To people who hate government, governing is the greatest crime.
Speaker John Boehner is nobody’s paragon of a great statesman. There will be no movies made about his noble attempts to overcome the fog of his daily hangover in order to quickly dispense with a few votes so he’d have time for a round of golf and a pack of smokes before his evening’s two fundraisers.
Since he became Speaker of the House in 2011, his primary accomplishments have been creating unnecessary crises, slowing the recovery, and extracting painful concessions that hurt the poor and benefit the rich. But he — with one glaring exception — kept the government open, allowing Republicans to focus on fake scandals, depress Democrats, and take the Senate.
This was simply not good enough for the House’s Freedom Congress (40 or so Republican representatives from districts so white they disappear in sunlight), who are intent on extracting their supervillain demands that exist in complete denial of the basic principles of our democracy. Each time they’re rebuffed, their demands become greater and more intractable as reality recedes around them.
Boehner needed some Democratic votes to keep the doors open. To conservatives who think the lowest unemployment claims in 42 years, 17 million people gaining insurance, and a deficit cut by two-thirds are disasters only Donald Trump can fix, the Speaker’s actions are tantamount to appeasement
Don’t get me wrong. Things aren’t great in America today — unless you compare today to the last 14 years.
The Middle East and Afghanistan are still a mess, but American soldiers aren’t dying there on a daily basis. Our long-term deficit and debt are still problems, but the rich are paying a higher share of taxes than they have in decades. And income inequality threatens our political and economic stability, despite the more than 12 million jobs that have been created in the last five years.
The fact that the Republican House Majority Leader says his own caucus may be “ungovernable” is a sign that Republicans recognize that the fury they’ve nurtured in their base could burn out of control and char the party to bits.
It’s possible the party’s enormous economic advantages and stealthy gerrymandering will keep it immune to all consequences of its bad behavior, as Ted Cruz enacts his data-driven plan to win the White House almost entirely on the votes of white men and their wives.
Regardless of the GOP’s urge toward self-immolation, Democrats have to acknowledge that it’s rare for a party to hold the White House for three terms in a row. And if a Republican wins the White House in 2016, he — we can say he — will almost certainly have a Republican House and Senate.
If that happens, here’s what you should expect.
1. Lots of “free stuff” for rich people.
Jeb Bush recently revived Mitt Romney’s theme that Democrats buy black voters allegiance with “free stuff.” But if the modern Republican Party was built on anything it’s “free stuff” for people who don’t need it.
Bush’s tax plan is loaded with even more giveaways for the richest than his brother’s — even though income inequality has gotten far worse since 2000. And Jeb would be inheriting a shrunken (but not insignificant) deficit, instead of the surplus Bill Clinton left for W.
Bush’s tax plan is about the only thing he’s offered that’s pleased the donor class since he launched his dismal campaign. Because the only thing the kind of people willing to go in for a third Bush love more than tax breaks for the rich is the massive cuts to the middle class needed to pay for them. We should be talking about a new tax bracket that asks more from the richest .01 percent who are sucking in nearly all the gains of the economy. But a GOP government would be focused almost entirely on making the richest few benefit the most from their governance.
2. The end of Social Security and Medicare as we know them.
Don’t understand how every Republican candidate for president could be proposing trillions of dollars in tax breaks, while also saying we can’t afford the most important things the government does? Things like Social Security and Medicare. “Well, you’d get over it, and you’re going to have to get over it,” Ohio governor John Kasich told a voter at a town hall on Friday.
The Freedom Caucus is demanding cuts to Social Security and Medicare in exchange for raising the debt limit; the only difference between them and their slightly more moderate colleagues is that “mainstream” Republicans want to wait until 2017 to make those cuts. Bush and Kasich are promising such cuts for future seniors. Chris Christie has proposed a gutting of Social Security that would technically be the biggest middle class increase of all time. Even if a Republican like Mike Huckabee or Donald Trump — who are promising to preserve these earned benefits — wins, a GOP Congress will demand that the retirement age be raised for future retirees, knowing that life expectancy has grown for the people who could afford to retire without Social Security, not the laborers who desperately need it.
3. Millions will lose health insurance.
John Boehner spent much of his first two years allowing his caucus show votes on repealing Obamacare. Now that the law is in full effect, has cut the uninsured rate to record levels, and is no longer a political liability for Democrats, he’s backed off this charade, which he must have recognized was giving his base unreasonable expectations.
If Republicans win in 2016, after eight years of promising to repeal the law, a “repeal” of Obamacare is the least you can expect. In the best case scenario, only a few million Americans would lose their coverage and they’d likely be those who could least afford to do so.
Conservatives will also set about gutting Medicaid, which insures the most vulnerable Americans and provides essential help and housing to our sickest seniors. And thanks to a law signed by Ronald Reagan, taxpayers will have to absorb the cost of caring for the uninsured.
4. We’ll switch from fighting climate change to encouraging it.
The accumulated effects of President Obama’s agenda of encouraging green energy and regulating dirty energy are historic leaps in the affordability of renewable resources and the rapid demise of the worst sources of carbon pollution. Republicans would immediately reverse these course. Imagine where we’d be if Al Gore had taken the office he’d won in 2001 and we’d pushed forward on fighting climate change instead of inviting it. Now imagine if we make the same tragic error 16 years later, as the consequences of carbon pollution — the droughts, the floods, the superstorms — grow nearer and more menacing every day.
Another demand the House Freedom Caucus makes is for the president to break the historic deal the U.S., its allies, Russia, and China forged with Iran to peacefully prevent them from getting nuclear weapons. This position — that deal should be immediately broken — has been offered by most of the leading Republican candidates for president, and comes along with a promise by many of them for a surge in American ground troops in Iraq. And the cost of these policies — in dollars and American lives — are never discussed.
Republicans have proven that they don’t care about the deficit, debt, or fiscal conservatism.
Their goal is dismantle America’s ability to foster stability for the working class while making life easier for the rich and polluters. The only internal disagreements in the party are over how shy and how disrespectful of democratic norms they should be about this.
If Republicans win in 2016, expect the worst. And if we let this happen after seeing what they did the last time we had a GOP president and Congress — 2001-2006 — know that we deserve it.
File photo: Republican primary debate, August 6, 2015. REUTERS/Brian Snyder