The Tea Party won Election Day 2010, shifting the Congressional party balance about 15 percent – the most it can move under gerrymandering. In the Senate this November, Republicans will almost certainly take the majority, and the Tea Party may begin to realize its dream – an actual slowdown in runaway federal spending.
But that’s only a possibility. Republicans also controlled both houses from 1995-2006, and in that time the federal debt grew from $5 trillion to $8.5 trillion. The early part of this "Contract With America" period showed promise, as spending growth slowed to match tax revenue. But the voters didn’t seem to be paying attention, because within a few years Washington’s big-spending attitude resumed.
Something similar happened to the voting record of U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, first elected by Pennsylvania’s 18th District in 2002. As he won re-election, Rep. Murphy began to vote more and more like a Democrat. So much, in fact, that by 2007 he was voting 17th worst in his party (as measured by party-line loyalty), and his record worsened to 12th in 2008, 4th in 2009, ticking up slightly to become the 10th worst GOP Congressman in 2010. In his support of President Obama’s agenda in 2009, only two Republicans bested him. (Source: Congressional Quarterly)
Rep. Murphy not only votes more like a Democrat than most Republicans; his attitude toward taxpayer money is indistinguishable from that of the Pelosi party. When the Club for Growth (Sen. Arlen Specter’s least-favorite watchdog) monitored amendments designed to strip earmarks out of the FY2008 federal budget, it found Rep. Murphy voted against all of them, earning himself a score of 0 on CFG’s 2007 RePORK Card. Rep. Murphy joined 81 Democrats and 24 Republicans in this, the bottom score in the Club for Growth’s ranking. (Source: Club for Growth)
When criticized for his part in running up the federal tab, Rep. Murphy was quoted in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette defending earmarks, claiming "local projects would never get funded," and arguing that, "If we can’t take control of these infrastructure needs, local municipalities will raise taxes for it."
In Rep. Murphy’s view, then, it is better to borrow even more money at the federal level than to raise and budget funds locally. This sort of thinking is more than a little responsible for the $15.6 trillion hole Congress has dug for taxpayers to fill with future earnings.
But fiscal irresponsibility isn’t Rep. Murphy’s only twist on the idea of conservatism. (He calls himself a conservative more than a dozen times on his campaign web site). Rep. Murphy broke ranks with other Pennsylvania Republicans in voting for the odious "card check" bill of 2007, which would have allowed unions to avoid a secret ballot in their efforts to take over nonunion workplaces. This put him in good company among House Democrats, all but two of whom supported the bill.
Yet, Rep. Murphy claims the mantle of conservatism, not least for his admirable pro-life record. Standing against abortion takes courage in Washington. It has also made little difference to the unborn because, with the exception of the Hyde Amendment, the only significant piece of pro-life legislation since 1973 was the partial-birth abortion bill 30 years later. Rep. Murphy’s vote for this measure appeared to be sincere. It also wasn’t a difficult call for a Republican, only five of whom dissented. One-third of the Democrats voted "yea," giving the bill a 2-1 margin of victory in the House. (Source)
What does take courage is to vote against the herd at a cost. Four times since 2003, Rep. Murphy has had an opportunity to vote against raising the federal debt ceiling when his party had the power to limit spending. Each time he went with the crowd. Only after Democrats took control of the House in 2007 did he vote against debt-limit increases, on five out of six opportunities. (Source: attached)
Federal overspending is a matter the House can actually do something about, since all spending bills originate in that chamber. But as Rep. Murphy’s record has reflected, the House is only as good as its individual members. Those who vote as if the money will never run out, have been in charge far too long. Frustration over those representatives – not the election of Barack Obama – was the genesis of the nationwide movement which began, independent of the political parties, in early 2009.
Besides enabling GOP control of the House, the Tea Party has had one other positive effect on government: a kind of "purification" of the GOP itself. For the 85 percent of Congressional seats that, by design, cannot be won by the party they were gerrymandered against, the primary is the only contest. This can only occur in a party primary, which Pennsylvanians have this Tuesday.
Michael Smith is an activist with the Campaign for Primary Accountability.