There really isn’t any other word. Congressional Republicans are simply appalling. They have absolute control of the House. They set the agenda. They decide what comes to the floor. They decide what passes on to the Senate.
They know that extreme legislation isn’t going to be enacted into law. The Democratic majority in the Senate and the Democratic president stand in the way. So the legislation they choose to pass is a statement of their own values. It is simply designed to proclaim, “This is where we stand.” And for the vast majority of Americans, what they proudly proclaim is simply beyond the pale.
Republicans just passed a farm bill. It lards out $195 billion in subsidies for agribusiness. At the same time, they chose to drop food stamps — the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — from the bill for the first time in 40 years. In this time of mass unemployment, 47 million Americans rely on food stamps. Nearly one-half are children under 18; nearly 10 percent are impoverished seniors. The recipients are largely white, female and young. The Republican caucus has decided to drop them from the bill as “extraneous,” without having separate legislation to sustain them. Who would want to advertise these cruel values?
Republicans in the House passed a 2014 budget guideline. They know the Senate won’t accept it. They refuse even to enter into negotiations with the Senate to find a compromise.
What does their bill do? It would deprive millions of health care with deep cuts in Medicaid and, of course, the repeal of Obamacare. It not only continues the mindless and damaging sequester cuts, but it exacts them all from domestic services – education, environmental protection, clean water, food and drug testing, head start, infant nutrition – while exempting the Pentagon.
The Pentagon is the largest source of waste, fraud and abuse in the federal government. The White House is ending wars. Troops are coming home. Why in the world should the Pentagon — still investing in Cold War weapons that are simply relics in the modern world — be exempt from deficit reduction? Who would defend these priorities?
It gets worse. The Senate passed comprehensive immigration reform. The compromise bill earned rare bipartisan support, its provisions made much harsher to meet conservative objections. There’s likely a majority that would vote to pass that reform in the House. But the Republican caucus demands that no legislation reach the floor without the support of a majority of the Republican caucus. And, at this point, a majority of House Republicans rail against reform. They are considering passing piecemeal laws to arm the border, spend billions on more walls, and provide for more guest workers for agribusiness to exploit, while simply ignoring the 11 million people living in the shadows.
Congress has passed inadequate legislation to try to curb the excesses of Wall Street. But Republicans in both houses are now pushing to weaken, delay and gut even these changes (in return for growing campaign contributions from the financial sector). What voters stand with Wall Street over homeowners?
Why are Republicans so appalling? Some argue that they must take these extreme positions to fend off primary challenges from the tea party right. But even tea party members want banks to be policed. Some say it’s because Republicans come from gerrymandered districts, so they don’t have to cater to majority opinion. But many of these gerrymandered districts are in poor regions, with high numbers of people dependent on food stamps. And how many conservative voters would defend exempting the Pentagon, and the rich (Republicans call for more top-end tax cuts), and corporations (Republicans have insisted that corporate taxes should be lowered) from contributing anything to getting our books in order? Some say it is simply corruption. Big interests buy the legislators and rig the rules. But Democrats are compromised by the money race without completely abandoning common decency.
Republican obstruction and outrages have left Congress with record low approval levels. There’s much talk in Republican circles about how to “relaunch” the “brand.” But packaging won’t replace leadership. What Republicans need is a conservative leader with the common sense of former President and World War II hero Dwight D. Eisenhower. Commenting on the Republican yahoos of his time who wanted to repeal Social Security and Medicare, Eisenhower wrote his brother in 1954:
“Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things ... their number is negligible, and they are stupid.”
Eisenhower was a conservative and frugal president who insisted on balancing the budget. He put a lid on Pentagon spending. He defended Social Security and labor laws, while building the interstate highways and funding the national education defense act. He was re-elected in a landslide.
Now it looks like the “stupid” wing of the Republican Party has taken over. Our nation suffers as a result. And Republicans are likely to pay the price for that.