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Tyranny of 87 must stop

By Maria Cardona, Special to CNN
  • Power is in the hands of a group of 87 people who've never governed, Maria Cardona says
  • They have no interest in compromising, no understanding of history, she says
  • GOP already has won, but the tea party insists on deal-breakers, Cardona says

Maria Cardona is a Democratic strategist, a principal at the Dewey Square Group, a former senior adviser to Hillary Clinton, and former communications director to the Democratic National Committee.

(CNN) -- We have become victims of the Tyranny of 87. This is not a reference to the years immediately preceding the French Revolution of 1789. I am referring to July 2011 in the United States of America, the greatest democracy in the world. Or so I thought.

The Tyranny of 87 is the bizarre, surreal, but all too real situation we are in right now in the midst of perhaps the most significant and economically turbulent issue that has been before Congress in decades: the raising of the debt ceiling.

The tyranny is coming from the 87 members of Congress from the tea party caucus, whose selfish and irresponsible demands during the debt ceiling negotiations may very well mean either outright default or what could be even worse and too late to avoid -- the downgrade of the country's gold standard AAA credit rating. What is worse, these 87 little tyrants have no clear understanding of the fallout of either scenario.

We have witnessed House Speaker John Boehner, who many believe is at heart a reasonable, responsible and truly bipartisan leader, lose control of his caucus, giving the 87 even more power to rule with their ultra-right-wing mantra masquerading as the "will of the people." He has allowed himself to be ruled by their iron-fisted ways and demands to the point that he has kowtowed into including a balanced budget amendment to his already DOA plan.

It passed the House, but at what cost? It is a waste of precious time and a purely political game the American people cannot afford. But the 87 have tremendous power over Mr. Boehner because they gave him the speakership. In turn, he gives in to their every demand.

The heart of the problem is that this power in the hands of a group of people who have never governed, have no interest in compromising, and have no clue about the history of government or how government really works, is a dangerous thing and the American people may very well be the victims in this childish game of chicken.

Let's be clear on two things: 1) neither party is blameless -- something President Obama says often and is absolutely correct, 2) The tea party's premise, which is the importance of cutting government spending, is an important and valid one, and one with which the American people agree -- one reason why they were elected. In fact, the tea party has already won. They have changed the debate.

But the American people did not elect these leaders to become tyrants. Voters still know how Congress should work and poll after poll has shown these members were elected to work with their colleagues for the greater good of the country -- to come up with balanced approaches that are fair and bipartisan. These are the exact approaches that the 87 are ignoring at their peril.

At any other time, other than in this alternate universe in which we find ourselves, the deal that the president and the Democrats are offering would be a complete and total win for the GOP. I am talking about a spike-the-football-shake-your-booty-stick-out-your-tongue-at-your-opponent kind of win. But the purists in the tea party do not care about anything other than getting exactly everything they want.

Let's review the plan that could currently get to the President's desk and actually be signed - the one put forward by Senator Reid: trillions of dollars in cuts to programs near and dear to Democrats' hearts (more cuts than in Boehner's current plan), and no new revenues of any kind.

The Democratic members of Congress are not happy. But they are not tyrants. They understand what a true democracy is about and more importantly how it works. For the sake of the American people, they know they must give in this time 'til it hurts. They have.

Where are the concessions from the tea party? Where is Boehner's leadership in putting what he knows is in the best interest of the American people first? He did in fact try this -- twice as a matter of fact. And right when he was on the brink of a "grand bargain" that would have included yet additional sacred cows for the Democrats -- Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid -- as well as increased revenue (but not in the form of new tax hikes the way most Dems would want) he was "reminded" by the tea party caucus of who he answered to and who put him there. And they were not talking about the American people.

The tea partiers love to invoke the name of Ronald Reagan as their hero and as a true conservative, and here again is where they lay bare their lack of any real knowledge of Congress, history, and in this case what Reagan actually did and how he led. Never mind that he raised the debt ceiling 18 times and taxes 11 times, while he was president. If they actually followed in Reagan's footsteps, we would not be in this current perilous situation.

They also like to invoke "the American people" as the reason for their recalcitrance. In fact, because of the tea party, the GOP has "walked away" from the American people several times. If they were indeed listening to the American people they would understand two things:

First, most voters believe Obama and the Democrats have been the ones to compromise much more than the GOP (especially the tea party) and that they have never walked away from any negotiating table.

And second, most Americans -- including majorities of Republicans -- believe that any grand budget deal agreed to should be fair and should involve shared sacrifice. The GOP -- led by the tea party -- would balance the budget on the backs of the poor, the workers, the middle class, small businesses, the sick, the elderly, and everyone else that is just struggling to get by. This is what the Tyranny of 87 would bring to the American people.

In the end history shows us, all tyrants fall, as do those who facilitated their tyranny. The GOP and especially the tea party's 87 members of Congress would do well to actually listen to the American people and to study some history, American and otherwise.