January 29, 2011

The Same Old Pandering, Hypocrisy and Legislated Morality

About three months ago, the 2010 midterm elections saw the Republican Party reclaim the majority in the House of Representatives, reportedly not on a tide of partisan extremism, but on a wave of populist anger with a distinctly libertarian bent.  Said rage was embodied by the Tea Party movement, whose core positions focused on what it views as government over-reach, uncontrolled spending, and dismay at the supposed abandonment of Constitutional principles.  But while there were indeed things in the nation's capital worthy of extensive criticism, the contrast between rhetoric on the American right wing and the actions of the now-GOP-controlled House since the 112th Congress took office earlier this month, has been striking.

Of particular note is the selection of John Boehner as Speaker of the House.  While it might be unrealistic to expect one of the more consistently radical conservatives - Ron Paul, for example - to have claimed the third most powerful position in the country, it is nonetheless more than a little confounding that Republicans, who owed much of their electoral success to voters allegedly "sick of business as usual in Washington," would choose an old school, lobbyist-friendly flack like Mr. Boehner.  This is a man, after all, who once handed out tobacco industry checks to his fellow members of the GOP on the floor of the House, and who has used his political clout to try and quash EPA lawsuits against contributors to his campaigns.

Where Mr. Boehner seems to represent everything against which the conservative populism stands, however, another luminary in the new Congress is Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, who remains a darling of the Tea Party.  Ms. Bachmann offered her own Tea Party rebuttal to President Obama's most recent State of the Union address, which was representative of her positions in general, but it was in another speech before a group called Iowans for Tax Relief that she definitively revealed herself to be what can be charitably described as a poor man's Sarah Palin.

In her remarks, Ms. Bachmann claimed - among other clearly untrue assertions - that the nation's founding fathers had worked tirelessly to end slavery, demonstrating either a willingness to lie in support of wishful thinking, or an appalling ignorance of an American past that includes the Constitutionally-mandated three-fifths compromise, as well as the timing of the Civil War, which took place nearly a century after the the country was founded.  This is nothing new for the Minnesota congresswoman, however, as the non-partisan organization PolitiFact recently noted, "We have checked her 13 times, and [found] seven of her claims to be false and six ... to be ridiculously false."  A student of the heritage the Tea Party claims is so dear, she clearly is not.

Likewise, Representative Paul Ryan, author of the GOP's "Roadmap for America's Future" - the document that is purportedly the Republican plan to address government entitlements and spending - and one of the Republican Party's rising stars, has demonstrated that he is, at best, deeply misguided, and at worst, a shill for the rich.  Andrew Fieldhouse of the Economic Policy Institute analyzed Mr. Ryan's Roadmap, and issued a report that came to the following conclusions, of which several are decidedly counter to declared Tea Party positions:
  • The Roadmap would raise taxes only on people making between $20,000 and $200,000, while slashing taxes in half for the wealthiest Americans. Some three quarters of the workforce would face tax increases, and the middle class would actually pay higher average tax rates than millionaires – an unprecedented reversal of progressive U.S. tax policy.
  • The Roadmap would replace corporate taxation with a regressive consumption tax, and corporate income tax would be replaced by an 8.5% flat tax. Not only would corporate drop dramatically, but the profits passed on to owners and shareholders would be tax free, generating significantly more wealth for the owners of businesses.
  • The Roadmap would place the entire burden of deficit reduction on spending cuts. The hefty tax hikes on the middle class included in the plan do not go toward deficit reduction, and the Roadmap’s overall revenue plan does not improve the long-term fiscal outlook. The plan actually reduces federal revenue relative to both current law and current policy.
  • The Roadmap calls for dismantling Medicare and Medicaid, defunding important social programs without addressing the rising cost of health care throughout the economy, and making the wealth-based access to health care even worse.
  • The Roadmap would cut benefits and partially privatize Social Security. The retirement age would be raised, benefits would be cut for most workers now under 55, and the 76-year-old social insurance program would be gradually replaced with a two-tiered system of privatized accounts for the wealthy and a schedule of reduced benefits unrelated to lifetime earnings for lower-income working Americans. For a worker who is now 25, that would mean a 24 percent cut in benefits upon retirement, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
On the social issue front, the new Congress has also returned swiftly to the highly intrusive, anti-libertarian ways of the mainstream GOP.  While legislators dither on major questions like military spending, wedge issues are still getting plenty of attention.  Ohio Republican Jim Jordan, for instance, is attempting to introduce a bill that, if passed, would nullify the District of Columbia's year-old decision to permit same sex marriage, and while the capital is legally under federal oversight, such a return to legislated descrimination would very clearly run against the wishes of the local populace, as expressed at the ballot box.

Similarly, House Republicans are currently working to dramatically narrow the definition of rape in an effort to severely limit the number of cases eligible for federal abortion funding.  Hinging on an effort to introduce a shaky, poorly-defined legal concept called "forcible rape", the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act would have serious consequences:
This would rule out federal assistance for abortions in many rape cases, including instances of statutory rape, many of which are non-forcible. For example: If a 13-year-old girl is impregnated by a 24-year-old adult, she would no longer qualify to have Medicaid pay for an abortion...

Given that the bill also would forbid the use of tax benefits to pay for abortions, that 13-year-old's parents wouldn't be allowed to use money from a tax-exempt health savings account (HSA) to pay for the procedure. They also wouldn't be able to deduct the cost of the abortion or the cost of any insurance that paid for it as a medical expense.
None of this is very surprising to anyone who didn't buy into the idea that the Tea Party movement was an organic, grassroots phenomenon.  Certainly, some of the feeling behind the movement has always been genuine whether one agrees with it or not, but the management of that angry sentiment by the Republican establishment has never been anything but a useful and deeply cynical effort to distract voters from the two-term disaster of George W. Bush's presidency and the ongoing financial crisis, whose roots are planted firmly in three decades of established conservative doctrine.

Assuredly, useful idiots like Michele Bachmann will continue to be trotted out as evidence that the GOP has gotten the Tea Party message, but there is every indication that there is almost no genuine respect for the movement among Republicans in Washington.  If that sounds like overstatement, or if the examples of pandering, hypocrisy and attempts to legislate morality detailed above are somehow unconvincing, consider the attendance figures for the first meeting of the Senate Tea Party Caucus.  At least a dozen GOP senators owe at least some of their most recent electoral success to the Teabaggers, but of forty-seven Republicans in the Senate, a grand total of four showed up.

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