By Devona Walker / AlterNet / September 20, 2010
Democrats are in trouble come November. If current polling is any indication, Republicans have a good chance of reclaiming a majority in the House of Representatives and perhaps even the Senate (though the Senate is a less likely prospect). That’s not because people are wildly excited about Republicans. In fact, a recent poll shows that registered voters rate the GOP’s performance as worse than the Democrats’. But the enthusiasm gap between the parties gives the GOP an advantage; a nine-point advantage among likely voters, according to the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll .
Perhaps Americans should know what’s really at stake if this batch of Republicans takes over Congress in November. Here are 10 terrible things the GOP might do:
1) Shut down government to stop health care bill. “All the Republican Congress needs to say in January is, ‘We won’t fund it,” said former Speaker of the House and likely 2012 presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich, speaking about the GOP leadership’s intent to shut down the government to stop health care reform from being enacted. He should know. He did it before, back in 1995 when the Republicans reclaimed Congress during the Clinton administration. The GOP’s government shutdown was disastrous for millions of Americans.
Since Republicans can’t directly repeal the bill — President Obama would veto such an action — they may cut funding in order to hold up its implementation, forcing a stand-off with Democrats that could lead to government shutdown. Gingrich isn’t the only one sounding this threat. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., said, “The endgame is a fight over funding.” Rep. Mike Pence called rolling back health reform a “mainstream GOP position.”
Meanwhile, in an interview with TPM, Donna Shalala, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services during the Clinton administration, discussed the consequences of government shutdown. Services would be stopped:
“Social Security checks, Medicare reimbursements…welfare checks to the state, Medicaid checks to the state.” Federal employees would be furloughed. It would “stop all new enrollees into the [Social Security] system,” Shalala said.
She continued, “It bounces through: it’s grocery stores, it’s farms […] It bounces through when people don’t have money at that scale.” Shalala also pointed out that the economy is in far worse shape today than it was during the Clinton years, so the impact of government shutdown would likely be worse than in the 1990s.
2) Attempt to privatize Social Security. Back in 2005, former President George W. Bush tried to privatize Social Security by creating independent spending accounts, similar to 401Ks. He failed. But unlike Republicans today, Bush did not have the advantage of Tea-Party backed ultraconservative Republicans, some of whom honestly believe the only role of the federal government is to fight wars and protect our borders. Among the GOP’s up and comers is Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the ranking Republican member of the House Budget Committee. He wants to create personal spending retirement accounts invested in the stock market, which sounds a lot like the current 401K system: You know, the one that lost nearly 40 percent of its value during the financial crisis.
Social Security privatization, once considered politically untenable even by many ultraconservative think-tanks, has resurfaced just in time for the 2010 primary. It’s being debated in Arizona, Kentucky, Indiana, Nevada, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Republicans like Sharron Angle in Nevada, Ken Buck in Colorado, Rand Paul, the Republican nominee in Kentucky, and Dan Coates, the Republican nominee in Indiana, all support “private retirement accounts” — code for privatizing Social Security.
3) Spend every waking hour investigating the Obama administration. You thought Ken Starr was awful? Meet Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota. She thinks that if Republicans retake Congress, they should issue subpoena after subpoena and launch investigation after investigation of the Obama administration.
“Oh, I think that’s all we should do,” she told CBS News. “I think that all we should do is issue subpoenas and have one hearing after another.”
“All of our chips are on November,” she added.
And it’s not just Bachmann. GOP House members have already pushed Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine to say he will investigate the wholly made-up New Black Panther Party scandal. Politico reports that conversations with top GOP aides reveal,
“Republicans are planning a wave of committee investigations targeting the White House and Democratic allies if they win back the majority. Everything from the microscopic — the New Black Panther party — to the massive –- think bailouts — is on the GOP to-do list.”
4) Repeal the 14th amendment — divest immigrants’ children of citizenship. In the growing nativist fervor within the Republican party, there’s been a push to repeal the 14th amendment, which provides citizenship to all people born in the U.S. Republicans, trying desperately to woo the anti-immigrant crowd, are promoting this incredibly xenophobic idea. Here’s what minority leader John Boehner said about repealing birthright citizenship: “Listen, I think it’s worth considering. But it’s a serious problem that affects our country. And in certain parts of our country, clearly, our schools, our hospitals, are being overrun by illegal immigrants, a lot of whom came here just so their children could become U.S. citizens.”
