With all the blustering talk coming out of the Republican presidential candidates about reducing spending and shrinking the deficit, it took a mayor in the town of Troy, Michigan, to actually put that rhetoric to work, and it is causing quite a stir. It is a prime example of why the Tea Party and its courtiers in Congress are unable to compromise with their colleagues across the aisle, and also of why the rhetoric of the Tea Party and the increasingly obstructionist Republican Party will never take hold in America.
According to a report in the New York Times, the town of Troy has rejected $8.5 million in federal funds that were supposed to go towards the development of a transportation center. The reasoning, according to Mayor Janice Daniels, is that, "There's nothing free about government money."
Daniels is right. There is nothing free about government money. That money has to come from somewhere, and the only source of revenue for the federal government is taxpayer money. In order for Troy to receive its money to build its transportation center, that money first would have to be collected from citizens. It is, in the purest sense, income redistribution. The federal government takes money from some citizens and gives it out to others as it sees fit.
Additionally, the federal government can put limitations and restrictions on how that money can be used and what conditions must be met before it is doled out. As late as 1996, Louisiana still allowed stores to sell alcohol to 18-year-olds. Then Washington threatened to pull federal highway funding if the state did not raise the legal drinking age to 21. The federal government used federal dollars to force Louisiana to play ball, though the state had every right to set the drinking age at 18.
This is where the Tea Party gets in trouble. A wise man once said, "Every politician has a constituency." For all the anger directed towards Washington for "wasteful" spending and the dreaded earmark, it seems that what gets lost in the rancor is the fact that this is exactly what politicians were sent to Washington to do. Every politician has a constituency that he must keep happy, and the easiest way to keep them happy is to give them money for their pet projects.
It may score political points to rail against corruption and greed in our elected officials, but it is not clear if Tea Party supporters are prepared to live up to their high ideals. Daniels claimed that with a $15 trillion debt, accepting money from the federal government is irresponsible. She seems to understand that rejecting the money is more of a statement than an actual money-saving measure. The issue, as opponents of the mayor's position point out, is that the decision to refuse the money and not build the center is costing real people actual jobs. At a time when people are trying to recover from a devastating recession, many are angry with Daniels for costing the city jobs.
This is not the first time that Tea Party darlings have threatened to refuse federal money. When President Barack Obama issued his stimulus package in 2009, six Republican governors threatened to refuse the funds. Eventually all six took at least part of the money, and it is easy to see why. If a governor has to go to the citizens of the state to tell them that he turned down money that could have gone into their pockets, he probably will not be governor for long. People do not like to have anything, especially politics, come between them and money.
For the Tea Party to actually live up to its promise, that is exactly what has to happen. People have to realize that smaller government means less money from Washington to build transportation centers, hospitals, roads, and bridges. This is where the Tea Party becomes ineffectual. It is fine to shake a fist at a congressman from another who gets federal money diverted to his state, but not if the same treatment is withheld from a hometown congressman.
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