostly related to the post 9/11 wars. The Obama administration -- working with a Democratic House and Senate its first two years -- set the course for budget deficits of more than $1 trillion into the distant future. Obama is on course to pile up more debt in three years than Bush did in eight.
Democrats -- led by Reid -- now own this country's debt problem and its struggling economy. The 2012 election will be a referendum on Obama and Reid, not Bush. The Tea Party will see to that.
Among other interesting things Reid had to say Friday:
-- Echoing the sentiment of other Democrats and devoted Keynesians, Reid said the failed stimulus just wasn't big enough. "I had $100 billion in infrastructure development in the bill, but I needed three Republican votes. Arlen Specter, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins made me get rid of it."
-- Nevada's redistricting mess, sent to the courts when the Legislature gave up redrawing congressional and legislative districts, will probably "take at least another five months" to clean up. That means candidates might not know what districts they live in until January or February, with filing for office beginning in March. Fundraising for legislative candidates, in particular, will be hurt by such a delay.
Mercifully, no one on the Review-Journal staff asked Reid about green energy.
Glenn Cook (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Review-Journal editorial writer.