Mark Meckler cofounded the Tea Party Patriots in 2009 with Jenny Beth Martin as congressional Democrats pushed forward with their health-care overhaul. The TPP is now the nation's largest Tea Party group, with 3,500 chapters, and is playing an outsize role in the debt-ceiling debate. But if John Boehner is taking orders from the Tea Party movement, it's news to Meckler. In an interview with Patricia Murphy, Meckler gives Boehner a D for handling the debt crisis so far, and blames decades of compromise in Congress for the nation's runaway spending. He calls Boehner’s plan an “embarrassment,” warning that Republicans who vote for Boehner's debt-ceiling increase Wednesday will hear from Tea Party groups at the polls next year.
In the president’s speech Monday night, he blamed the breakdown in the debt negotiations on House members, who were obviously people who have been supported by various Tea Party groups. Should the Tea Party groups get the blame for all of this?
I think the Tea Party movement should get the credit for elevating the debate about the debt limit to the national stage. We’ve raised the debt limit 10 times in the last nine years. In the last five years, we’ve almost tripled the amount of debt this country is holding. This has all been done relatively quietly while politicians have mortgaged our futures. So the fact that we’re having a spirited debate about this now is good for the nation and I think the Tea Party can take credit for it.
Do you think that the most recent election is the reason Congress is not just quietly raising the debt ceiling, as has happened scores of times before?
Yes, the fundamental difference is that the entire political dynamic has been changed by the Tea Party movement. The core values of the Tea Party Patriots—fiscal responsibility, the Constitution, limited government, and free-market capitalism—are now defining the debate around virtually every issue in the nation.
What do you think is the ideal solution to this impasse right now?
The ideal solution is to cut spending so that we stop spending beyond our means. The ideal solution is what you would have to do if you were in the same situation personally that the country is in. The ideal solution is what each of us as citizens have to do when we get in financial trouble personally or what companies have to do, or what states have to do or what cities have to do. Frankly, the only entity in our nation that continues to defy reality is the federal government. It’s just time to pay the piper.
Is there any scenario where you think it would be OK to raise the debt ceiling?
What do you think about the proposal that Speaker Boehner has put out?
It’s an embarrassment. He proposes $1.4 trillion in cuts over the next 10 years. Legally, no Congress can bind a future Congress. Anything he promises about what future Congresses will do, they simply can’t make that promise. In the real world, we call that a lie. If you promise something that you have no control over, that’s called a lie. In Congress, it’s called a promise. We don’t understand how the American people don’t get that. No. 2, no Congress has ever been able, by wish or by promise, to bind future Congresses to spending cuts. When past Congresses cut spending under their own budgets, those spending cuts will never and have never materialized. It’s smoke and mirrors and the American people understand this.
Should I even ask you what you think about Harry Reid’s plan?
Honestly, [the Reid and Boehner proposals] are very similar. It’s just more of the same. The bottom line is, you can’t promise future cuts and expect the American people to believe it anymore.
We’re hearing that if the debt limit is not raised by August 2nd that the country will go into default or stop paying its bills. Are you worried about that?
First of all, that’s a lie. They’re talking about default on the sovereign obligations of the United States. The only way that we will default on our debt and default on the service of our debt is if the president and Secretary Geithner choose to default. It’s irresponsible for anyone to talk about defaulting on our obligations because we’re not going to unless we choose to. Republicans have offered the Full Faith and Credit Act that would require that we pay those obligations first, but unfortunately the Republican leadership hasn’t even let that come to the floor.
When you look at the Republican leadership, how do you think John Boehner is doing in this process?
I can tell you what our local coordinators feel, who represent 3,500 groups across the country. They think he’s doing a terrible job. They look back at what happened on the Continuing Resolution, when Republicans, led by John Boehner, promised $100 billion in cuts this year, and then took it to $65 billion and then $38.5 billion, and the reality is, we’re going to spend more in 2011 than we did in 2010. They thought that was bad negotiating at best and intentionally misleading at worst. So now we’re seeing the exact same thing all over again. The Republicans held a vote saying no to raising the debt limit and it appears to be just for show. And now it looks like we’re going to cave on raising the debt limit and based on his plan, it looks like they’re literally not going to get anything for it.
Could you give him a grade?
I would say a D, because I’ll give him credit for rhetoric.
Is there anybody you think is doing a good job carrying the message that you think is the right one?
I think Rep. Jim Jordan [R-OH] is doing a better job. I think Rep. Steve King [R-IA] is doing a better job. I think that Michele Bachmann is doing a better job. Rep. Louie Gohmert [R-TX] is doing a better job. In my state, Rep. Tom McClintock [R-CA] is doing a better job.
Is there is any role for compromise here? Congress is usually about laying out your positions and splitting the difference.
We’ve been compromising for decades and that’s why we’re $14.3 trillion in debt now. We have compromised our way to the edge of fiscal disaster.
If a Republican votes for Boehner’s plan, will they hear from the Tea Party? Should they expect a primary?
It’s hard to predict exactly what will happen. But I can tell you that there are certainly a lot of thoughts out in the Tea Party network across the country about primary-ing people, including freshmen who seem to be going off the rails so early. This week in Ohio, 51 local Tea Party groups wrote a letter to Boehner telling him not to cave on the debt limit. In his own state, he faces significant opposition from a vast majority of the Tea Partiers who are against what he is doing in regard to the debt limit.
Do you see a lot of freshmen going off the rails?
Folks who vote for a debt ceiling increase are going off the rails. Folks who voted for the CR are going off the rails. These are folks who were elected to get the federal beast back in the box. If they’re not going to do it, then folks from the local Tea Party groups in their districts are going to find folks who will.
If you wake up on Aug. 3 and the debt ceiling has not been raised, how will you feel?
Aug. 3 to me will be the same as Aug. 2. I’m not looking for any kind of victory. This is not about Democrats versus Republicans. This is about the future of our country. So Aug. 3, Aug. 2, Aug. 4, it’s the same day. The Tea Party Patriots are fighting to preserve this nation for our kids and for our grandkids.