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Posted by on Feb 7, 2010 in At TMV | 43 comments

What the Tea Party Movement doesn’t get

I live in Tennessee so I suppose I should comment on my home state hosting the infamous Tea Party Nation “convention” at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville. The intra-tea party kerfuffle is quite entertaining – a tea party activist from Dandridge, about 40 miles away from me, called the Nashville conclave a “bunch of snakes.” But the real problem is the very name. TEA Party stands for “taxed enough already”. It apparently stands on the vanguard against Obama’s reduction in taxes or some phantom tax increase out there. Or maybe it’s just an advocacy group for those making $250k whose taxes would go up (to Clinton era levels) if Obama gets his way. But the tea partiers insist they are a grassroots organization and not a front for a bunch of rich people.

Fair enough. But are taxes really the problem? Can you really bring down the deficit without raising taxes? Has that EVER happened over the long or medium term? And if it requires spending cuts, what SPECIFICALLY should we cut, given that these same tea partiers demand a “strong national defense” (which costs lots of money) and nearly rioted over proposals to cut Medicare Advantage. Do they honestly think there is enough “waste, fraud and abuse” to wring out that will bring the deficit down on its own? Or do they even care about deficits?

What angers me most about the tea partiers is that their priorities are so utterly distorted. Like all Tennesseans I pay no state income tax, and my property taxes are relatively low. I pay high sales tax – including on food – but overall cost of living is cheap here. My family makes a modest salary – less than $50k a year, we own a home with our two kids and, consequently, don’t pay that much in income tax. If the tea party activists really are a grassroots organization and not a front for the rich and powerful then most of the members here in Tennessee live in material circumstances similar to mine.

But there is one thing that makes getting by harder and harder. My first monthly paycheck arrived for 2010 and I got a pay cut. No, not an actual salary cut – we had to do that a year ago to weather the recession and we are reasonably confident that those cuts will be restored the next fiscal year. I’m talking about a huge new chunk that came out of my paycheck for health premiums. My local health insurer was bought out by Humana and now my premiums have gone up about $100 month over last year. Considering my salary, that’s no small potatoes. And considering that the quality of health care I receive certainly has not increased (it isn’t bad, it’s just not any better than when I paid less), I have essentially been hit with a massive tax increase by the health insurance industry. I pay more for nothing. With higher deductibles to boot we ration our use of health care, limiting doctor visits we would have made before. And there is no way any of us are going to the hospital unless a truly life-threatening situation arises. I’m still angry over a $1,400 bill we received for my son’s two-night stay in the hospital with the croup. But I suppose we all need to ration care in the end.

I have no idea if the health care plan in Congress – if and when it ever passes – will materially affect my premiums. My family is quite healthy and I don’t anticipate any of us going on any individual plan soon. But I sure as heck am angry over this situation. Nothing makes me feel like I am getting left behind – and we as a nation are falling backward – more than the increased “tax” we pay for health premiums. Frankly, I can’t imagine a government increasing taxes at the rate my insurer increases rates.

I’m trying to lay it out on a personal level. There are myriad policy implications at work here. I am certainly willing to pay more in taxes (I don’t pay much now anyway) to cover the nation’s expenses – including for the expansion of health coverage.

But I will not sit idly by while these tea party fools moan on and on about supposed attacks on their “liberty” when the real beast that threatens us is an out of control private health insurance market and not the Federal government.