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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Republican Brand–Buyer Beware!

The Republican “brand” has not improved over the last decade or so. It used to be that Republicans were the party of “family values” (whatever that means), of frugality and efficiency, of business, of some historical significance, and of leaders like Eisenhower, Taft, Speaker Martin, Norris,  Javits, Dirksen,  Vandenburgh, Jeffords to name a few.

However, the “brand” of late has lost any luster it may have possessed. It is now a Party of obstruction, destruction, favoritism, elitism, racism, militarism, prevarication and denial. This is hardly a snap judgment. It is based on their own actions and behaviors. This is what Republicans are about right now, and it will be even truer as they begin to exert their majority hold on the House and the Senate. As a matter of fact, they are at it already, even though the new Congress has yet to be sworn in. They have passed a $1.1 trillion dollar budget in the House and Senate, and the President has said he will sign it. The legislation contains full funding for fiscal year 2015 for 11 of the 12 regular annual Appropriations bills, with the exception of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The Homeland Security portion is funded under a temporary Continuing Resolution (CR). This CR maintains DHS funding at the current fiscal year 2014 level, and expires on February 27, 2015.

Here are some of the more onerous provisions that make this a suspect bill, at the very least. Elizabeth Warren has made it clear that it is worse than that.

National Security – The bill will fund Department of Defense programs and projects, a pay raise for our troops, and the advancement of our military operations to the tune of $490 billion. The bill also includes an additional $64 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funding to provide resources and training for our troops in the field, to combat the threat presented by ISIL, to train and equip our Iraqi allies, and to reinforce European countries facing Russian aggression.

Bolstering Job Creation and Reining in Bureaucratic Overreach – The bill includes many provisions to rein in regulatory restrictions. Some of these provisions include:

· A provision to prohibit the Export-Import Bank and OPIC from blocking coal and other power-generation projects – supposedly "helping to increase exports of U.S. goods and services"

· A provision prohibiting funds for the Army Corps of Engineers to change the definition of “fill material,” which could have harmful effects on many U.S. industries;

· A restriction on the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) from implementing regulations having to do with the livestock and poultry industry;

· Language amending Dodd-Frank swaps requirements supposedly to protect farmers and other commodity producers from having to put down excessive collateral to get a loan, expand their businesses, and hedge their production, but as Senator Warren points out, giving big banks the ability to speculate and gamble on derivatives is what this is about.

· Provisions restricting the application of the Clean Water Act in certain agricultural areas, including farm ponds and irrigation ditches; and

ObamaCare – The bill provides no new funding for ObamaCare, and holds the line on funding for the IRS and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services – the primary agencies responsible for the implementation of ObamaCare.

Life – The Omnibus maintains all existing pro-life policy and funding provisions that have been carried in Appropriations legislation in previous years. The bill also includes new language allowing states increased access to abstinence education funding, new language directing the HHS Secretary to increase the transparency of abortion coverage within federal exchange health care plans, and new language directing HHS to quickly respond to claims filed by health care providers on conscience clause violations.
Other Policy Provisions – Many other important policy provisions are included in the Omnibus, such as:

· Provisions to protect Second Amendment rights, including a prohibition on funding for the EPA to regulate lead content in ammunition or fishing tackle;

· Bans and limitations on federal agency conferences and awards;

· Provisions to stop the transfer or release of Guantanamo detainees into the U.S.; and

· A prohibition on funding for the IRS to target organizations for regulatory scrutiny based on their ideological beliefs or for exercising their First Amendment rights.

Savings and Oversight of Tax Dollars – The bill includes program cuts and oversight provisions. Some of these items include:

· No funding for high-speed rail;

· A $345.6 million cut and extensive oversight requirements for the Internal Revenue Service;

· A $60 million cut and extensive oversight requirements for the Environmental Protection Agency;

· Oversight and monitoring requirements for nutrition programs;

· No funding for contributions to the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO);

· No funding for the Administration’s “Race to the Top” program; and

· No funding for the International Monetary Fund.