Of all the ridiculous and dangerous policy initiatives, this is the most heartless. It’s driven by racist ideologies and was essentially penned by a hate group, Federation for American Immigration Reform. Boehner is not the only one pandering to the “No more anchor baby” nativist contingent. U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-TX, actually claimed that immigrant infants would one day form terrorist cells.
“It appeared that [the terrorists] would have young women, who became pregnant, would get them into the United States to have a baby,” Gohmert said during a speech on the House floor. “And then they would turn back where they could be raised and coddled as future terrorists.”
There are two ways they may try revoking birthright citizenship to immigrants born in this country. Some Republicans propose creating a constitutional amendment asserting that one or both parents must be U.S. citizens, and the other is to pass federal or state legislation that could provoke a court battle over the amendment’s citizenship clause. Republicans Russell Pearce, of Arizona, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz. are all pushing for hearings to explore the citizenship clause, which was enacted originally to provide an objective criteria for citizenship. Republicans want to remove that objective measurement and make citizenship subject to their own ideas about who deserves to be an American citizen.
5) Cap and trade? Forget about it. Not only are conservative activists aggressively campaigning against Democrats who support cap and trade — legislation that mandates emissions reductions — but they are also trying to unseat moderate Republicans who support cap and trade and replace them with ultraconservative, often Tea Party-backed politicians. Rep. John Boehner has already promised as part of his pitch to be Speaker of the House that he would oppose the measure. Conservative Republican Senate and House candidates across the country are campaigning against cap and trade, using it to hammer moderate Republicans and Democrats.
“It’s a very big deal,” said Brian Walsh, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Delaware, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Kentucky are among the states where opposing cap and trade, he believes, is helping Republicans win tight races.
In California, Charles and David Koch, the two billionaires responsible for financing the Tea Party movement, have already donated $1 million to suspend the Global Warming Solutions Act. And they say they are prepared to invest more. In California alone, the war chest to repeal the Act already has $8.2 million with roughly $7.9 million coming directly from state energy firms. Likewise, the Koch brothers and business groups have financially backed dozens of Republican candidates running against pro-cap and trade Democrats and even a few moderate Republicans who support the legislation.
6) More disastrous economic policies like the practices that caused our financial crisis. Financial regulatory reform was not perfect. But even the little Obama managed to do will be in danger if Republicans regain control of the Congress.
“If Republicans who oppose Wall Street reform are so offended by holding big banks accountable, then they should have to share with voters whether or not they would support repeal of the bill if elected,” said DSCC spokesman Eric Schultz. “Any Republican who wants to return to the no-holds-barred, letting the big banks run rampant… jeopardizing Americans’ savings and investments will absolutely be held accountable for that position during the campaign.”
Well, according to Fox Business, Rep. Darrell Issa wants finance reform repealed altogether. On Wednesday, Issa fired his first salvo at the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, introducing a measure that would repeal parts of it. And once again, Issa is not the only one. When it comes to protecting the interests of the extremely wealthy, the Republican leadership continues to be in lockstep. Let’s remember the bill only passed 60-39 with nearly the entire Republican party opposing it. Shortly after it was passed, those same Republicans started calling for repeal. House Minority Leader John Boehner told reporters on the day of the vote, “I think it ought to be repealed.”
“If we were in a position to do something, maybe [Boehner] is right,” said GOP Policy Chairman Sen. John Thune of North Dakota. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-AL, said he’d “love for it to be repealed.” Sen. Richard Shelby, R-AL, the ranking Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, told “Good Morning America” that he and other Republicans would “like to repeal it.”
The only thing stopping them — and the only reason we were able to manage any type of reform at all — is that Republicans are in the minority. With a majority in Congress, they will come back emboldened, on a mission.
