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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Editor's Blog

In the long era of anti-abortion demagoguery, “babies” have been the enduring symbol of Republican caring. They want to defend the rights of babies as persons even before they are born. Or, as former Congressman Barney Frank quipped, “From their perspective, life begins at conception and ends at birth.”

And yet Congressional Republicans proved beyond doubt this week that they regard living, breathing babies solely as political props, not real human beings with actual needs. True to compassionless form, nearly every Republican in the House voted no when the chance came to feed infants, living ones.

Did you get that latest “pro-life” hypocrisy? The Republicans almost unanimously opposed a bill to increase the supply of infant formula during a crisis—192 Republicans against, with only 12 breaking ranks. What could make them behave so irresponsibly and even cruelly? Because they always want the problem and never want the solution.

What this midterm election season is teaching us about the Republican Party is a political lesson we ought to have learned years ago. When a real problem arises, like soaring inflation or supply chain disruptions, they propose nothing and oppose everything. They just want to exploit whatever the problem is for political profit—and often for the financial profit of their dark money benefactors.

By voting against an emergency Biden administration bill to alleviate the nationwide shortage of baby formula, the House Republicans again proved Barney Frank’s adage that their party is “pro-life” until the moment of birth. After that, it’s every baby for herself. The Republicans’ complaint that the White House is “throwing money at the problem” sounds especially absurd because the bill’s cost to solve a very serious problem is a mere $28 million, literally a rounding error in the Food and Drug Administration budget, let alone overall federal spending.

Given the usual glacial pace of Washington, the White House has in fact moved with blinding speed to solve the shortage, slashing away barriers to safely import formula from abroad and reopen the Abbott Labs factory whose closure from contamination had sharply limited domestic supplies.

Acting decisively, President Joe Biden has invoked the Defense Production Act to corral raw materials for the formula manufacturers and ordered the Pentagon to airlift specialty formulas from overseas that are urgently needed by several thousand families. The result, according to White House data, is that during the past four weeks more formula has been produced than during the same period preceding the Abbott formula recall that caused shortages in many states.

Instead of embracing solutions, of course, the Republicans are constantly searching for scapegoats, with particular attention to inflaming ethnic and racial hostility. Recall that the baby-formula debate began with Republican leaders attacking the White House over pallets of formula sent to the southern border, where infants in migrant families detained by authorities also needed to be fed.

The freak show contingent of the GOP has set the tone. Led by Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz, they accused Democrats of feeding migrant babies instead of native-born babies, as if the government policy should allow those other infants to starve to death. See, that’s how much these “replacement theory” racists value and love babies. “Pro-life” apparently means let living babies die.

And this week, following that compassionate “pro-life” agenda, those same Republican extremists voted against expanding the Women, Infants and Children program to allow lower income families to buy more varieties of formula. Instead, they seized on the chance to blame poor families for the shortage too. There were only nine of those monstrous members in the GOP caucus, but they’re the party vanguard.

If the Democrats were more like their partisan adversaries – that is, more concerned with pointing fingers than nourishing children – they might well have seized the opportunity to blame the Trump administration for the formula shortfall. Pursuing his futile and destructive trade war with China, Trump’s trade advisers wrote provisions into the US-Mexico-Canada Act that hindered exports of baby formula from Canada. To thwart a Chinese investment in an Ontario, Canada dairy plant, they made it virtually impossible to bring formula over the northern border. American infants are now going hungry thanks to that typically counter-productive and thoughtless action.

The Biden administration and Democrats in Congress have scarcely mentioned this Trumpian predicate to the current national predicament. They’re too busy figuring out how to get actual bottles of formula into the mouths of real infants that need them. They’re too concerned with solving the problem. Meanwhile, the Republicans chortle that they have manipulated public opinion into believing that it was all Biden’s fault at the same time they attempt to sabotage the solution. It’s their heartless, cynical, and absurdly predictable game. They are not crying about spilt milk.

Americans need to understand that if they vote for Republicans, real live children are going to suffer. Just look no farther than those 192 House Republicans who voted against baby formula.

