Thursday, January 6, 2011

Welcome to Hell?

Yesterday the new GOP majority was sworn into office for the 112th Congress. Democrats hold a slim majority in the Senate and, of course, the presidency. I'd argue the GOP holds the judiciary even though judges are supposed to be non-partisan. The Roberts Court, despite two new nominees from President Obama, remains strongly corporatist and conservative. Justice Scalia even went so far this week to claim that the constitution does not protect women from sexual discrimination. What year does he think we're in? 1879? Seriously. 

I've managed to experience the Congressional transition from overseas. I'm home in a few days and curious about just how much damage the new Congress will do while I'm gone. My guess is less than I fear, but more than they should. 

If you look at their laundry list of goals they are a big long list of ways to screw the American people in favor of big business. This shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who pays the least bit of attention to Republicans, but it still looks like a disaster in waiting. 

To sum up they're threatening to: 

Let's think about that for a minute. A recent poll suggests 3/4ths of Americans favor federal subsidies to help people afford health insurance. 71% favor expanding Medicaid for low-income Americans. 52% even favor an employer mandate to provide health care coverage for their employers. All of these provisions are in the reform package, yet the GOP wants to throw the whole thing out. Prior to reform we had out of control spending on health care, tens of millions of uninsured, and an insurance system that is allowed to deny coverage for pre-existing conditions or drop people who get sick. That's what the GOP is proposing to return to. 

For those of you who missed it, the reform law was based largely on a Heritage Foundation proposal from 1997. The Heritage Foundation is a conservative think tank! My how the tides have shifted. The GOP has become substantially more conservative and the Democrats have shifted to the center. Now the center is right. 

The Center for American Progress sums up the effect this would have better than I can. 

The budgetary consequences of this conservative pledge would be catastrophic and far-reaching, forcing the immediate cessation of more than 40 percent of all federal government activities (excluding only interest payments on the national debt), including Social Security, military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, homeland security, Medicare, and unemployment insurance. This would not only threaten the safety and economic security of all Americans, but also have dire impacts for the economy and job growth.
They can't be so stupid as to think that this is a good idea. I think it's most likely a great deal of posturing in hopes of getting President Obama to cave on something that really matters to them like cutting benefits for seniors or eliminating the estate tax.  

3. Investigate the Obama Administration

You may remember the last time Republicans held control of Congress under a Democratic president. The Clintons were investigated for accusations of insider trading, shady real estate deals, and even misuse of the White House Christmas card mailing list. Millions of dollars of taxpayer money were spent distracting the American people over the escapades of the president while Congress ran amok deregulating. 

Well, we're there again. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) has already promised "hundreds" of investigations as the new Chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. He's already publicly called the Obama Administration one of the most corrupt administrations in our modern history. I think it's safe to say that we'll be entertained for the next two years as Issa and his colleagues dig into the administration. 

4. Cut $100 billion from the federal budget

On the surface this seems like a good idea. Or rather it would have been a good idea had it been proposed during the last economic boom when the working poor were less reliant on government aid to weather a harsh economic climate. Trouble is the proposed cuts are supposed to come from discretionary spending, which is a relatively small percentage of the federal budget. Defense, social security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, and the interest on the federal debt are not discretionary. This leaves a relatively small portion of the budget left for an enormous cut. The programs most likely to lose funding are precisely those we should not be threatening - things like medical research, education, regulatory oversight, etc. 

It's come out that this was meant to be $100B from the proposed Obama budget, not the actual cuts, so the actual cuts will amount to $50B or less. That is if it can pass the Senate and the President signs this budget. Nevertheless, this is a frightening prospect. And more than a little duplicitous after the Republicans bargained for a $900B tax break, much of which goes to the upper tax brackets. 

Voters get what they deserve and the next 2 years is shaping up to painful for all of us except the most wealthy. Well done, folks. 

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