Sunday, February 06, 2011

How the GOP is a party of words: Promises are promises are promises...

Transitions are always difficult. If you're a Republican, Change® is particularly tough to swallow – which is why the GOP spent the last two years projectile vomiting on anything that tasted like "Progress" and throwing filibuster tantrums whenever Congress debated a bill on Capitol Hill.

They swept the midterm elections, nonetheless, not with a strong record – or any record at all – but by riding the coattails of the anti-government prattle of the Tea Party patriots who flooded the mainstream media with sensational circus theatrics and apocalyptic prophesies of the country's imminent demise were Democrats to remain in power.

The seemingly sane but obviously stubborn Republicans teamed up with Tea Party candidates and capitalized on the nation's fears and doubts by crafting a national message so bold it could not be ignored, even by liberals, who, for good or ill, were transfixed. Traditional Republicans, as the media has since dubbed the non-Tea Partiers, touted a "repeal and replace" strategy to undo the alleged devastation wrought by the Obama Administration and his Democratic Party minions in Congress. The Teabaggers, as the left-wing media dubbed the ideological extremists, did their part by peppering the rhetoric with threats to amend the Constitution and deny citizenship to brown people, abolish the IRS, and defund the departments of interior, commerce and education that these Fox News junkies believed had become a black hole for taxpayer dollars. 

But Republicans knew they couldn't continue riding in the back of the leadership bus through 2011. With majority control of the lower branch of Congress, there was a sudden expectation that these new leaders would actually lead, that these new lawmakers would actually make laws. Bitching and whining and obstructing the legislative process at every turn would not suffice with majority status in "the people's house" of Congress. 

They had to appear, at least on the surface, that they were worthy of the government paychecks they received.

And so, after a year-long campaign focused on accusing Democrats of ignoring the main concern of the American people – job creation – Republicans got right down to business upon entering office. Sort of. 

They amended the House rules to require that all bills brought to the floor include a constitutional citation of lawfulness. They rescinded the already limited voting rights of delegates from D.C., Puerto Rico, American Samoa, and elsewhere. They required that all bills include spending cuts to offset any costs needed for implementation of the newly-proposed legislation (exempting, of course, tax cuts for the rich and their repeal of President Obama's health-care law). And they changed the House schedule to give every lawmaker one week off for every two weeks worked. 

That was just the beginning. 

As they settled into their new positions of power, Republicans showed their dedication to the financially strapped American working class by introducing... a bill to remove the polar bear from the endangered species list, a bill to abolish the IRS and eliminate the income tax, and another bill that would redefine rape. 

Having promised to cut $100 billion from the federal budget this fiscal year, Republicans drafted legislation to free up a whopping $61 million (yes, million) in the budget by abolishing public financing for presidential elections. Most recently, they voted on what amounts to an office memo, a skeletal outline, a very rough, very unspecific, and very ambiguous House Resolution that calls for $32 billion in cuts.

Not exactly landmark legislation. Not legislation at all, in most cases. In fact, the only significant piece of legislation proposed thus far by Republicans has been the health-care repeal bill, which, given its chances of becoming law, wasn't much of a bill at all. They spent the last year promising to "repeal and replace" the 2,000-plus-page law known by conservatives as "ObamaCare," but the "replace" portion of the promise was conveniently absent from the two-paragraph repeal bill passed in the House. As they knew it would, this faux legislation failed in the Senate.

So here we are one month into the new Congress, with Republicans still reeling from a landslide victory over Democrats in the midterm election, and what do we have to show for it? 


And looking back, we should not be surprised. We all saw this coming. 

After "shellacking" Democrats in the midterm elections, Republicans returned to Washington intent on "saving millions of taxpayer dollars." They began this quest by attempting to eliminate grant funding for public radio. The $3.2 million in projected annual savings was pittance, they knew, and doomed to failure, as they eventually saw. But they tooted their horns and banged their drums nonetheless, eventually blaming liberals for offering government handouts to Not Pro Republican media outlets. Next in line: banning earmarks, another pittance estimated to save $16 billion a year. That fell flat when Republicans realized that banning earmarks meant they could no longer fund infrastructure projects in their home states. There were also targeted efforts to deny unemployment benefits, thwart the judicial "interference" in cases where employees are raped on the job, and kill a bill to award health care to 9/11 first responders. 

The last two months of the 111th Congress saw more of the same blind Republican opposition that had defined their presence in Washington, really, since Democrats won the majority in 2006. In the final days of 2010, Republicans followed up their backward opposition to the DREAM Act and the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" by fighting vigorously against even the no-brainer nuclear arms treaty with Russia, New START. 

They railed against excessive government spending (without acknowledging their role in the unpaid-for prescription drug program, the Bush tax cuts, and the two wars that created a $1.3 trillion deficit by the end of Bush's second term), but then balked when it came time to identify specific spending cuts. Perhaps in their most egregious display of hypocrisy, Republicans threatened to shut down the government if President Obama and the Democrats didn't get on board with the GOP priority of extending Bush's tax cuts for another two years. 

It worked. The rich kept their disproportionate tax breaks, but the result didn't quite live up to the Republican Party's pledge to cut spending back to 2008 levels, as outlined in their "Pledge to America" campaign manifesto. Conversely, it cost about $100 billion more than the 2009 economic stimulus bill they so loathed. 

The empty promises, the lofty and impractical goals, the "repeal and replace" agenda that has thus far come up empty on both fronts – these have all proven mere strategies in a shell game of hallow rhetoric meant to brainwash taxpayers into thinking that their new leaders in Washington are well-deserving of the $174,000 (plus health care benefits) that we pay them for representing We the People.

The naysayers and witch hunters of anything smelling of liberalism have demonstrated that they are not patriots defending against Socialism as much as they are stalwart defenders of the Bush-era status quo. The people loved them for it throughout the last congressional session, they praised them for it throughout the campaign season, and they turned out in swaths to reward them for it at the ballot box on Nov. 2, 2010. Now a month into the 112th Congress, Republicans are enjoying their highest popularity rating in years.

Republicans interpreted the last election as a mandate against the progressive agenda. Voters, they said, showed unequivocally that they wanted whatever was the opposite of progress and change. 

This is about as close as it gets.

(Cross-posted at Muddy Politics.) 


Background photo of John Boehner from National Journal.

Republican favorable/unfavorable chart from Gallup.

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