The Tea Party was born in 2009. It is now two years old.
All parents know what the "terrible twos" look like. What's happening now on Capitol Hill is unmistakable: the Tea Party is throwing a tantrum.
When they first arrived in Washington, the Tea Party freshman class was fawned over and adored. They were given seats on powerful committees. They took special classes about the Constitution and spent a lot of time talking about what they thought was in it. They held votes to stick it to their least favorite things -- women's health care, environmental protection, and public radio.
But then something happened. The Tea Party discovered it couldn't get everything it wanted.
Passing a budget is a task that requires a certain amount of compromise and sacrifice. As such, it is a task that two-year-olds are not particularly well suited to perform. Grown-up Congresses pass budgets all the time -- they bicker and they argue, but in the end they realize that the functioning of the United States government and the well-being of their constituents is worth a little political sacrifice.
But not so for the Tea Party. They wanted tens of billions of dollars in budget cuts. They got tens of billions of dollars in budget cuts. They wanted to slash funding for preschools and college scholarships and foreign aid. But that wasn't enough. What they really wanted -- really, really, really wanted -- was to defund Planned Parenthood and keep the Environmental Protection Agency from protecting the environment. And when they didn't get those things, they started screaming.
Toddlers don't recognize that the world does not begin and end with their demands. They do not realize that the matches they're playing with could hurt someone.
A government shutdown -- which is what the Tea Party wants if Democrats and moderate Republicans won't give in to their every demand -- is a destructive thing. The last one, which lasted for three weeks, cost taxpayers $1.25 billion . If the government shuts down tomorrow morning, 800,000 government workers will go on leave without pay. Small businesses that rely on the government for business will stop bringing in income. U.S. troops fighting abroad would have their pay delayed . The U.S. would stop issuing passports. The D.C. city government would all but grind to a halt.
But the collateral cost of their tantrum doesn't seem to bother the Tea Party. They're too busy crying and screaming to realize that they're hurting people, and might eventually hurt themselves.
Good parents don't try to reason with a toddler holding a box of matches -- they take the matches away. House Speaker John Boehner has so far been overly indulgent of his young caucus. Now is the time for him to teach them what it takes to be grown-ups in government.
Follow Michael B. Keegan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/peoplefor