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Conn Carroll: What the Tea Party Congress accomplished

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Opinion,Conn Carroll,Columnists,Politics Digest

Liberal blogger Ezra Klein and conservative Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., don't agree on much. But they both have made the case that the Republican House of the 112th Congress was a total failure.

It is easy to see why a committed progressive like Klein would be down on the 112th. After all, its liberal predecessor passed a trillion-dollar stimulus, enacted a government takeover of health care and institutionalized the power of Wall Street's Too Big To Fail banks by passing the Dodd-Frank financial regulation law. Compared with the 111th historic expansion of government into every aspect of American life, the 112th Congress was destined to be a disappointment for liberals.

But why is Huelskamp so upset?

On Jan. 1 of this year, Huelskamp released a statement explaining, "Despite a tremendous mandate from voters in 2010 to cut spending, get America's fiscal house under control, and restore proper procedure, this House of Representatives has achieved few or no real accomplishments. It is a disappointing ending to a disappointing two years."

If Huelskamp thought he and his fellow Freshman Republicans could waltz into Washington, reject every plan that wasn't perfect and remake the federal government's entire entitlement system in just two short years, he was always bound to be disappointed.

But if you look at the hard numbers -- if you look at the tax-and-spending trajectory that the United States was on before the 112th Congress was sworn into office, and then look at the path the U.S. is on now -- you'd see that Republicans in Congress have made tremendous progress in shrinking the size and scope of the federal government.

Just weeks after Huelskamp was first sworn in, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released its annual Budget and Economic Outlook for fiscal years 2011 through 2021. That document showed the federal government was on track to spend $3.7 trillion in 2011, or 24.7 percent of the entire U.S. economy, and a total of almost $50 trillion ($49.8 trillion to be exact) through 2021. At the same time, tax revenues were set to rise from just 14.8 percent of GDP in 2011 to 20.8 percent in 2021.

Huelskamp and his Republican colleagues changed all that. The 2011 Budget Control Act cut spending by $1.5 trillion, and the sequester cut it by an additional $1.2 trillion. At the same time, House Republicans were able to preserve nearly all of the expiring Bush tax cuts and cut the debt.

The CBO's Budget and Economic Outlook for fiscal years 2013 through 2023 shows just how much House Republicans have actually accomplished. The federal government is now on track to spend just $46.2 trillion through 2021. That is a $3.6 trillion spending cut. And instead of taxes eating up 21 percent of the U.S. economy in 2021, now the government is set to take in just 18.9 percent. The 2021 national debt is projected to be a bit lower, too, down from the earlier $18.25 trillion in 2011 to just $17.87 trillion today.

Despite all of this supposedly economy-killing "austerity," unemployment has steadily fallen, too. When Republicans took control of the House in 2011, the nation's unemployment rate was 9 percent. Today, it has fallen to 7.7 percent.

Conservatives have every right to be cynical about the Republican Party's track record on cutting taxes, spending and debt at the federal level. But since they regained control of the House in 2011, Republicans have actually done an admirable job on all three fronts, considering they face a hostile Senate and Obama in the White House.

Just three months ago, many in Washington were predicting Obama would steamroll Republicans into accepting higher taxes for millions of earners, undoing the sequester and maybe even passing new stimulus spending. Instead, Republicans have stayed unified, outfoxed Obama, preserved and made permanent most of last decade's tax cuts (including permanent indexing of the Alternative Minimum Tax) and let the sequester cuts occur on schedule. As a result, Obama's approval ratings have tumbled, and his entire second-term agenda is in jeopardy.

House Republicans still have to figure out how they will handle the debate over the debt limit this summer. But over this Easter break, they can take a minute to acknowledge how much they have already accomplished.

Conn Carroll (ccarroll@washingtonexaminer.com) is a senior editorial writer for The Washington Examiner. Follow him on Twitter at @conncarroll.

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