Republicans saw this coming. As early as last week, they saw that the special election for an open House seat in Western New York was breaking against them. They started explaining that if their candidate lost, and Democrat Kathy Hochul won, it would be the fluke to end all flukes. A spokesman for one of the conservative groups spending big in the district rhapsodized that "the very earth would cry foul" if Democrats tried to say that the election was about Paul Ryan's Medicare plan.
Then the Democrat won. If the earth was crying about anything, it was missed next to the spectacle of Republicans tugging their collars and shaking off flop sweat. Republicans didn't pile on Ryan, who was anointed quite a long time ago as the intellectual leader of the Tea Party's congressional revolution. They just weren't very supportive.
Of all the priorities Tea Party activists had for this Congress, the Ryan plan was unique. It was the only one that voters seem to have considered—and rejected. In another way, it wasn't unique. It's one of many House plans that melted upon contact with the Senate. On Wednesday, three other budget plans met the Ryan plan's fate and failed to pass cloture. The House voted to expand drilling licenses. That didn't make it through the Senate, either.
Passing bills is hard. The Tea Party knew that already. Stopping stuff they don't like? That's much easier. Republicans have no intention, really, of letting President Obama fill out the Independent Payment Advisory Board, which the Affordable Care Act created as a way of rationing treatment. (Ryan, in his Wednesday clean-up after the election loss, has re-emphasized a choice between his plan and a panel of "unelected bureaucrats," to argue that Democrats aren't exactly promising to save Medicare as we know it.) And how's the campaign going to get massive concessions in exchange for a hike in the debt ceiling? Just fine, thanks. Democrats are buckling on what sort of reforms they'll put up with. Polling shows that people are less worried about the apocalypse scenario of a debt default than they are about raising the ceiling.
So, sure, the Medicare reform plan isn't going so well. It's an outlier. The Tea Party is still telling Washington what it's supposed to be working on every day. The Don't-Tread-on-Meter rises, slightly, to 50: Tea Partiers are halfway there.
What Is the Don't-Tread-on-Meter?
It will track the progress (or lack thereof) of the Republican House of Representatives, and the Republican conference in the Senate, in fulfilling the promises they made to Tea Party activists. The meter will hit 100 if and when the GOP does absolutely everything it promised.
You can now add the Don't-Tread-on-Meter to your blog or site. Just click the button in the lower right of the widget to get the code.