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Harrop: They led us to cliff but can’t make us jump

The tea party now has its own news site. Based at the Venetian Resort in Las Vegas, the Tea Party News Network describes itself as “the only trusted news source.” It focuses on such right-wing heroes as Michele Bachmann and Allen West, who just lost an election for a House seat in southern Florida – though perhaps not on TPNN.

That the patriots have rejected the Republican establishment as governance sympathizers is no longer a concern of the Republican establishment. Many GOP leaders blame tea party antics for their recent electoral defeats.

Now they must deal with the “fiscal cliff” and are going to need all the reality-based supporters they can get. Better to have the patriots saying remarkable things far from the Fox News studios in New York and Washington.

The tea party is one reason we’re at the fiscal cliff – a kind of witching hour Jan. 1. It is when the Bush tax cuts are scheduled to expire, along with a payroll tax cut included in the 2009 stimulus bill. It is kick-off time for $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts over 10 years. Taking that much money out of the economy so quickly could send America back into recession.

The spending cuts are a hangover from the debt-ceiling fiasco of a year ago. Recall from that time of national insanity the patriots threatening to send the United States into default on its debt. Recall their stopping so-called Republican leaders from making a deal that included any new tax revenues. Recall grown-ups from both parties – terrified of economic disaster in the event of a default – agreeing on the above radical spending cuts should a better plan not arrive in time.

The Republican Party took the rap for the debt ceiling and is under suspicion for the fiscal cliff. A new Washington Post-Pew Research poll has 53 percent of Americans ready to blame Republicans if America actually goes over the edge and only 29 percent planning to point fingers at President Obama.

Understanding this, thoughtful Republicans are feeling freer to risk the tea partiers’ wrath and cooperate with Democrats. The teams still disagree on much, but at least they’re now playing in the same ballpark.

Obama wants the Bush cuts to expire only for the wealthy. Republicans want to extend them for everyone but eliminate some deductions and close a bunch of loopholes. They also talk of limiting the amount of deductions the rich can take. All solid ideas, although it appears that ending tax breaks alone will not raise enough revenues.

Put another way, the middle class would have to pay more in taxes to make the numbers work. Americans in the comfortable middle may eventually have to pitch in, but since the richest Americans benefited most mightily from the Bush tax cuts, they should go first.

On spending, Republicans are agonizing over the automatic $600 billion cut in military spending. During the campaign, they wanted additional defense spending. Now they should settle for less. More Americans are asking why they spend as much on defense as the next 10 countries put together.

Deficit hawks must also look at entitlements. (The exception would be Social Security, an earned benefit.) The Affordable Care Act makes a start on slowing the rising costs of Medicare, and the Obama administration has long indicated a willingness to go further.

All this potential cooperation won’t play very well at TPNN headquarters. No matter. The patriots can’t do much harm anymore. What they think in Vegas can stay in Vegas. Anyhow, they have their hands full finding mystery votes in Florida for Allen West.

• Froma Harrop is a member of the Providence (R.I.) Journal editorial board.

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