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Tea Party plans its own debt panel



While the Tea Party movement has led the charge for cutting the national debt, its supporters have often struggled to explain how, exactly, they would do so.

Now some are out to change that, joining a Tea Party debt commission that plans to hold hearings over the summer, in the hopes of delivering recommendations to lawmakers by January.

The commission is being organized by FreedomWorks, the libertarian advocacy group that helped the Tea Party movement grow and mobilize for the midterm elections last fall. And its recommendations are likely to line up with the goals of that group, which in turn tend to reflect those of libertarian organizations like the Cato Institute. (FreedomWorks has worked against environmental regulations and for increased privatization of health care.)

"We think, like with the first days of the Tea Party movement, that the only way we will ever reduce the debt and balance the budget is if America beats Washington and Tea Party activists take over this process, take over the public debate and engage the American people in the hard work of making tough choices," said Matt Kibbe, vice president of FreedomWorks.

The group held training for about 150 activists from 30 states at its headquarters in Washington over the weekend, with sessions dedicated to educating them about the budget proposals by Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Rep. Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, both Republicans with a strong embrace of libertarian economic principles.

The activists, along with FreedomWorks staff members, came up with parameters for their budget proposals, declaring that they would have to balance the federal budget within 10 years, cut federal spending to 18 percent of gross domestic product, reduce the national debt to no more than 66 percent of the GDP, assume that revenue accounts for no more than 19 percent of the GDP, and reduce federal spending by at least $300 billion in the first year and at least $9 trillion over 10 years.

All this is a tall order. For example, the debt now consumes nearly 100 percent of the gross domestic product. And with its limits on revenue, and the politics behind it, it is unlikely that the Tea Party commission will allow anything that looks like a tax increase.

The Tea Party commission, to be formally announced Monday, is intended as a rebuke to the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform established by President Barack Obama, which delivered its recommendations last year to generally negative reviews from both parties unwilling to make the sacrifices it called for. But it is modeled after it, in one way: It, too, will have 18 members (though this one is unlikely to be bipartisan, as the president's was).

The members will be chosen from 18 swing states and will hold hearings in those states over the summer, Kibbe said.

It will also have a strong crowd-sourcing component, much like the Contract from America, which Tea Party activists created, wiki-style, as a kind of manifesto for the midterms. Those ideas have had some influence: The rules that House Republicans passed after the Tea Party victories in the midterms included a requirement, lifted from the contract, that all new legislation had to cite the specific provision of the Constitution that authorized it. The commission will solicit ideas and have people vote on them at a website.

It aims to have proposals ready by January, when the presidential campaign will draw even more attention to economic proposals.

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