The 1,600-page bill also includes a number of provisions intended to gain votes from both parties:

Ÿ increasing the amount an individual person can contribute to a national political party from $32,400 to $324,000

Ÿ blocking the District of Columbia from using its own funds to set up regulatory systems for marijuana legalization

So there you have the proof that budget bills are nothing more than policies and ideology with numbers. The Radical Republicans have struck again. But the story is broader than just one omnibus budget bill. The Republican brand has provided evidence against itself in many ways in the last 6 years, and it is important to gather the pieces together in a brief prospectus to allow our memories to be refreshed once again as to why this Party needs to be defeated and thrown out in 2016. The following is a compendium of just some of the their stripes that are not about to change:

1) OBAMA DESTRUCTION. From the very beginning of Barack Obama's two terms in office, Republican Leader Mitch McConnell made it plain that the GOP would obstruct and attack his agenda with all the ferocity they could muster. In fact McConnell summed it up in his now infamous statement: "my number one priority is making sure president Obama’s a one-term president." McConnell did not get his wish, but he and other Republican leaders managed to make the President the issue in 2014, and they did that by launching attacks on him every chance they got. It extended from blocking his appointees to the Executive branch and to the Judiciary, to blocking or attacking major legislation like expanded gun buyer background checks to keeping immigration reform on the back burner to obstructing and damning the Affordable Care Act. But that's not all. The Radical Republicans tried to block just about everything the President proposed in terms of economic recovery: a jobs bill; an infrastructure repair bill, and a raise in the minimum wage.

2) Obstruction of legislation, policy and appointments – see my Post of 7/28/2013

“With prolonged delay as the goal, the variety and intensity of obstructionist procedures substantially increased. Extreme slow-walking, committee hearing defamations, extortion holds, and outright filibusters became the upper chamber's ordinary business. In the 112th Senate, the Republican minority fully embraced appointment obstructionism as a means to accomplish Mitch McConnell's stated priority — defeat Obama's reelection. The most recent obstruction escalation amounts to outright nullification — a partisan assault against republican governance. Scores of critically important federal posts are purposely kept vacant for months and even years; the government is purposely hobbled.

“Confirmation obstruction has resulted in systemic damage to a range of executive, regulatory and judicial operations. The vacancies are too numerous to fully report here. Take for example the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which again loses its quorum at the end of the year when three of five seats become vacant. Last year, in New Process Steel v. National Labor Relations Board, the Supreme Court voided over 400 NLRB rulings made when the agency last lost a quorum. Similarly, opponents of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) — who were unable to defeat the agency's enabling legislation — sabotage its fledgling operations through obstruction. Forty-four Republican Senators preemptively pledged to block appointment of "any" director nominee. Without a director, the CFPB lacks authority to regulate non-bank financial fraud. Additionally, the federal court system has shameful "vacancy emergencies" across the nation due to blocked nominations.

Obama's economic policy nominees have been particularly targeted for confirmation abuse. The Republican members of Congress purposely retard the government's ability to respond to the economic crisis. Perversely, the systemic damage to the national government serves to encourage rather than deter partisan obstructionists. In December 2011, Senate Republicans further escalated the confirmation battle, including by using formal filibusters to deny Caitlin Halligan an up-or-down vote for a seat on the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which had been vacant for six years, and formally blocking Richard Cordray from leading the CFPB. Commentators, such as James Fallows, Thomas Mann, Jonathan Cohn and Steve Benen, analyze the escalating confirmation obstruction as ‘new nullification.’ John Calhoun's nineteenth century theory of a dissatisfied minority exercising raw power to invalidate, disrupt or void majority rule is alive and well in the 112th Senate.” (from “Jurist.org” by Vince Williams, Clinical Assistant Professor at Catholic University of America Columbus School of Law and attorney in Washington, DC.)

3) Attempts to destroy Obamacare – see my Posts of 11/19/2013; 10/25/2013; 8/18/2013

House Republicans have launched their 51st attempt to kill the ACA, and President Obama has already promised that he will veto the legislation if it ever gets to his desk. In a statement about the absurdly misnamed SIMPLE Fairness Act, the White House said:

‘The Administration strongly opposes House passage of H.R. 4118, the Suspending the Individual Mandate Penalty Equals Fairness Act, because the bill would increase health insurance premiums, decrease tax credits, increase the number of uninsured, and shift costs to businesses, workers, and health care providers. Rather than attempting once again to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which the House has tried to do approximately 50 times, it is time for the Congress to stop fighting old political battles and join the President in an agenda focused on providing greater economic opportunity and security for middle class families and all those working to get into the middle class.’

