The artificial "continuing resolution" and"debt-ceiling" crises came and went, accompanied by the GOP/government shutdown. But while the bulk of the attention was paid to the Tea Party/minority control of the House, early in the drama the GOP did something it rarely does: reveal what its true substantive agenda is about. They usually of course focus only on process: "lower taxes and smaller governemnt." And so this column.
Lyndon Johnson's vision of the "Great Society" Program came to
an end in 1967, after he had decided that in order to fend off GOP
red-baiting tactics, he had to expand the War on Vietnam. Since
that time, our nation has been governed either by Republican
Presidents and Republican policies or by Democratic Presidents who
pretty much went along with the Republicans on major issues.
Funnily enough, Richard Nixon, who some of us grew up learning to
hate as one of the epitomes of the McCarthyite terror, was also the
last President to implement major forward looking national
programs, such as the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. In fact, it
is most ironic that if it had not been for Watergate, under Nixon -
assuming that a compromise could have been reached with Ted Kennedy
- we would have had a national health insurance program that would
have been much more progressive than "Obamacare" at its very best .
Nothing much happened domestically under Jimmy Carter, although
I myself heard him pledge, at the annual meeting of the American
Public Health Association in 1976, that by the end of his first
term, a comprehensive national health insurance program would be in
place. From the time of Ronald Reagan onward there have been no
comprehensive progressive domestic policy reforms, although there
have been some negative ones, like the "end of welfare as we know
it" and "the days of 'big government' are over" under Clinton. All
of this time the Republican Party's mantra, whether in the White
House or not, has been mainly characterized by "lower taxes" (no
matter how much they might have been already lowered) and "smaller
government" (except of course for big-government programs that they
just love like the keeping military-industrial complex humming
along, fighting the so-called "drug war," providing huge subsidies
to the petroleum industry and factory farmers, and so on and so
forth). But they were never public, or very public, about their
true agenda . They always tried to keep the
focus on "lower taxes, smaller government," with of course lots of
push on the distractive issues of religious determinism,
like opposition to abortion rights and gay marriage.
And so we came to the fight last month over the Continuing
Resolution to keep the federal government functioning, which
led to the shutdown of most of its operations. The House GOP,
led by its most far-right, so-called "Tea Party" members, made
killing "Obamacare" their price for approving a continuing
resolution to keep the Federal government functioning for another
six weeks or so. (Of course, they did not achieve it, but they made
quite a fuss in the meantime and then the bungling of Federal
[although not of the states'] websites has just added fuel to
the fire.) They wanted to achieve by this tactic what they
could not achieve through the electoral and conventional
But, and this is the focus of this particular
column, earlier in the confrontation they did something that
they don't ordinarily do. They revealed a much broader
substantive agenda (as opposed to their common
process agenda, see "Morning Joe," "lower taxes/smaller
government); for specific policies than they usually put before the electorate :
1. Approve of the Keystone XL oil pipeline.
2. Weaken the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
3. Delay implementation of Obamacare for one year.
4. Cut $120 billion from federal health programs over the next
5. Increase offshore oil drilling and energy production on
6. Block federal regulation of greenhouse gas emissions.
7. Restrict most forms of federal industry regulation.
And with this list, they suddenly took off their clothes,
showing their real priorities and interests.
A quick read shows the industries which the implementation of
these policies would benefit and which consumer/worker/overall
national interests it would harm, in many cases most grievously.
The GOP has sponsored such policies for decades, as pointed out
above. But they rarely put them up front and center on the
political table. While for the moment they just cut back to just
killing Obamacare, the Democrats should have wasted no time in
going after this true agenda (but of course, for the most part, the
Democrats, other than folks like Elizabeth Warren and Alan Grayson
, as per usual didn't). One must give the President credit,
however, for at least digging in his heels on the attempt of the
GOP to achieve through fiscal blackmail what they could not achieve
through politics and the Democratic process: repeal of
But they did take off their clothes about more than what they
are really about. What they are really scared of about Obamacare is
not that it is bad law or will cost so much money (another Joe
Scarborough mantra). What they are most concerned about is that it
will actually work and that even by the 2014 elections they
will be taking a very hard hit for having opposed it, even beyond
the end of the usual legislative/electoral political process,
putting the nation at such risk (e.g., at last look, about 3,000
flight safety inspectors were furloughed). If in fact what they
were really concerned about is the nation's future fiscal health
(as Joe Scarborough --- yes, what a whipping boy he is --- tells us
over and over again, all the time talking over and around the
estimable [on this issue at least] Mika Brzezinski), there's always
raising taxes the wealthy, introducing new taxes that could secure
huge amounts of money for the federal treasury, e.g., the stock
market transaction tax, and then major cuts in the federal
big-money programs that the GOP loves so much (see above). But that
And so, the so-called "moderate" (ho, ho, ho) House
Republicans tell us that what they are afraid of is primary
challenges from the "Tea Party" should they vote for rationality on
the continuing resolution matter and then on the perhaps more
important debt ceiling increase that was just around the corner.
Well yes, many of them would face such challenges (and apparently
will), but the overall national leadership of the GOP is just as
afraid of them as any individual House member is. For in the highly
gerrymandered districts inhabited by so many Republicans in the
House, many of those challenges will be effective. But then, in the
general election, given decent Democratic candidates with some
money from the DNC, even in gerrymandered districts, as happened in
a few elections in 2010 and 2012, the far-rightists might be so
far-right that Democrats might be able to take over the House. To
say nothing of what it might do to GOP chances in the state--wide
elections for Governor and Senator. Then there's Ted Cruz and 2016.
A big OY! on that one.
This does not bode well for national policy (and believe me, as
a long-time supporter of "single-payer" health reform I am not a
big fan of Obamacare), for fiscal health, and, when the next debt
ceiling fight comes along, for the status of the US as a nation
that stands behind its debt-obligations. And so do stay tuned for
more even than that: in addition to the future health of the nation
and the many presently un- or under-insured who would benefit under
Obamacare, even with gerrymandering and organized
voter-suppression, the Republican Party might be so bagged with the
"Tea Party," that its future health might also be at stake.
Finally, the GOP may well come to have buyer's remorse for
whatever they paid to the slogan-smith (Frank Luntz?) who came up
with the term "Obamacare" as a substitute for its short legislative
name, the "Affordable Care Act." If the Obamacare eventually goes
into effect as it was planned, and even with all of its faults
achieves the modest levels of improvement in health and health care
that it is capable of, Obama's name will forever be on the most
important piece of domestic legislation passed by Congress since
Medicare (which is not called "Johnsoncare"). Not good news for the
GOP, perhaps even years down the road.
Steven Jonas, MD, MPH, MS, is a Professor of Preventive Medicine at the School of Medicine, Stony Brook University (NY) and author/co-author/editor/co-editor of over 30 books on health policy, health and wellness, and sports and regular exercise. In addition to being a Trusted Author for OpEdNews, Dr. Jonas is a columnist for BuzzFlash.com/Truthout.org, Managing Editor and a Contributing Author for The Political Junkies for Progressive Democracy (http://thepoliticaljunkies.org/); a Senior Editor, Politics, for The Greanville Post; a Contributor to The Planetary Movement; a Contributor to Dandelion Salad (http://dandelionsalad.wordpress.com), and a Contributor to TheHarderStuff newsletter. He is also a triathlete (30 seasons, 220-plus multi-sport races) and a skier (as well as a PSIA-Level Certified Instructor [retired]).