ALL 42 SENATE REPUBLICANS ANNOUNCE HOSTAGE PLAN.... The AP had an item late last night, noting that Senate Republicans were circulating a letter, "quietly collecting signatures" on a plan to "block action on virtually all Democratic-backed legislation unrelated to tax cuts and government spending."
This morning, the Senate GOP leadership unveiled their letter -- signed by literally all 42 members of the Republican caucus -- declaring their intention to hold the chamber hostage until the tax policy debate is resolved."[W]e write to inform you that we will not agree to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to any legislative item until the Senate has acted to fund the government and we have prevented the tax increase that is currently awaiting all American taxpayers. With little time left in this Congressional session, legislative scheduling should be focused on these critical priorities. While there are other items that might ultimately be worthy of the Senate's attention, we cannot agree to prioritize any matters above the critical issues of funding the government and preventing a job-killing tax hike."
In practical terms, this means that the Senate Republican caucus will join arms and kill literally every piece of legislation in the lame-duck session -- New START, funding U.S. troops, the DREAM Act, etc. -- until the government is fully funded and they're satisfied with the outcome of the debate on tax policy...
* Postscript: Also note the unstated truth behind the threat -- Republicans will block literally everything until they're satisfied, at which point, they'll try to block literally everything anyway.
This is the hill the Republicans have chosen to die on. This. Despite the economic hardship many Americans are facing, despite the holiday season, these fuckers will insist that unemployment benefits have to be paid for, that hungry kids shouldn't get meals, but funneling more money to the rich requires no justification whatsoever. It's unconscionable. Even Scrooge didn't actively campaign to close the workhouses.
Yet as despicable as this is, this simply makes explicit a long-existing Republican agenda and strategy. They've been flogging the same plutocratic positions for months now. According to the CBPP, a truly staggering "two-thirds of the nation's total income gains from 2002 to 2007 flowed to the top 1 percent of U.S. households." Continuing tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans is bad policy, and despite conservative claims about a "mandate" to push their plutocratic agenda, the American people strongly support letting taxes rise again on the rich. Let's also keep in mind that Bush and the Republicans designed the tax cuts to expire to avoid normal budgeting rules because they were so fiscally irresponsible, that only the rich's top marginal rate would rise and they'll benefit from the other tax cuts, and the increase in that marginal rate is pretty miniscule. The tax cuts to those richest 2% are estimated to cost 700 billion over the next decade alone, or 830 billion if one counts interest payments. I agree with Paul Krugman and others that the tax cut money would be better spent on jobs programs (including infrastructure spending) instead. However, at least tax cuts to the middle class and poor have some stimulative effect.
Many commenters have described this as a "hostage" situation. Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH) was on NPR last Wednesday, and Robert Siegel asked him about the letter. You can read the transcript and listen to the audio here. For me, this was the key exchange:
SIEGEL: Senator Gregg, I just want to ask you about the letter that you and all the Republicans in the Senate signed today, the letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid, saying: We write to inform you that we will not agree to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to any legislative item until the Senate has acted to fund the government and we have prevented the tax increase that is currently awaiting all American taxpayers.
In effect, you're saying, nothing happens until you extend the Bush tax cuts. Something sounds - it sounds more like a we're putting a gun to your head, rather than we're here to cooperate together in the lame-duck session.
Sen. GREGG: That would be an NPR take on something like that. But as a very practical matter, it's just the opposite. Simple fact is that the Democratic leader continues to bring forward miscellaneous legislation in a lame-duck, which is an inappropriate way to bring it forward, and then fill the tree so the minority has no right to amend. That's wrong.
Was Siegel rude? Did he deserve that response? Did Gregg really answer the question? I'd say no for all three. Siegel has often asked members of Congress how they'll balance the budget given their proposed tax cuts. His question was on point, especially given that this was a drastic if not unprecedented action from the GOP. Gregg's attack on NPR sounded pretty thuggish to me, an aggressive way to dodge the question that played on recent Republican threats to defund NPR. Consider, too, that Gregg was courted for a position in the Obama White House, and a couple of years ago was viewed by some folks as one of those "reasonable," practical conservatives interested in bipartisan efforts to solve real problems. Bad though he is, he's less extreme than some others in his party.
Since that appearance, the House passed a bill to extend the middle class tax cuts only, but the Senate Republicans and some conservative Democrats have blocked that measure despite being the minority (the vote was 53-36 – thank you, filibuster). We'll see what happens next, but the current plan appears to be lousy but not completely disastrous, in fine congressional tradition. (It's horrible in some respects.)
