Thursday, December 02, 2010

Holding Washington hostage: How the Republicans are threatening to shut down government and screw the country until they get what they want

Well, we knew this was coming, didn't we? (We should have. They told us it was coming.) As you may have heard by now, Senate Republicans have unanimously declared that they will oppose all legislation until Dems cave on the Bush tax cuts and agree to extend them permanently. As they wrote in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid:

[W]e write to inform you that we will not agree to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to any legislative item until the Senate has acted to fund the government and we have prevented the tax increase that is currently awaiting all American taxpayers.

Yes, at a time of ongoing economic uncertainty and various crises bubbling up around the world, Republicans are threatening to get their way or else. No cooperation, no compromise, no bipartisanship -- nothing. Is that really what the American people, so many of them suffering and desperate for solutions to the country's many problems, wanted when they gave them the majority in the House and reduced the Democratic majority in the Senate?

If Republicans think this is the "mandate" they were given in the midterms, they are wildly off. They apparently do and are.

And what of all that Republican talk of fiscal sanity, of balancing the budget? They aren't proposing meaningful spending cuts because they know that cuts to major entitlement programs are deeply unpopular. And yet they want the budget-exploding Bush tax cuts to be extended forever? (And, by the way, not extending them would not actually be a tax increase, just a responsible return to more reasonable pre-Bush levels.)

Actually, what we see here is what the Republicans are, at their core, really all about: not social conservatism, not neocon idealism, but small-government reductionism, but tax cuts for the wealthy, for the plutocracy that is itself at the core of the Republican Party. Essentially, that is, Republicans are about making the rich richer with no regard whatsoever for the well-being of anyone else, including the middle class and completely disregarded poor (who do you think will end up paying for the tax cuts?).

Aren't the American people, including all those all-important independents (most of whom inexplicably voted Republican last month), supposed to be against this sort of scorched-earth politics?

Then shouldn't Republicans pay for what they're doing?

Steve Benen explains what happened:

When the letter was being circulated [on Tuesday], there was some hope that some of the less-conservative members -- the Maine "moderates," for example -- might not go along with the hostage-taking strategy. This morning, however, we learned that every Republican is on board with this plan. Even Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) is saying our national security needs through the pending arms treaty must take a back seat to tax cuts.

Also note the context: President Obama hosted a meeting at the White House yesterday with congressional leaders of both parties, and afterwards, everyone was all smiles. There was a renewed commitment to try to work together, find common ground, with an emphasis on bipartisanship.

A few hours later, the hostage letter was circulated by the GOP leadership, and less than a day after the bipartisan confab, literally every member of the Senate Republican caucus effectively told the world, "Screw bipartisanship; we're playing hardball until we get what we want on tax cuts for the wealthy."

How Democrats -- on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue -- respond to this gambit remains to be seen.

One would hope that Democrats allow Republicans to present themselves to the American people as the all-out obstructionists they are and that they reinforce this as one of the dominant post-election narratives. But that's probably hoping for too much. It's more likely they'll cave. We're talking about the Democrats, after all. Cowardice, stupidity, and lack of unity/focus will win out, even when a huge winning issue is handed to them on a jewel-encrusted platinum platter.

But will anything change? Will appeasing the Republicans allow the Democrats to get their way on anything? Of course not. As Steve writes:

Also note the unstated truth behind the threat -- Republicans will block literally everything until they're satisfied, at which point, they'll try to block literally everything anyway.

It's the Republican way. And Democrats, President Obama included, are letting them get away with it.

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