[This article also appears on Huffingtonpost.com. You can access it from my author page here.]
The Republican policy position on sequestration is, on the surface, seemingly irrational.
is near universal agreement that the deep cuts from the sequester that
are due to take place in a few days will be damaging to the economy,
costing in the neighborhood of a million jobs (based on a nonpartisan estimate) and threatening our economic recovery (the Congressional Budget Office estimates growth to be reduced
by 0.6 percent). But the Republicans in Congress are nevertheless
willing to take the pocketbooks of the American people hostage, all to
try and ransom spending and entitlement cuts that would, in the opinion
of many economists, cause further economic damage to all but the
wealthiest Americans (Paul Krugman does a good job explaining this point).
So why are the Republicans doing
it? After all, a majority of voters just three-and-a-half months ago
rejected the very economic policies the Republicans are blackmailing the
country to implement. President Obama got nearly five million more votes
than Mitt Romney (and 126 more electoral votes), the Democrats picked up
two seats in the U.S. Senate in a year in which the Democrats had far
more seats to defend, and Democratic House candidates received more votes than Republicans. There would seem to be no argument for the Republicans to threaten the country over rejected policies.
is easy to blame the Republican members of the House and Senate for not
getting the message. Other than some cosmetic moves (sending Marco
Rubio out for the State of the Union rebuttal, for example), nothing has
changed (Rubio espoused the same anti-government, fact-challenged
rhetoric the voters rejected in November).
decision of Republicans in Congress to continue an ideology-first,
country-second approach to governing is, in its own way, extremely
logical, even calculating. Thanks to gerrymandering,
a large amount of Republican House members represent solidly red
districts, so they have little to fear from a Democratic challenger, nor
do senators in solid red states. But the same cannot be said about competition from the Tea Party right.
The fear is not
abstract. The Tea Party has routinely challenged Republican incumbents,
even staunchly conservative ones, who even emitted a whiff of being
somewhat reasonable. Conservative standard-bearer Orrin Hatch narrowly survived a Tea Party challenge last year. Hatch wasn't as fortunate as his fellow conservative from Utah, Bob Bennett, who lost to his primary challenger in 2010, just as conservative Indiana senator Richard Lugar lost in 2012 to the now infamous Richard Mourdock, he of rape from pregnancy
"is something that God intended to happen" fame. The Tea Party primary
challenge has become such a threat to mainstream Republicans that Karl Rove
started the Conservative Victory Project to help GOP incumbents ward off less electable primary opponents.
When you consider how few people actually vote in midterm primaries (voter turnout for the 2010 primaries was only 17.8 percent),
it means a narrow slice of the population, residing on the far right of
the political spectrum, is dictating how Republicans in Congress are
proceeding. No wonder John Boehner is insisting on cuts
to entitlements and other programs mainly aimed at working and middle
class Americans, all while protecting the wealthy from any tax
increases, to avert sequestration. A big chunk of his caucus is made up Tea Party ideologues,
and the rest are in danger of being primaried if they don't do the Tea
So what is the result of all this madness?
for one, the Republican party, at a federal level, has become a toxic
brand. Beyond the election losses in November, polling data shows that
the majority of the American people are not with the GOP. According to a
recent Bloomberg poll,
only 35 percent have a positive image of Republicans (the same poll
shows a 55 percent approval rating for the president), and only 44
percent believe the GOP policy of cutting spending and taxes--the thing
Republicans say is so important they will blackmail the country to get
it--will create more jobs than the infrastructure investments proposed
by the president.
But more importantly, Republicans in
the House and Senate, afraid of primary challenges and, in some cases,
the product of them, have handed their party over to the lunatic fringe.
They have placed a purist, anti-government, anti-taxes, pro-wealthy,
anti-middle class, Ayn Randian ideal above the practical, compromising,
hard work of actually governing. They have created a toxic atmosphere in
Washington, in which damaging the country (again, we are talking about a
million people losing their jobs) is preferable to working with a
president they irrationally despise and compromising to move even an
inch closer to where the majority of voters stand on the issues.
Simply put, the Tea Party-controlled Republicans in Congress are driving us over an economic cliff.
we get away from the "blame everyone," "it's both sides" false
equivalency of shying away from telling the truth about the GOP's
suicide mission, pretending the same thing is happening on both sides (David Brooks's pathetic attempt
to draw a false equivalency was so loathsome, he felt the need to walk
back his characterization of the president's position the next day), the
dysfunction in Washington will continue.
The only way things will get better is if we cast off the fear of seeming partisan and let the truth and facts drive the debate.
bottom line is that the Republicans are demanding spending cuts that
were soundly rejected by the voters in November, and to get them, they
are threatening to allow the sequestration cuts to go forward, which
will be bad for the American people. (Let's remember that the
sequestration cuts are the result of the Republicans holding the country
hostage last year over the debt ceiling.) And a major driving force
behind the Republicans' refusal to compromise--again, against the wishes
of a majority of Americans--is a fear of losing their seats to Tea
Party challengers. Which means we, as a country, are being held hostage
by a small number of far-right ideologues whose views have been rejected,
again and again, by a majority of voters (and not just by Democrats,
when you consider GOP losses in red state Senate races like Indiana and Missouri).
the sequester goes forward, and the country pays the price, everyone
has a responsibility to stand up and point a finger at the reason for
our government's epic dysfunction. If John Boehner, Mitch McConnell and
their Republican colleagues in the House and Senate have any sense at
all, they'll duck at that moment. Because this fabricated, unnecessary
national disaster will be on them and their inability/lack of desire to
do what is best for Americans, not what is best for the Tea Party.