President Trump lies incessantly, savages the rule of law and weakens our institutions of democracy. The Republican-controlled Congress looks the other way and does nothing to stop him. What is unfolding daily is just the latest example of how the legislative branch of our government has become partisan and ineffective.
Both political parties are partially responsible, of course, but I believe the blame for this dysfunction falls most heavily on the GOP. Congress wasn’t always this way and neither were Republicans. But in 1978, a right-wing firebrand from Georgia was elected to the U.S. House — Newt Gingrich. While giving a speech to College Republicans during his campaign he claimed the problem with the Republican Party was that “we don’t encourage you to be nasty.” Well, during his 20 years in Congress, Newt changed all that.
In 1996 Gingrich’s political action committee published a list of terms Republican candidates should use when referring to liberals and Democrats, encouraging them to “speak like Newt.” It included degrading labels like, “traitor,” “corrupt,” “radical,” “pathetic,” and “intolerant”. Gingrich’s aggressive tactics were instrumental in destroying congressional comity.
As speaker of the House from 1995 until 1999, Gingrich infused the GOP with an uncompromising, conservative ideology that reached its zenith of obstruction during President Obama’s two terms. This far-right mindset became the gospel of numerous talk show hosts on Fox News and verbal bomb-throwers like radio personality Rush Limbaugh. Their radical vitriol eventually infected rank and file Republican voters and unleashed thousands of vicious Internet trolls.
Gingrich had a strong ally in creating congressional gridlock — Grover Norquist. He rose to power during President Reagan’s second term as president of Americans for Tax Reform, espousing a Libertarian agenda of tax cuts and dramatic government downsizing. Norquist’s most damaging contribution to politics, however, is a pledge to never raise taxes on anything — ever. The vast majority of today’s congressional Republicans have signed Grover’s pledge and they refuse to waver from it. Consequently, while they control Congress, budget negotiations with Democrats can’t include any type of tax increase. This makes compromise on deficit reduction almost impossible.
Trump has adopted the Gingrich nastiness mantra to keep his base energized, creating a cult-like following that eschews all issues except whether a candidate is with Trump or against him. As a result, Republicans facing reelection in 2018 fear doing anything that will anger “The Great One,” or his base.
I don’t believe Congress will be an effective legislative body again until the Gingrich and Norquist protégés and the Trump sycophants are voted out.
Ever since the presidency of Ronald Reagan conservatives have promoted tax cuts and greatly reduced government spending, which is around 20 percent of the U.S. economy. In actual fact, the federal government collects tax revenue from the wealthier states like New York and California and distributes it to the poorer states like Kentucky and West Virginia. Much of the funding that these states receive is for health care, education and food stamps. Federal dollars help create more jobs for nurses, teachers and grocers. The result is healthier, better educated citizens who can contribute more effectively to improving the state’s economy.
Politicians always highlight the amount of federal dollars they have brought to their state or congressional district, touting infrastructure projects, government contracts and military bases. But have you ever heard one brag about how they cut government spending in their state or district? It would be political suicide.
If Republicans truthfully explain to their constituents how the large cuts in federal spending they demand will affect their state, they won’t be around after the next election.
Last year Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress spent months attempting to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act known as Obamacare. Having failed to do that legislatively, they are now trying to undermine or invalidate it through executive orders and litigation.
If they succeed, Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion would terminate, leaving millions of Americans in 33 expansion states without health insurance. Federal subsidies to buy health insurance on the Obamacare exchanges would be eliminated, making health care coverage unaffordable for more millions. The estimated 52 million Americans with preexisting health conditions would no longer qualify for affordable coverage under most insurance company rules. Many hospitals with emergency rooms — which are required by law to treat indigent patients — would terminate that service. Numerous small hospitals in rural communities would be forced to close after losing the revenue from insured patients and Medicaid. And comprehensive health care insurance would be more expensive for everyone.
Yet somehow, Republicans have been able to lure voters by focusing on noneconomic social issues like gun control, abortion and immigration, which they buttress with large doses of patriotism and religious liberty. But except for tax cuts, Republicans have not been very effective in passing legislation for their conservative economic policies.
This nation has some very serious problems — huge budget deficits exacerbated by tax cuts — the cost of health care – and climate change, to name just a few. The Republican answer is always the same, reduce taxes for the wealthy and cut large holes in the social safety net for the middleclass, the poor and elderly.
If the GOP’s core economic policies ever become law, all but the rich will suffer — but Americans in the rural Republican base will suffer the most.