Now the really hard budget-cutting begins 

With a debt-ceiling compromise all but certain to pass both chambers of Congress by sometime today and then be signed by President Barack Obama in time to avoid missing the Tuesday deadline set by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, we should all pause to note critically important facts about what has led to this deal and where America goes from here.

First, despite the multitude of so-called plans to "cut" federal spending, virtually all of them depended in part on counting reductions resulting from the end of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, promised reductions in waste and fraud, and other accounting gimmicks. Until the fine print of the final compromise is available for public examination, it’s impossible to know to what degree it relies upon phantom reductions.

Regardless, the public is not likely to be fooled, and certainly will not be inclined to give Obama or congressional leaders of either political party the benefit of the doubt in the months ahead. If concrete reductions in federal spending aren’t clearly evident when voters go to the polls in November 2012, few incumbents are likely to be spared their wrath.

Second, President Ronald Reagan often said the closest thing to eternal life we will ever see on Earth is a federal agency. Indeed, with the notable exception of Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn’s $9 trillion plan for cutting federal spending, none of the proposals that have dominated the headlines in recent months included termination of any major federal departments or agencies. There weren’t even any plans for redirecting or refocusing any of Washington, D.C.’s sprawling, red-tape loving bureaucrats to more precise and less costly missions.

As a result, nobody has been talking about the root cause of excessive federal spending and debt: government that is trying to do far too much. The spending problem cannot be solved as long as politicians refuse to abolish major chunks of the duplicative, wasteful, arrogant and costly bureaucratic monster they have created.

That brings us to the third observation of note in this regard: That gritty band of House and Senate freshmen — many elected with the active support of tea party activists, who steadfastly demanded real spending cuts and no tax increases — came in for a boatload of rhetorical abuse from many of their longer-serving colleagues, and from across the liberal precincts of the mainstream media. They were variously condemned as ideologues, reactionaries, unsophisticated and much worse.

Their critics forget that these men and women represent the first wave of what is likely to be a flood of new senators and representatives coming in the years ahead who will be elected by voters who are fed up with Washington’s professional politicians. Their tactics may be questioned — and the voting on House Speaker John Boehner’s debt plan made clear they don’t always agree among themselves — but without them, Washington simply would have raised the debt limit yet again and gone right on spending America toward bankruptcy.

The freshman class deserves our thanks.

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