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The 20th government shutdown since the passage of the Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974 started and ended early in the morning of Friday, February 9, 2018, when, following a filibuster publicity stunt in the House of Representatives by minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and a more principled filibuster by Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 was passed by both the House and Senate, and signed into law by President Trump.
As with the previous government shutdown just three weeks earlier, hardly any ordinary Americans even noticed that it had happened.
More significantly, though, the new bipartisan budget deal marks what might be considered the official end of the Tea Party, the only real grassroots political movement of the past 20 years, which had come into being in 2009 as a response to the government bailouts, out-of-control spending, and the extremely fast growth of the national debt that characterized the last year of President George W. Bush’s tenure in office and the first two years of President Barack H. Obama’s reign.
Although never a majority in either the Congress or even within the Republican Party, the amateur politicians aligned with the Tea Party movement proved to be influential enough to succeed in getting some degree of control over the U.S. government’s spending and the large deficits that would otherwise have resulted from President Obama’s reckless spending proposals. If not for the Tea Party movement, the U.S. national debt today could very well have been over $3 trillion larger than the $20.5 trillion it was at the time of the 2018 bipartisan budget deal.
After the passage of the Budget Control Act, however, professional politicians in both parties, whose interests had little in common with the Tea Party movement, found that they could get around the spending limits by joining together to approve new spending deals, which they increasingly did by using government shutdown events to orchestrate the new deals.
By the last two years of the Obama administration, the influence of the Tea Party had diminished to the point where the spending caps were little more than numbers on paper. The election of President Donald J. Trump then cemented the end of the Tea Party’s influence, as he specifically campaigned to expand government spending for defense and infrastructure, and to not allow any cuts in Social Security and Medicare, two of the largest and fastest growing federal government spending programs.
The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 permanently erases those spending limits, while authorizing far more spending than would ever have been considered while the Tea Party movement held sufficient political influence to stop it. As a result, the U.S. government’s budget deficits for 2018 and 2019 appear set to grow the levels that the Congressional Budget Office had projected for its more realistic alternative fiscal scenario following President Obama’s spending proposals back in 2010.
The difference the Tea Party made was in shrinking the size of U.S. government’s spending and budget deficits far below what they would otherwise have been in the years in between. The U.S. government’s future now is being dictated by a bipartisan group of politicians and a president who doesn’t place much priority in exercising fiscal restraint. Or as public-policy economist Daniel Mitchell has described it, the “new budget deal is a victory for Washington over taxpayers.”