Conservatives were angered by Steve Benen's thought experiment that the Republican Party was deliberately sabotaging the economy for political gain, but at this point, the best defense is that conservatives are merely stupid or crazy and not completely evil. John Boehner's position on the tax cuts is indefensible if one believes that political leaders should be rational and responsible – or thay they should, at the very least, serve their own constituents. Besides, it's not as if conservatives have never heard of the data that skewers their dogma.
As usual, the framework for discussion/debate is horribly skewed, and the Overton window badly needs to shift. The debate in Congress should be how much should we raise taxes on the rich, not whether it should be done at all. As Economist Mom points out, the Bush tax cuts never should have been passed at all – yet now, a policy of fiscal irresponsibility is seen inside the Beltway as the norm.
As I've written before, the Republican Party is nihilistic, obstructionist and completely plutocratic. The Democratic Party is partially plutocratic and corrupt. To riff a bit on an earlier post, when it comes to policy this generally plays out as follows:
The liberals push to invest in the middle class (and poor), and to take on the rich and powerful. (There's a certain style of "social contract" conservative that supports this too, if more timidly.) The liberal position is largely marginalized in Congress and in the corporate media, if it's heard at all.
The Democratic Party will give some things to the middle class and poor, while generally avoiding taking on the rich and powerful. This means some things get better, while some things get worse due to negligence, timidity and watered-down measures (for instance, weak financial reform that won't prevent more skullduggery).
Conservatives in the Democratic and Republican Parties will give some things to the middle class and poor, but hold these measures hostage to even bigger giveaways to the rich and powerful. This shifts the power balance even more for the plutocrats, if a piece at a time. (The deal currently shaping up seems to be in this vein.)
Far right conservatives give very little, if anything at all, to the middle class and poor. In fact, they actively work to screw over their own constituents by destroying the social safety net and other programs. They also actively work to give more money and power to those who are already rich and powerful. Whether unwittingly or eagerly (the ol' Stupid-Evil-Crazy question), they are making America into more of a plutocracy.
Meanwhile, the meta-game played by conservatives all the time is You're not supposed to win, and You're not supposed to fight back. It's why they're such bullies in power and such whiners out of it, and completely inconsistent with every principle save their insistence on getting their way on their pique du jour.
Mistermix at Balloon Juice has a similar take:
As Tim F. posted earlier, Ezra Klein thinks that Obama’s a bad poker player. He may be right, but the analogy isn’t helpful. Poker is a win/lose game. Negotiation is a win/win game, because both parties get something when a deal is struck. Republicans aren’t playing poker or negotiating. They are playing another game, call it “You Must Lose”. They’re happy with win/lose, if they win, but they’ll tolerate lose/lose as long as Obama loses.
The only analogy that springs to mind when I look at the Republicans’ recent behavior is a bad divorce. Think of a situation where Lisa and Bob are getting a divorce, and Bob is so hell-bent on hurting Lisa that he doesn’t care about their kids or their bank account. Bob will deploy a hundred variations on the same tactic: put the Lisa in a bind where she has to choose between damaging the children and losing money. Lisa will lose money almost every time in order to save the children.
In this situation, capitulation is inevitable, the only question is what form it will take.
Steve M. at No More Mister Nice Blog has another apt analogy that several liberal bloggers have used:
I've said this over and over again on the blog, but I'll say it again: the analogy that seems apt to me is spousal abuse.
Abusers, like Republicans, work to assert absolute control, and severely punish violations of an often changeable set of rules. They try to avoid harm to themselves, and often succeed for years in avoiding negative consequences, usually by persuading those who might hold them accountable that they're fine, upstanding citizens -- but when they're pushed to the limits of their anger, they're likely to throw self-preservation to the winds and do anything to reestablish their dominance. It's no surprise when an abusive relationship ends in murder-suicide.
At this point I'm not sure whether Republicans even give a thought to what kind of country they'll inherit when (inevitably) they seize control of the entire federal government in 2012. And I'm not sure they care anymore. I'm not sure they care all that much anymore about privatizing Social Security or eviscerating the progressive income tax or nuking Iran. They just want to destroy the Democratic Party and (as they see it) murder liberalism. I'm not sure they care anymore what happens after that.
This situation is atrocious, and the GOP's behavior is unconscionable. America really needs its two major political parties to both be responsible. Instead, as Bill Maher's put it, we have a "center-right party, and a crazy party." The GOP continues to become more and more nihilistic, and they show no signs of stopping. Whether it's fighting to the death to funnel more money to the richest Americans, denying global warming, or refusing to ratify an essential treaty solely out of spite, there are simply no responsible adults running the Republican Party.