7) Kill or drastically slash Food Stamp program. During times of financial crisis, the Republicans will always cut safety net programs before raising taxes on the rich. We already know this. Back when Congress approved the 2009 Recovery Act, it included a 13.6 percent increase in food stamp benefits to aid workers hit by the recession. The entire Republican right opposed this $787 billion stimulus package, and they are simply waiting for an opportunity — as with health care and financial regulatory reform — to undo its provisions. At present, they eked out concessions from Democrats that will gut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) of $14.1 billion.
Carl Paladino, the Republican candidate for governor in New York, even suggested putting welfare recipients in prison dorms where they could work in state-sponsored jobs, get employment training and take lessons in “personal hygiene.” The Tea Party-backed Paladino, a wealthy Buffalo real estate developer, won Tuesday night. He ran his campaign against social service programs in New York.
Food Stamps are a lifeline for the low-income and the unemployed. At a time when at least 10 percent of the country is unemployed, food stamps could mean the difference between barely surviving and dying from hunger. Nationwide, a record 40.8 million people — one in every eight — currently receive SNAP benefits. In poorer states the number is one in five or six.
8 ) Roll back and repeal equal rights for gays. The Republican party is quieter these days on social issues like gay rights, but the party platform has not changed from six years ago when it railed against gay marriage, pressed for the Defense of Marriage Act, and stated that homosexuality and military service were incompatible.
“Attempts to redefine marriage in a single state or city could have serious consequences throughout the country, and anything less than a Constitutional amendment, passed by the Congress and ratified by the states, is vulnerable to being overturned by activist judges,” the Republican party platform stated back in 2004.
In recent days, the Montana GOP has actually taken that anti-gay message a step further. The Montana GOP platform now calls for making homosexuality illegal.
Meanwhile, at the Value Voters summit last Friday, Republican elected members of Congress sought to reassure their cultural conservative base that opposing gay marriage continues to be important to the Republican party. Politicians like Delaware Republican nominee Christine O’Donnell, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney were there to reassure the anti-gay religious right.
“Ours is not so much a fiscal crisis, it’s a family crisis,” Huckabee told the group. “There is a direct correlation between the stability of the family and stability of our country.”
“Those of us who have toiled for years in the values movement found ourselves surrounded by Americans who had rediscovered the most fundamental value of all, liberty,” O’Donnell told the audience, bridging the gap between cultural conservatives and the Tea Party movement.
Family Research Council president Tony Perkins said he was working closely with House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, R- Ohio, to ensure their anti-gay, anti-abortion agenda would continue to be a part of the GOP platform.
9) Abandon the unemployed. In March, Senate Republicans filibustered an extension of unemployment benefits. At the time Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl called the entire unemployment insurance system a necessary evil.
Back then, several Republicans made the claim that unemployment benefits keep people from looking for work. Among them was Georgia Republican Rep. John Linder. Another conservative claimed that stripping the unemployed of benefits would force them to “sober up.”
This claim was backed up by the conservative Heritage Foundation and Fox News, until it actually transformed the national debate into the question, “Do extending benefits to the unemployed create a disincentive to find work?”
During that one-week Senate impasse, while the Republican majority filibustered extending unemployment benefits, more than 2 million Americans lost their benefits.
10) Paralyze one branch of our government. You may disagree with President Obama, but immobilizing one branch of our three-branch system is no way to run a government. If the Republican party regains the majority in Congress it will continue to maneuver from the mid-’90s congressional playbook. The key to regaining power in Congress has been obstruction, and it will continue to be the key to regaining control of the White House.
In February, there were nearly 200 executive appointees still waiting confirmation. Many of these vacancies are critical to running the government. (During the same period of the Bush administration there were only 77 vacancies.) In March, President Obama was forced to start making recess appointments trying to circumvent unwarranted opposition in Congress. Just last week, Obama was forced to make Elizabeth Warren a special adviser to the White House in an effort to get around the Republican minority in Congress.
Republicans have held up appointments for the sake of union-busting. They have used “secret holds” and refused to offer justification. But more importantly, they have held up appointments simply because they can.
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., described the unprecedented secret holds as institutionalizing dysfunction. “This seems to be an attack on this administration to do its constitutional duty.”
In the end, this may prove sufficiently bad for the president; but the implications for the citizens of this country are far more dangerous.
Devona Walker has worked for the Associated Press and the New York Times company. Currently she is the senior political and finance reporter for theloop21.com.