“The Republican concept of fairness is interesting. They consider increasing the number of uninsured and raising the cost of health insurance fair. They consider taking money out of people’s pockets fair. What Republicans call unfair is the notion that Americans deserve access to healthcare.

The SIMPLE Fairness Act is nothing more than another lamebrain gimmick that is designed to waste taxpayer money while House Republicans pretend that they have the ability to stop the ACA. Republicans understand that support for repealing Obamacare has hit an all-time low, so they are trying to disguise their repeal attempts as fairness. There is no “fairness” in this piece of legislation. This bill is designed to force another show vote because Republicans have it stuck in their heads that if they can get Democrats on the record as supporting the ACA, they are certain to win every election from now until the end of time.” (Jason Easley writing for PoliticusUSA.com)

Of course, there is always that possibility that the SCOTUS will use the power of a 5-4 majority to overturn the use of federal subsidies in certain cases for those who signed up online over state established healthcare sites. OR, there is still the possibility that a Congress controlled by Republicans will choose to repeal it all. In the omnibus bill, they have already forced the issue by denying any increase in funding for the ACA. The fight is far from over.

4) Attacks on national government itself; attempts to destroy power of a central gov.; shut-down of government – see Posts of 5/18/2014;10/6/2013; 9/22/2013; 5/6/2013

Over the course of the past decade we've seen a spike in intense antigovernment attitudes amongst a small segment of the public. The proportion saying they are angry with the federal government has doubled since 2000, increasing to 21% from 10%. And a larger minority of the public has come to view the federal government as a major threat to their personal freedom: 30% feel this way, up from 18% in a 2003 ABC News/Washington Post survey...

Record discontent with Congress and dim views of elected officials generally have poisoned the well for trust in the federal government. Public opinion about elected officials in Washington is relentlessly negative. Antigovernment sentiment appears to be a more significant driver of possible turnout among Republicans and independents than among Democrats.

Just as troubling for Democrats as the electoral dark clouds is the shifting public mood against a progressive role for government in general. The contentious health care debate and the stigmatized though successful stimulus program are apparently contributing factors. Outside of their 61% to 31% support for regulation of financial companies, a 51% to 40% majority of Pew respondents no longer believe it is a good idea for the government to exert more control over the economy. That's a reversal from broad support (54%) for the same proposition in March 2009.

As 1930's Labor Department lawyer Carl Auerbach once put it, "You cannot run on a platform that government is the problem and expect the best people in the country to want to be a part of the problem." No, but Republicans are only too happy to take on the job and make the problem worse. Having killed Americans' trust in government, the Republican Party and its conservative amen corner now seem poised to get away with the murder." (written by Jon Perr on Crooksandliars.org back in 2010, although it sounds like today’s news).

5) Party of the rich: tax breaks, loopholes, coddling of banks and their destructive speculation; $700 billion bailout – see Posts on 4/6/2014; 3/16/2014; 2/22/2014; 7/16/2011

Elizabeth Warren did a superb job on the Senate floor just recently when she assailed the provision in the omnibus bill that would potentially bring back the speculation on derivatives by Wall Street bankers and allow them to get away with it by requiring the government (taxpayers) to bail them out again. She particularly cited Citigroup which had just been involved in actually writing legislation that would protect them. Republicans continue to coddle the banks and financiers and international corporations so that the wealthiest are given special breaks that others of us will never get. At the same time they are also conducting vicious attacks on labor and labor rights – see my Blog of 8/31/2014

6) Allowing lobbyists of rich corporations to write laws and regulations; takeover of the Party by an elite: Koch brothers etc.— see Posts of 10/04/2014; 11/19/2012; 11/10/2010;

7) Charter schools; lack of grants; higher interest on college loans

8) Racial attacks on President Obama as the “other, brute, uncaring, lazy, clown,” etc., plus against others in the administration, and on people of color generally – see Posts of 8/25/2013; 7/22/2013; 7/14/2013

9) Use of scare tactics:

