Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A carefully thought-out strategy: Throw the bums out!

 “The single most important thing we want to achieve is
for President Obama to be a one-term president...,” 
Mitch McConnell
Honestly, I find it puzzling that anyone but a died-in-the-wool Republican (like my retired Marine buddy) would even consider voting Republican on anything; president, senator, representative, dog catcher. And yes, I realize that in saying this I’m exhibiting the same mindless partisanship that in the past I’ve railed against, but let’s be truthful. For the last three years -- since Obama’s election -- Republicans have done everything they can to make government, all branches, dysfunctional.

This wasn’t just some knee jerk reaction to the election of a black, populist president, who wasn’t part of the old boys cabal. This was a carefully thought-out strategy (actually hinted at in a Dick Morris talking points memo) to sour the public on government and convince voters to “throw the bums out” -- the bums being majority incumbents, who were for the first two years, Democrats.

This strategy succeeded in 2010, when Republicans, with a witch’s brew of Tea Party participation, took over control of the House. It also succeeded in reducing the public’s approval rating for Congress to an all-time low, and may have fundamentally eroded faith in our Republic.

When it came to debt ceiling “negotiations,” it had the unintended consequence (unintended except perhaps for Tea Party members) of crashing the United State’s credit rating. Mitch McConnell said that the full faith and credit of the United States was “a hostage worth ransoming.”

McConnell made no bones about his party’s priority. “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president....” I know you’ve all heard this before, but do you know how the Republicans have gone about trying to achieve their goal? By just saying “No.” To everything. In unison.

Republican obstructionism has ranged from opposing the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to refusing to confirm Obama’s judicial nominees. Obama's attempts to compromise with Republicans have weakened his position with his base -- a consequence Republicans welcome.

Not a single House Republican voted for the ARRA. Nada. Zero. Despite the urging of economists who saw the stimulus package as critical in avoiding a slide into a deeper recession, or worse, a depression. Three Senate Republicans supported the bill, giving it the 60 votes needed to overcome what has become the de-facto Republican response to any bill proposed by Obama and the Democrats -- the threat of a filibuster. Most economists now think the $787 billion stimulus package was too little, but Obama did well to get this much.

Likewise, financial reforms designed to prevent another meltdown were stonewalled by Republicans, despite Democratic compromises that ultimately weakened the bill. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act finally passed 60 to 39 in the Senate, with 3 Republicans siding with Democrats to avoid a filibuster. Not through with their obstructionism, Republicans refused to confirm President Obama’s selection of Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), established by the Act. The President had to resort to a recess appointment to get Cordray on the job. He had to do the same to fill three vacancies on the National Labor Relations Board, where Republicans were refusing to confirm Obama’s appointees.

Republicans have blocked 223 of President Obama’s 1,132 executive and judicial appointees—over 20 percent. Republican senators have enforced a strict sixty-vote threshold for most nominations, but sometimes holds are placed on nominees by individual Republican senators. For example, Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), he of the "D.C. Madam" scandal, put a hold on Obama’s selection of David Ashe to head the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Vitter vowed to keep it there until the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement issued fifteen offshore oil drilling permits. The permits were issued, but another Republican senator placed a hold on Ashe’s appointment over the Interior Department’s wild lands policy. Any individual senator can place a hold on a nomination for any reason, no matter how inane, and can do so anonymously. You can read about some of the more important Obama nominations being held up by the GOP here.

Of the 105 nominations submitted by President Obama during the first two years of his term, only 62 – two Supreme Court justices, plus 16 courts of appeals and 44 district court judges – were confirmed. That is the smallest percentage of judicial confirmations over the first two years of any presidency in American history. The Alliance for Justice has stated that due to Republican obstructionism, the high number of judicial vacancies has pushed the Judiciary into crisis.

Republican opposition to health care reform was no surprise, and one can give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they voted their principles. Their tactics in trying to get public opinion on their side were despicable, but anything’s fair in love, war, and politics -- especially politics. But the bill passed anyway, and so the Republicans, vowing to repeal it “when they’re in charge,” are now working to dismantle it piece by piece by refusing to fund key provisions, and by taking the issue of mandatory insurance coverage to a stacked court.

This is another Republican tactic. Whenever they can’t block a bill, they simply refuse to fund its enactment, or the enforcement of its provisions.

In writing about President Obama’s recess appointments, Susan Brooks Thistlethwait, former president of Chicago Theological Seminary and now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, said:

“There is a larger issue here than a president making appointments to fill vacancies. The issue is the deliberate and sustained obstructionism that has as its goal maintaining vacancies in key positions in government. One or another party may agree or disagree on what government should do, but keeping government dysfunctional is profoundly wrong.” (Washington Post, On Faith, 01/05/2012).

Of course she’s right. Voters elected Barack Obama with 53% of the popular vote in 2008. What Republicans are doing now amounts to an ex post facto disenfranchisement of the people who voted for him.

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