[This article also appears on Huffingtonpost.com. You can access it from my author page here.]
Say you belonged to a charitable organization, and you and your friends were appointed to the steering committee for a big fundraiser, so you chose to have a combination bake sale and casino night. And let's say that you scheduled it on the same night as the town's homecoming football game, so nearly nobody showed up, and the peanut butter cookies in the bake sale gave the few guests that did visit salmonella. Oh, and let's say that in setting up the casino equipment, you accidentally cut off the electricity for the entire block. When the time rolled around the next year for the annual fundraiser, would you stand up and advocate a salmonella bake sale held on the same night as the big game? Of course not. You'd sit down, shut up, and wait for someone else to come up with a new idea. Even if you thought a bake sale/casino night could work under the right circumstances, you would probably be able to figure out that having overseen a colossal failure, the timing might not be right for you to pitch the same idea again.
Unless, apparently, you are a Republican member of the House.
Look, I had no illusions that everything would change the minute Barack Obama took the oath of office, and that the Republicans would immediately burn their Ronald Reagan pictures and pledge allegiance to Obama. But I did think that Obama's solid victory in November, if nothing else, would make it clear that the bankrupt (literally) policies of the last eight years would no longer be seriously considered as a solution. I certainly knew that the Republicans would try to claw their way back to power, but I never imagined they would pull a Groundhog Day, acting as if the absolute meltdown of the last eight years hadn't happened. After all, by electing Obama, the American people pretty directly rejected the failed ways of doing business.
Of the myriad problems George W. Bush and his enablers in Congress left on Obama's desk, the most pressing is perceived to be the economy. So Obama's first major legislative initiative was the stimulus package. Under the market-cures-all philosophy of the last administration (and, in fairness, every administration going back to Ronald Reagan), the financial system collapsed as the greed and irresponsibility of institutions finally reached a tipping point. But what was even more acute during the last eight years was the historic and devastating redistribution of wealth, whereby Bush's tax cuts for the rich and unfailing support for corporate interests led to a situation where, as former Rep. David Bonior put it on Meet the Press on January 11:
"over the last 20 years, the top 10 percent took 90 percent of the income gains in this--in the country. And the top 1 percent took roughly 60 percent. And the top 1/10th of 1 percent took 35 percent of that. I mean, it's skewed the wrong way."
The system of tax cuts and the like turned the surplus of the Clinton years into a massive deficit, even before the $700 billion financial bailout and current stimulus package came into play. And the Bush years allowed massive gains for the wealthy, all while middle class wages, in real dollars, fell.
So, if nothing else, we should all be in agreement that the Bush years were a debacle, and that the policies of the administration need to be rejected, much like the bake sale/casino night of my analogy.
And yet, on the first major piece of legislation that the popular new president advanced, what did the Republicans in the House do? Suggest a bake sale/casino night.
On the January 11 Meet the Press episode I mentioned above, all of the economists, liberals and conservatives, agreed that some kind of stimulus is necessary to kick-start the economy. Economists will also tell you that if you genuinely want to stimulate consumer spending, tax cuts, especially for the middle class and wealthy, are less effective than government spending, since those tax cuts are more likely to be saved than spent. Programs that aid those in trouble (like food stamps and extended unemployment insurance), as well as programs that create jobs (like infrastructure projects), are far more effective in stimulating consumer spending.
And despite all of this information, not one single Republican member of the House voted for the stimulus bill yesterday. (It still passed, 244-188, with 11 Democrats joining the 177 Republicans in opposing the bill.) Not one. Zero. Zippo. Nada. Nil. None. There wasn't one Republican in the whole House of Representatives who could see his or her way clear to support legislation to help our tanking economy, even if they thought the bill wasn't perfect. And what was the primary objection of the Republicans, based on the GOP's suggested alternative bill (that was voted down by the House)? They wanted more tax cuts.
Seriously? More freakin' tax cuts? What's next? Are they going to be asking for less regulations on Wall Street? Another invasion of Iraq? Were they not watching what happened the last eight years (and, more importantly, what the American people voted for in November)?
Th vote on the stimulus bill was not an isolated incident. The Republicans in the House made a less important but more egregious move out of the Bush-era repertoire when they killed a measure to extend the deadline for the transition from analog to digital television broadcasting. A two-thirds majority was necessary for passage in the House, but thanks to the GOP, the vote in support was only 258-168, with 155 Republicans joining 13 Democrats in opposition to the measure. It was such a noncontroversial proposal that the Senate unanimously approved it without a single objection.
In killing the extension, the Republicans in the House were choosing the bottom lines of major corporations over the day-to-day lives of, mainly, working class, elderly and poor Americans. The extension was sought because millions still do not have the adapter boxes necessary to receive digital transmissions on their analog television sets. Those affected tend to be the least well-to-do and most vulnerable citizens, those who can't afford cable television and rely on old-fashioned over-the-airways reception to watch. And the government's program to help pay for the adaptor boxes is out of money (they can't issue any new coupons until unused ones that were already issued expire). The legislation was meant to help these people avoid losing access to television.
But the Republicans in the House was more concerned that stations might lose money having to devote advertising time to announcements about the transition. It was a move right out of the Bush years, prioritizing the earnings of corporations over the lives of less-than-wealthy individuals.
The bottom line is that this country is in a very dark place right now, and the reason we're there is not a mystery. It is, in large part, the direct result of a set of policies advocated and carried out by the Bush Administration. Those policies, including tax cuts for the rich and the facilitation of movement of wealth from the lower and middle classes to the upper class, have failed. While Republicans are free to oppose President Obama's solutions to this mess if they think they have better ideas, merely advocating the old failed policies should not be tolerated.
Obama deserves credit for trying to foster a bipartisan atmosphere in Washington, and I laud his efforts in this regards. But if the Republicans are going to be obsructionist, clinging to failied policies and trying to score political points by keeping the new president from passing the programs he wants (or at least making them look partisan), Obama and the Democrats have to move forward on their own. They have large majorities in both houses and, more importantly, the mandate of a solid presidential election win.
It's time for the House Republicans to offer something useful or shut up and let the rest of us try and undo the mess they helped make. We're just not interested in their bake sale/casino night ideas. I'm not sure we can survive another salmonella outbreak or blackout. We're still picking up the pieces from the last ones.