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The tourniquet applied by the outgoing Congress to the economy allows a two-month breather before we are consumed by the next deadline. The president and his party can allow themselves a brief moment of celebration for imposing higher taxes on the richest Americans, but the next stage in fixing the nation’s fiscal problems may not be as easy. By the end of February, lawmakers must find enough cuts in public spending to allow the debt ceiling to be raised. Two more months of uncertainty will prevent businesses and consumers from making spending decisions that would bolster the economic recovery.

The devil is not so much in the detail of the arguments to come as the big picture that frames the debilitating running debate. While the difference between the sides is ostensibly over taxes and public spending and borrowing, the more profound division is over where government should begin and end. For many of the Republican Party’s Tea Party insurgents, the choice is even more fundamental: whether there should be a government at all. Their unbending position, demanding an ever-diminishing role for the federal government, has levied an enormous unnecessary cost on everyone else.

Since Republicans regained control of the House in the 2010 midterms, when the Tea Party tide was in full force, they have attempted to freeze the size of government, coincidentally putting a brake on economic recovery. They have vetoed attempts at further economic stimulus, encouraged America’s economy to be downgraded by the ratings agencies by threatening not to extend the debt ceiling, and tried to veto any and every tax increase in the fiscal cliff talks. Their aim is to shrink government by starving it of funds. Such uncompromising absolutism has led to the dampening of business confidence and investment that would have created jobs.

It is not just the economy that has suffered from the absolute positions held by the anti-government rump in the GOP. Their insistence that the Founding Fathers intended us to be allowed to carry guns of any sort, including the rapid-fire assault weapon that killed 20 children and six adults in Newtown, CT, last month, continues to hamper attempts to curb the nation’s murderous gun violence. Ghosts from the 18th century are preying on our schoolchildren, abetted by those who believe that compromise on amending our gun laws is surrendering to the forces of big government. Such unbending absolutism costs human lives.

Similarly, suspicion of government is behind the growth in homeschooling, that narrows the education of children, deprives them of a sense of community, and diminishes their social skills. It came as little surprise to read reports that the Newtown shooter was kept home from school by his mother, a “survivalist” or “Doomsday Prepper,” who stockpiled food and guns because she expected an imminent economic apocalypse. Such paranoia about the role of government is a recurring theme in our society’s most appalling massacres, from the bombing of the federal government guilding in Oklahoma City in 1995 by the anti-government militiaman Timothy McVeigh, who killed 168, including 19 children, to the 1993 FBI siege of the anti-government Branch Davidian sect in Waco, TX that left 76 dead.

Hostility to government also ensures that health care is unnecessarily expensive. The average cost of American health care is $8,233 per person per year, the most expensive in the developed world. In comparable Western countries such as France, which has a private health insurance mandate administered by the state, it is $3,974. In Britain, which for 65 years has enjoyed a taxation-funded national health system, it is $3,433. As much as Americans may prefer to believe that they have a health care system second to none, there is little discernible difference between the quality of health care provided, nor the efficacy of the medicine administered in the three countries, while dealing with the health insurance bureaucracy here is considerably more time-wasting, expensive, and irritating.

Changes in demography, with Americans living longer and using more medical resources to enjoy a tolerable quality of life, mean that health care costs will continue to rise unless reforms are made. The easiest way to reduce American health care costs would be for the federal government to provide a “single payer” alternative to compete with the near-monopolistic private health insurance companies. But such a system is considered an abomination by absolutists who demand that the federal government should keep out of health care. The harsh alternative is to cut the amount of care the system provides to the elderly. Again, an unbending attitude to the government’s role and responsibilities comes at an exorbitant cost.

Conservative theologians have devoted themselves to explaining why government interference is a bad thing. For Milton Friedman, the American system of government was so monetized from the moment the Republic was founded, and so open to corruption, that he always advocated small government – at least in the United States. For the Austrian thinker Friedrich Hayek, writing in his influential masterwork The Road to Serfdom, a burgeoning state could lead to tyranny. To be fair to Hayek, who wrote his topical tract as World War II was drawing to a close, he was principally concerned that free enterprise might continue to be stifled by the imperatives of the wartime command economy once peace was declared. In The Road to Serfdom, in a passage often ignored by contemporary conservatives, he insisted that all governments should provide a generous safety net for the needy, homes for the homeless, and universal health care.

Tea Party members owe less to conservative thinkers such as Friedman and Hayek than to uncompromising proponents of the untrammelled free market such as the libertarians Ayn Rand and Ron Paul. When the new Congress comes to head off another fiscal cliff crisis at the end of next month, it will take courage from the Republican leadership to keep their extreme wing in check. If they fail to do so and they demand too deep cuts to public spending too quickly, they will not only cause the American economy to return to recession but may find that the middle-ground voters who decide elections will add together the vast cost of their allies’ absolutist intransigence and keep them in opposition forever.

Nicholas Wapshott’s Keynes Hayek: The Clash That Defined Modern Economics is published by W.W. Norton. Read extracts here.

