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By J SWYGART
I guess it’s a good thing that we elect Republicans (and their newfound BFF tea party cronies) to Congress every few years, just so we can remember why we voted them out of office in the first place.
And if anyone needed a reminder, GOP congressional budget-crafters on Tuesday put pen to paper and, albeit inadvertently, gave us a refresher course on why ultra-conservative fiscal policies are damning to the middle and lower classes— and by extension the nation as a whole — in the form of their updated version of Reagonomics 101.
You remember Reaganomics: the trickle-down theory of cow-towing to the rich and powerful based on the premise (but, however, far removed from the reality) that big business and entrepreneurial fat cats — if given sufficient incentives and hand-outs — would generate big bucks which ultimately would filter their way down way to the common man.
The four widely-held tenets of Reagonomics were to:
• Reduce government spending.
• Reduce income tax and capital gains tax.
• Reduce government regulation.
• Control the money supply to reduce inflation.
More than 25 years later, virtually all of those components are still at play in the latest Republican budget.
With a government shutdown looming by week’s end, and with loosely-affiliated but strongly feared tea party types glaring menacingly over their collective shoulders, Republicans on Capitol Hill have unveiled their plan to reduce the budget deficit by about $5 trillion over the upcoming decade.
And how is this miracle to be achieved? Let us count the ways.
The Republican budget plan proposes to convert the traditional Medicare health plan for the aged into a system in which the government would provide vouchers for private health insurance plans, and to sharply cut projected spending on the Medicaid state-federal health program for the poor and disabled. Critics say the moves would inevitably lead to poorer quality coverage in both programs, but let’s not quibble over details.
The GOP proposal also extends Bush-era tax cuts for taxpayers at every income level, including the wealthy, and suggests fundamental tax reform to set a top tax rate of 25 percent for both individuals and corporations, down from the current top rate of 35 percent for both.
That move seems ripe for criticism as well, as many Americans have taken note, with growing indignation, of almost nightly reports of this or that U.S. corporate conglomerate which pays little or no federal income taxes on an annual basis.
To appease its old guard base of right-wing fundamentalists, lest they feel rejected as the tea partiers curry increased favor, Republicans also have attached several social agenda items to the budget bill, ranging from attacks on the president’s health care and financial reform laws to cutting taxpayer funds to Planned Parenthood and reversing a host of Obama’s environmental policies.
The GOP budget measure also makes unprecedented cuts, according to an Associated Press analysis, to the operating budgets of domestic agencies, slashing Obama’s requests for programs like education, law enforcement and homeland security, along with highway building.
To be certain, the underlying fundamental differences between the GOP budget proposal and the one being advanced by Democrats are not ground-shaking, but merely mark a continuation of long-held philosophical views by the two parties on the role of government.
What has changed, and what is so disturbingly difficult to grasp, is exactly why the GOP is so anxious to appease the tea party crowd who, despite a couple of random election victories last fall, still operate far outside the mainstream and speak — through a random and diverse collection of talking heads — for relatively few Americans.
Without question, the federal budget deficit is having a decidedly negative effect on the U.S. economy. But while budget cuts admittedly are in order, there is ample room to question the GOP’s approach. Some Wall Street economists predict that the proposed Republican budget would actually slow growth and cost jobs over the next year or two.
A spokesperson for the group Americans United for Change described the budget debate thusly: “... Ultimately, the argument comes down to what policymakers see as the key problem in the economy. Is growth slow because businesses and consumers fear higher taxes or because businesses don’t have enough demand for their products to expand? Republicans are arguing the former, but many economists — and the bond market — believe the latter is closer to the truth.”
But, again, let’s not let sound economic policy get in the way of a good partisan dogfight.
And Rep. Mike Pence, R-IN, is ready for just that type of confrontation. Speaking March 31 in the nation’s capital to what he termed “Tea Party Patriots,” Pence correctly labeled the current budget battle as “a defining moment for the new majority in Congress.”
“With a deficit this year of $1.65 trillion and a national debt of $14 trillion, and a defiant liberal majority in the Senate, it’s time to pick a fight. Nobody wants a government shutdown, but if we don’t take a stand, we’re going to shut down the future for our children and grandchildren,” Pence said. “Democrats in the Senate may think they have the advantage, but let me assure you, it only seems that way. A minority in the Senate plus the American people equals a majority.”
But when this budget debacle is finally over, Pence — should he opt to remain in Congress (instead of running for governor) — could be left only with fond memories of a brief moment in time when his party was truly in charge of the House. Only to mess it up.
The writer is the opinion page editor of the Decatur Daily Democrat.