Sign Up for Updates

The Blog

Ideological Inebriation on Capitol Hill

In The Public Interest, 7/26/11

by Ralph Nader
In the Public Interest 
July 26, 2011

Legislating while under the influence of ideological inebriation is not yet a statutory offense. It is only a multi-directional menace to much of what anxious Americans hold dear for themselves and their children.

The dominant Republicans in Congress – both the new and many of the longer-term incumbents – are in heat. It is as if a mob psychology has seized them, starved them of facts, and deprived them of reality. Their chief mad dog is Eric Cantor – he of the sneering soundbites so memorably described in a recent Washington Post column by Dana Milbank.

Cantor is the big burr under Speaker John Boehner’s saddle; Boehner himself is terrified of the young fanatic from Virginia and the even younger fanatics elected in 2010 on the Tea Party wave. The Republicans have suckered President Obama into a game of chicken, but fanatic Republicans don’t blink. Why not raise the nation’s debt limit to pay for debts already incurred by Congressional appropriations, as has been routinely done nearly 60 times since the 1930s? “No way!” say the self-styled Tea Partiers.

Polls show that 70 percent of Republicans believe that, along with spending cuts, there need to be some tax increases for more revenue. Nearly half of people polled back home who called themselves Tea Party people even agree.

So what gives with these hard core Tea Partiers behind Cantor? First, it seems they’re having fun just hypocritically shaking up Washington on spending while pushing for funding their own pet projects back home, like Republican Steve Fincher’s (R-TN) Port of Cates Landing project. The Republicans are having fun with a spineless President Obama who already has given them 80 percent of what they want and seems ready to slip further into their budgetary abyss. Bill Curry, former special assistant to President Clinton, says it isn’t that Obama is spineless; it is that he is closer to his opponents in his real beliefs than his liberal/progressive supporters like to think.

They’re having fun because many of the House Republican freshmen class don’t care about being re-elected if the price is to adopt the old ways of despised Washington. Yet, they are raising campaign money vigorously in the old Washington ways.

Still, most of the newly-elected Republicans are upper-middle-class, come from successful small businesses or professional firms and don’t empathize with tens of millions of impoverished or heavily indebted Americans.

It’s fun being the center of attention, holding hostage small health and safety budgets such as food safety, auto/truck safety, air and water safety, and needy children’s programs, while giving a pass to massively bloated military spending and very profitable corporations like General Electric that pay no federal income taxes.

It’s fun going back to the country clubs where the wealthy undertaxed slap them on the back and exclaim, “Way to go, Congressman.” After all, the wealthy are paying the lowest rates of taxation, especially on their capital gains and dividends, in modern American history.

Conservative columnist, David Brooks, is not amused with them. He thinks the Republican Party has gotten far more than they envisioned at the beginning of the negotiations with Obama and should take this “mother of all no brainers.” That they do not, says Brooks, is because the “Republican Party may no longer be a normal party,” but is “infected by a faction that is more psychological protest than a practical governing alternative.” He sees this dominant faction as having “no sense of moral decency,” having “no economic theory worthy of the name.”

The latter is certainly true. For if they are really against Big Government, why aren’t they cutting hundreds of billions of dollars in corporate welfare, subsidies, handouts and giveaways or gigantic Pentagon over-spending and waste, or enabling federal law enforcement to crack down on corporate crime that is looting Medicare, Medicaid, royalty collections and violating pro-competition laws?

Arrogant fanatics tend to outsmart themselves. Already, 470 business leaders have written Congress urging it to raise the debt ceiling to avoid a financial crisis, along with spending restraints. More than a few of these leaders, Republicans or not, think the Tea Party faction on Capitol Hill is nuts and playing Russian roulette with the American economy. The Senate rules don’t help, allowing a minority party to control the Senate.

These fanatical Republicans are playing another game of Russian roulette with their own Party’s electoral future. The polls are starting to turn ominously against them. Wait until October when the cuts hit Main Street and Elm Street. Back home, most Republican voters want tax increases, probably on the wealthy and corporations, as part of negotiating a deal. The critical independent vote is starting to turn away from this extremism on Capitol Hill.

The Republican faction that David Brooks is so appalled by may well destroy the Republican Party’s chances for electoral victory through and well beyond 2012.

Who said the Tea Party takeover has no redeeming value?

For more information on budget news, check out the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) (http://www.pogo.org/), Citizens for Tax Justice (CTJ) (http://www.ctj.org/), and Taxpayers for Common Sense (TCS) (http://www.taxpayer.net).

Back to The Blog »