This story originally appeared at Reuters.com

Photo credit: AP/Jason DeCrow

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Former President Donald Trump, left, and former White House counsel Pat Cipollone

On Wednesday evening the House Select Committee investigating the Trump coup plot issued a subpoena to former White House counsel Pat Cipollone, following blockbuster testimony from former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, who said the lawyer had warned of potential criminal activity by former President Donald Trump and his aides.

The committee summons to Cipollone followed long negotiations over his possible appearance and increasing pressure on him to come forward as Hutchinson did. Committee members expect the former counsel’s testimony to advance their investigation, owing to his knowledge of the former president's actions before, during and after the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

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Mark Meadows

Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wanted a presidential pardon. He had facilitated key stages of Trump’s attempted 2020 coup, linking the insurrectionists to the highest reaches of the White House and Congress.

But ultimately, Meadows failed to deliver what Trump most wanted, which was convincing others in government to overturn the 2020 election. And then his subordinates, White House security staff, thwarted Trump’s plan to march with a mob into the Capitol.

Meadows’ role has become clearer with each January 6 hearing. Earlier hearings traced how his attempted Justice Department takeover failed. The fake Electoral College slates that Meadows had pushed were not accepted by Congress. The calls by Trump to state officials that he had orchestrated to “find votes” did not work. Nor could Meadows convince Vice-President Mike Pence to ignore the official Electoral College results and count pro-Trump forgeries.

And as January 6 approached and the insurrection began, new and riveting details emerged about Meadow’s pivotal role at the eye of this storm, according to testimony on Tuesday by his top White House aide, Cassidy Hutchinson.

Meadows had been repeatedly told that threats of violence were real. Yet he repeatedly ignored calls from the Secret Service, Capitol police, White House lawyers and military chiefs to protect the Capitol, Hutchinson told the committee under oath. And then Meadows, or, at least White House staff under him, failed Trump a final time – although in a surprising way.

After Trump told supporters at a January 6 rally that he would walk with them to the Capitol, Meadows’ staff, which oversaw Trump’s transportation, refused to drive him there. Trump was furious. He grabbed at the limousine’s steering wheel. He assaulted the Secret Service deputy, who was in the car, and had told Trump that it was not safe to go, Hutchinson testified.

“He said, ‘I’m the f-ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,’” she said, describing what was told to her a short while later by those in the limousine. And Trump blamed Meadows.

“Later in the day, it had been relayed to me via Mark that the president wasn’t happy that Bobby [Engel, the driver] didn’t pull it off for him, and that Mark didn’t work hard enough to get the movement on the books [Trump’s schedule].”

Hutchinson’s testimony was the latest revelations to emerge from hearings that have traced in great detail how Trump and his allies plotted and intended to overturn the election. Her eye-witness account provided an unprecedented view of a raging president.

Hutchinson’s testimony was compared to John Dean, the star witness of the Watergate hearings a half-century ago that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon for his aides’ efforts to spy on and smear Democrats during the 1972 presidential campaign.

“She IS the John Dean of the hearings,” tweeted the Brooking Institution’s Norman Eisen, who has written legal analyses on prosecuting Trump. “Trump fighting with his security, throwing plates at the wall, but above all the WH knowing that violence was coming on 1/6. The plates & the fighting are not crimes, but they will color the prosecution devastatingly.”

Meadows’ presence has hovered over the coup plot and insurrection. Though he has refused to testify before the January 6 committee, his pivotal role increasingly has come into view.

Under oath, Hutchinson described links between Meadows and communication channels to the armed mob that had assembled. She was backstage at the Trump’s midday January 6 rally and described Trump’s anger that the crowd was not big enough. The Secret Service told him that many people were armed and did not want to go through security and give up their weapons.

Trump, she recounted, said “something to the effect of, ‘I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the mags [metal detectors] away. Let the people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.

As the day progressed and the Capitol was breached, Hutchison described the scene at the White House from her cubicle outside the Oval Office. She repeatedly went into Meadows’ office, where he had isolated himself. When Secret Service officials urged her to get Meadows to urge Trump to tell his supporters to stand down and leave, he sat listless.

“He [Meadows] needs to snap out of it,” she said that she told others who pressed her to get Meadows to act. Later, she heard Meadows repeatedly tell other White House officials that Trump “doesn’t think they [insurrectionists] are doing anything wrong.” Trump said Pence deserved to be hung as a traitor, she said.

Immediately after January 6, Hutchinson said that Trump’s cabinet discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove a sitting president but did not do so. She also said that Meadows sought a pardon for his January 6-related actions.

Today, Meadows is championing many of the same election falsehoods that he pushed for Trump as a senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), a right-wing think tank whose 2021 annual report boasts of “changing the way conservatives fight.”

His colleagues include Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who pushed for Trump to use every means to overturn the election and leads CPI’s “election integrity network,” and other Republicans who have been attacking elections as illegitimate where their candidates lose.

Hutchinson’s testimony may impede Meadows’ future political role, as it exposes him to possible criminal prosecution. But the election-denying movement that he nurtured has not gone away. CPI said it is targeting elections in national battleground states for 2022’s midterms, including Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Trump did not give Meadows a pardon. But in July 2021, Trump’s “Save America” PAC gave CPI $1 million.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

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