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Who is the leader of the conservative movement? Is it Michael Steele at the Republican National Committee, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, or even Rush Limbaugh? While they all may be movement leaders, today grass-roots activists across the country will answer the question — the taxpayer tea party is the movement’s leader.
The tea parties are the shot across the bow as taxpayers defend themselves against out-of-control government spending.
Small-government conservatives felt let down as they watched Congress go on a spending binge and President George W. Bush justify his Wall Street and auto bailouts by saying, “I chucked aside my free-market principles.”
Then President Barack Obama called for his $1 trillion debt stimulus, followed by a $275 billion mortgage bailout. CNBC’s Rick Santelli had enough and called for a “Chicago Tea Party,” inspiring folks to do the same in their communities.
Frustrated Americans began taking their grievances to the streets and the tea party movement was born. Just as the original Boston Tea Party was a grass-roots rebellion against overbearing government, tea party participants are reacting to government that has grown too large.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that Obama’s budget will leave the United States with a $1.8 trillion deficit, meaning the United States will have to borrow nearly half of the money it spends. The Obama budget will add $9.3 trillion to our already staggering $11 trillion national debt, CBO estimates.
Debt to gross domestic product ratios are a good gauge of a country’s economic health. If Obama’s budget passes, the budget deficit will represent 12 percent of GDP, shockingly higher than the historical norm of 3 percent. The cumulative federal debt to GDP ratio will jump from 41 percent in 2008 to a staggering 82 percent by 2019, CBO says. By comparison, in 2008, France had a debt to GDP ratio of 68 percent.
As Milton Friedman once said, the real rate of taxation is the level of government spending, because there are only three ways for the government to spend money it does not have: print, borrow or tax. Today we are spending, and tomorrow it will have to be paid back with higher taxes and inflation.
The debt burden will be borne by young Americans and future generations, as European tax levels will overburden the economy, and inflation will rob Americans of buying power. This is the recipe for 1970s stagflation.
The tea partiers want to see the cash spigot turned off. With no central organizer of the events, it is impossible to tell how many tea parties will be held, but it is clear hundreds of tea parties are planned with tens of thousands of participants. Groups like my own FreedomWorks are serving as a resource for these activists as this grass-roots revolt has proved a turning point in the conservative movement. Small government activists are taking a page from the president’s play book and becoming community organizers.
The tea parties were organized online, through Facebook and Twitter, the same online networks and communities instrumental in Obama’s campaign. That will be the legacy from the tax-day tea parties, an online network organized to hold politicians accountable for the debt they are pilling up.
Big-spending politicians beware: Organized taxpayers are watching votes and are getting ready for Election Day.
• Dick Armey, chairman of FreedomWorks, was the author of the Contract With America and U.S. House Majority Leader from 1995 to 2003.