PFAW reminds us that Sen. Joe McCarthy frightened many Americans with charges that the government was infested with communist sympathizers. His current-day acolytes have made charges long considered beyond the pale of political discourse – comparisons of President Obama and other administration officials with tyrannical figures like Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, and Chairman Mao. The same is true of charges that the Obama administration and congressional democratic leaders are communists, socialists, and/or fascists bent on destroying capitalism and the market economy and imposing a socialist dictatorship in America. Rep. Paul Broun of Georgia has compared Obama to Hitler, called Obama and Democratic congressional leaders a “socialistic elite” and warned that they’re planning to create a pretext to declaring martial law. Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-AL) warned of 17 socialists in Congress. Rep. Michele Bachmann has called the health care reform bill “the crown jewel of socialism.” The Traditional Values Coalition has warned that “Obamunism must be stopped.”

McCarthy was a master of guilt by association, smearing individuals as enemies of the country based on any association however indirect or tenuous, with a suspect (communist) organization, newspaper or other publication, labor union, or individual. Today’s McCarthyite right abounds with guilt-by-association attacks. In fact Glenn Beck has made a sort of art form out of them.

After right-wing activists engineered a public humiliation of the group ACORN, right-wing leaders have tried to use any relationship with the organization’s decades of organizing on behalf of poor people as a disqualification for public service. Attacks on widely respected judicial nominee David Hamilton treated his one-month job as a canvasser for ACORN thirty years ago when he was 22 years old as if it had constituted a major portion of his career. And this fall, four Republican Members of Congress launched a witch hunt against Muslim interns on Capitol Hill, warning that they may be “spies.”

McCarthy and his subcommittee’s investigator Roy Cohn did not only target people for destruction based on alleged communist sympathies; they also hunted for homosexuals in government service. In a striking parallel, today’s right-wing leaders, dismayed and outraged by growing public support for legal equality for LGBT Americans, have used public debates over marriage equality to attack gay people as enemies of faith, family, and freedom, and they are engaged in ongoing smear campaigns against openly gay Obama administration officials and nominees.

Pennsylvania Rep. Daryl Metcalfe recently demonstrated that he has perfected the new McCarthyism by blasting veterans who disagree with his opposition to climate change legislation as traitors. “As a veteran, I believe that any veteran lending their name, to promote the leftist propaganda of global warming and climate change, in an effort to control more of the wealth created in our economy, through cap and tax type policies, all in the name of national security, is a traitor to the oath he or she took to defend the Constitution of our great nation!”

Character assassination is their stock in trade. Guilt by association is their motto. They have created such a wave of fear and uncertainty that their attacks upon our liberties go almost unchallenged. Many people are growing frightened – and frightened people panic (as they did in the off-year elections of 2014, I might add). It is clear that right-wing operatives, including the well-heeled forces behind “grassroots” uprisings against health care reform, are all about sowing fear – fear about the Obama administration, fear about his “socialist” agenda, fear about the supposed march from liberty to tyranny.”

10) Destruction of programs that particularly target people of color and in poverty: affirmation action, voting rights section, voting restrictions, Head Start, Food Stamps, etc.—see postings of 7/31/2014; 5/18/2014; 4/13 & 19/2014; 2/22/2014; 01/16/2014; 11/03/2013

11) Police forces militarized; Defense budgets burgeoning; private contracts out-of-control (under Bush, some vendors were made permanent – got contracts without going out to bid) – 8/17/2014

12) The Big Lie technique in all areas – see my Posting of 2/8/2014

13) Denial of facts, denial of science, denial of climate change, denial of needs of those in poverty; denial of unequal justice; denial of existence of poverty, inner cities, infrastructure repair, need for jobs – 4/19/2014; 2/3/2013

14) Non-support of president on foreign policy – 2/20/2011; 2/13/2010; 02/08/2010

Of course, there is more to consider, but this will suffice for now. The Republican “brand” is well established. Unfortunately, too few people seem to have understood their full commitment to destruction, obstruction, favoritism, elitism, racism, militarism, prevarication and denial. We have just a short time to wait for more convincing demonstrations of their lack of compassion, direction, principles, and ability to govern. Their recess will be over soon enough, but their regression will go on and on.