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Sen. Rick Scott

In Washington, acrimonious public disagreements among congressional leaders of the same party are unusual, which was why reporters took note not long ago when Sen. Mitch McConnell publicly spanked Sen. Rick Scott for what he considered an act of monumental stupidity.

What infuriated the Senate minority leader, who yearns above all to become the majority leader again, was Scott's unveiling of a 60-page "plan" describing what the Republicans will do if and when their party regains the majority. As chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Scott's job is to ensure victory in the November midterm by doling out tens of millions to candidates.

But McConnell saw Scott's plan as the equivalent of a loud emission of noxious gas: unpleasant, unhelpful, and very much to be avoided. McConnell has steadfastly refused to state what Republicans would do if they win the Senate; now, the lunkhead Rick Scott has let the cat out of the bag.

Especially irksome to McConnell were two aspects of Scott's blueprint. "Let me tell you what would not be part of our agenda," snapped McConnell. "We will not have, as part of our agenda, a bill that raises taxes on half the American people and sunsets Social Security and Medicare within five years. That will not be part of the Republican Senate majority agenda."

Of course, McConnell just doesn't want to tell voters what his party will do, because their ideas are deeply unpopular and always get them in trouble, like when Newt Gingrich proposed privatizing Medicare and former President George W. Bush proposed privatizing Social Security.

Scott's scheme to raise income taxes on most households struck McConnell as politically insane, and so did the plan's endorsement of allowing "all federal legislation," including Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, to simply expire within five years.

Scott, for his part, has portrayed himself as a "bold" visionary victimized by conventional thinkers. Polling, however, indicates that the Scott scheme is profoundly unpopular among all voters, including Republicans, with majorities north of 65% rejecting it. No more than 15% like it.

So, the Florida senator has simply lied since then.

"No one that I know of wants to sunset Medicare or Social Security," he insists, although that's exactly what his plan urges.Perhaps McConnell was too polite to mention the other utterly politically crazy aspect of the Scott proposal: namely, the likelihood that attacking Medicare and Medicaid will remind America about the massive health care fraud underlying Rick Scott's enormous personal fortune, estimated at $300 million.

Beginning in 1987, Scott founded and built Columbia/HCA, a hospital chain that included hundreds of health care providers across multiple states and engorged itself on billions in Medicare and Medicaid fees. Unfortunately, this lucrative business involved truly gigantic levels of fraud, which by early 1997 drew the attention of federal investigators. Columbia/HCA illegally scammed billions of dollars intended for patient care, perpetrating what remains the biggest fraud on government ever by any health care institution.

The company's board forced Scott to resign within months after the federal investigation became public. He pleaded ignorance, barely escaped indictment and walked away with vast wealth. He claims to have accepted "responsibility," although he consistently blamed others, adding piously that the experience "made me a better leader."

Somehow, Florida's voters narrowly elected him governor in 2010 and then to the U.S. Senate in 2018. The words of his 2010 primary opponent Bill McCollum, a former Navy prosecutor and Florida attorney general, still ring true. During the campaign McCollum denounced Scott as "the disgraced former CEO of Columbia/HCA who is inseparably associated with one of the most massive Medicare fraud schemes in American history."

Scott's sordid narrative raises an obvious question. How did this come to pass? We know that Florida voters have a habit of electing some truly awful politicians, and that Scott spent $60 million to win his first election. We know that Republican leaders in Washington have no problem with fraud or corruption, so long as it accrues to their own power. Just ask "Moscow Mitch," who was in the tank for Oleg Deripaska, a sanctioned Russian oligarch with Kentucky investments. We know that the Republican concern for ensuring the fairness and stability of our health care system is nil, given their long war against Medicare and, more recently, the Affordable Care Act. Now, they won't even act to reduce the cost of lifesaving insulin.

Voters should be aware that this corporate malefactor is in charge of handing out the big campaign bucks from the Senate Republican campaign — and that he aims to destroy the nation's most successful and popular domestic programs. Somebody better tell them before November. Buyer beware.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.