When Republicans took control of the Senate in 2015 Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) proclaimed that serious adults were now in charge. Well, they sure haven’t proven it. The Republican controlled Congress didn’t accomplish much in 2015 or 2016 and so far in 2017 they have accomplished even less. I think their failures were caused by the reasons why the GOP can’t govern.
Reason one is because the party is unbelievably divided. Although Senate Republicans are somewhat easier for McConnell to control, Senators like Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) are quite willing to advocate their extreme positions and disrupt party unity.
In the House the ultra-right Freedom Caucus and Republican Study Committee comprise more than 170 members, many of whom align with the Tea Party. Their mission is to cut spending and reduce deficits. They don’t want to appropriate federal funds for anything except defense.
The intransigence of right-wing House members was apparent in July 2011 when they almost succeeded in causing a catastrophic default on the nation’s debt. They were also the main cause of the partial government shutdown in October 2013. As a result of their radical positions on spending there has not been one normal federal budgeting process since Republicans took control of the House in 2011. Finally they forced Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) to resign from Congress in 2015 because he negotiated with Democrats to pass critical government funding bills and debt limit increases that they opposed.
Now Republicans have President Donald Trump in the White House and majorities in both chambers of Congress. Legislating should be smooth sailing, right? Wrong! In March the Freedom Caucus initially refused to support the GOP’s American Health Care Act (AHCA) because it wasn’t “mean” enough. Eventually they found a way to make it meaner.
The Senate version of the AHCA may be somewhat softer, but Senators Paul, Cruz and Lee are objecting to the improvements. More moderate Republican Senators think the Senate version “is not the answer.” Even if the Senate passes a health care bill next week it will go back to the House where the conservative cabal has already said it won’t pass in its current form. Is there a clear path to repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) this year? I don’t think so.
Meanwhile tax reform is waiting in the wings. This is every Republican’s favorite legislation and should be an easy lift. But the White House and some conservatives are objecting to the border adjustment tax favored by Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), perhaps because it is a tax increase. This brings me to the second reason the GOP can’t govern — Grover Norquist’s pledge to never raise taxes on anything.
The vast majority of congressional Republicans have signed Grover’s pledge. It’s not just some aspirational promise; it is a blood oath that Norquist enforces with ample funding from his Americans for Tax Reform organization. Republicans who want to avoid a primary challenger in the next election must vote against any type of tax increase.
Consequently there is almost no spending program Republicans will support if it involves increasing taxes or deficits. Infrastructure is a prime example. Our roads, bridges, water systems and airports are in desperate need of upgrade and repair. All citizens should recognize this and be willing to pay a little more in taxes, particularly the wealthy. Instead, Republicans want to give them a tax cut.
The third reason is the GOP’s reluctance to compromise on issues unless absolutely necessary. Hounded by conservative media commentators on Fox News and by radio talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh most Republicans in Congress fear taking a moderate position on legislation or making a deal with Democrats. The AHCA and tax reform are prime examples.
In 2010 Minority leader McConnell railed against the Democrats’ use of budget reconciliation to pass Obamacare with only Democratic votes. But now he plans on passing both the Obamacare replacement and tax reform with the same process. Unfortunately for McConnell, reconciliation can only be used twice this year. It is hard to see how Congress will get any other major legislation passed without dreaded compromises.
Last, but certainly not least, are the GOP’s core policies. Republicans are anti-gun control, anti-abortion, anti-gay, anti-immigration, anti-climate change, anti-Muslim and some say anti-women. Republican controlled states have pushed some of these policies but most have not gained traction in Congress. Trump’s base of mostly older, white supporters may love the GOP agenda but these folks are only around 35 percent of the voting population.
Thankfully the majority of younger and many older Americans do not hold the same views. Poll after poll shows that they favor stricter gun controls and environmental regulations; they agree that climate change is an important issue; they aren’t strongly against abortions; and they are much more accepting of gays, immigrants and Muslims. Chances are that most voters will push back hard against Republican attempts to legislate their far-right policies like the AHCA.
This legislation clearly shows that Republicans are not trying to solve a health care problem by replacing Obamacare; their objectives are to cut taxes on the wealthy and pay for it by permanently rolling back the Medicaid insurance program that covers nearly one in five Americans.
No political party can govern by robbing from the poor to benefit the rich.