Economic Terrorism

It is more than a little frustrating to watch Republicans on the verge of being rewarded by voters for their obstruction of President Obama’s economic recovery program.

John Boehner and Mitch McConnell have done damage to the United States that Osama bin Laden could only dream of as they seek to prevent our nation’s economic recovery.

Obama entered the White House in January 2009, inheriting from the Bush/Cheney administration a $1.3 trillion deficit, two wars and rising unemployment. The economy was in free-fall due in large part to the Republican deregulation of the banking system that turned Wall Street into a casino. But where most economists saw the most dangerous recession since the Great Depression, Republican leaders in the House and Senate saw the opportunity to divert the blame to the new guy, and they determined to fight Obama’s economic recovery program at every step.

Senate rules offer a multitude of procedural roadblocks, and unprecedented use of the filibuster rule forced Democrats to come up with a supermajority of 60 votes to pass any bill. Republicans, with 41 votes at the start of Congress last year, held the Senate hostage and bet that the failure of Obama to pull the economy out of a tailspin would work to their partisan advantage. Democratic senators occasionally showed signs of Stockholm Syndrome in refusing to take a hard line with their captors, even after Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania switched sides to become a Democrat and Republicans exhausted their appeals in the election of Sen. Al Franken in Minnesota. But when Franken was sworn in as the Democrats’ 60th vote, that threshold simply increased the leverage for half a dozen corporate Democrats who threatened to defect to the GOP on filibuster votes.

Republicans fought the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which was designed to save or create 3.5 million jobs, made investments in our infrastructure and gave 95% of working Americans a tax cut. Democrats — who at the time had “only” 58 votes in the Senate, were forced to scale back their ambitions to get three Republicans (Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine and Specter, before his switch) to break the filibuster for the $787 billion bill in February 2009.

Republicans also fought the bailout of GM and Chrysler, but $85 billion in loans kept the carmakers in business and saved at least 260,000 jobs with the automakers and a million other jobs among suppliers and supporting industry. Ford didn’t resort to bankruptcy, but it got a $250 million loan guarantee to finance the sale of 200,000 vehicles in Canada and Mexico. The auto industry has added 55,000 jobs in the past year, making it the strongest year of job growth in the industry since 1999. GM, Chrysler and Ford have added shifts to meet demand and GM and Chrysler both reported profits in the first quarter 2010, no thanks to the Republicans who wanted to put them out of business.

Republican opposition to health-care reforms, along with the corporate Dems who opposed single-payer or public option plans, forced compromises that disappointed many progressives. Even as Democrats passed the most comprehensive health-insurance reforms since the creation of Medicare 45 years earlier, they were forced to delay much of the implementation until 2014 to reduce the impact on the federal deficit and the reforms will rely on making private insurance affordable and accountable. With a Harvard Medical School study indicating that poor health care due to lack of insurance is responsible for 45,000 deaths per year, the Republican foot dragging since the 1990s is responsible for the premature deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans.

Republicans persist in a doctrinal belief in the power of tax cuts, even after experience has shown that they produce more deficits than jobs. This year the GOP numbers man is Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), ranking Republican on the Budget Committee, who has issued a “Roadmap for America’s Future” that calls for steep cuts in domestic spending and taxes. The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center found that Ryan’s tax cuts would reduce revenue by almost $4 trillion over the next decade and result in a deficit of roughly $1.3 trillion in 2020 — which is about the same deficit as the Congressional Budget Office foresees under Obama’s plans. But Obama’s budget seeks to put Americans back to work, with domestic spending paid for with modest tax increases on the wealthiest earners, while Republicans propose to cut domestic spending, gut Medicare and cut taxes on the richest 1% of the population.

Under Bush, the national debt nearly doubled, from $5.7 trillion when he took office to $10.6 trillion when he turned over the keys to Obama. Now that Democrats are in the majority, Republicans have decided that the national debt is crushing the nation. But the GOP-induced hysteria about the national debt is not reflected in the bond market, where the US Treasury was still able to sell 30-year notes at 4% interest rates in early August.

Even with the hurdles the Republicans have placed in the way, Obama and the Democrats have stabilized the economy. Economists Alan Blinder of Princeton and Mark Zandi of Moody’s Analytics reported (July 27) that without federal intervention the unemployment rate would be close to 16% today. But the official unemployment rate of 9.5% is still too high.

At the end of July, 14.6 million Americans were officially unemployed, another 8.5 million were working part-time but looking for full-time jobs and another 3.9 million “missing workers” had given up looking for jobs. There will be a time to pay off the national debt, but first we’ve got to put those 27 million people back to work full-time. This is no time to put economic terrorists in charge.

Fix the 14th Amendment

Democrats should call the Republicans’ bluff and hold hearings to let GOP senators air their reasons for repealing the birthright to citizenship that is part of the 14th Amendment.

It is especially ironic that the leaders of the repeal effort include Sens. Jim DeMint and Lindsey Graham, Republicans from South Carolina, the original laboratory for bad government ideas. You may recall that South Carolina was the principal instigator of the Civil War. The 14th Amendment was passed in 1868 largely to prevent the unreconstructed Confederates who controlled Southern states from denying the rights of citizenship to newly freed slaves. Of course, the thugs won anyway and the Supreme Court in 1883 decided — in an aside — that the 14th Amendment gave civil rights to corporations even as the courts declined to uphold the civil rights of black citizens in the South.

Now the Republicans see a chance to score political points among white voters who are riled because foreigners who are born in the US are entitled to citizenship. (This is true regardless of their parents’ immigration status.) Some in the GOP figure they can also appeal to blacks who resent inroads made by Latino and Asian immigrants. But the hearings surely would produce memorable rants that will steer Hispanic voters away from the GOP in key states such as Florida, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada.

In the meantime, Dems should present a “fix” to the 14th Amendment that would clarify that civil rights apply only to natural persons — as the framers of the amendment intended — and do not apply to corporations. Such an amendment would cut the legs from the infamous Citizens United decision, in which a Republican majority on the Supreme Court threw out a century of prohibitions against corporations getting involved in political campaigns.

So let the Republicans rant about “anchor babies” and argue that the government should be able to decide who is a citizen. Also, let the Republicans defend the civil rights of corporations. Dems have enough votes to uphold birthright citizenship. Unfortunately, corporations probably have enough Democratic votes to uphold corporate personhood. But those hearings would be fun to watch and it might open some eyes as to what really motivates Republicans and “centrist” Democrats.


From The Progressive Populist, September 1, 2010


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