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November 12, 2013

The GOP Took Its Clothes Off in Public: It Was Not a Pretty Sight, Even for Some Republicans

By Steven Jonas

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.

From http://www.flickr.com/photos/9106303@N05/10048154144/: Federal Shutdown Explained: if they can't win by going through the Democratic/Constitutional processes, why there is always legislative blackmail. 

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 legislative processes.

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 decade.

5. Increase offshore oil drilling and energy production on federal lands.

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 Obamacare.

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 won't happen.

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.

Submitters Website: http://thepoliticaljunkies.org/

Submitters Bio:

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]).