Some of the biggest political fights in a generation are taking shape.
The GOP, the party led by angry white men and libertarian corporatists, is ratcheting up its political warfare against everyday Americans with unmatched brazenness.In Congress, Republicans in both chambers have launched sweeping attacks on long-held centrist priorities and have renewed threats to block Obamacare. These attacks are seen in House bills slashing spending in almost every federal program except for the military and domestic policing for the federal fiscal year starting October 1. Anti-poverty, education, human services, environmental protection, energy, labor, Wall St. oversight—all face cuts averaging 20 percent, although some areas face cuts by a third or more. These budget bills are part of an escalating fight over funding federal government and raising the debt ceiling. In 2011, the GOP used the debt limit fight to nearly shut down the government, creating chaos that undermined the weak economy. In 2013, House ideologues have delayed adopting budgets with the most draconian cuts until the last weeks, creating a crisis atmosphere to try to ram through their horrendous bills.On Thursday, for example, the Appropriations Committee delayed its scheduled release of what GOP staffers said would be the details of $40 billion in cuts to next year’s federal human services, labor and education budgets. Two weeks ago, the House passed a farm bill with zero funds for anti-poverty food stamps. In contrast, the House’s FY2014 military and police budgets were on par with 2013 funding levels. “It’s higher stakes,” said Matthew Dennis, spokesman for the House Appropriation Committee’s Democratic members. “From my perspective, the Republican Party is making demands that are less reasonable than in the past.”Rabid Republicans are also acting with renewed zeal to roll back voting rights in key Southern states. In North Carolina and Texas, GOP-led legislatures are resurrecting a catalogue of Jim Crow-era barriers to minority voting, in response to the U.S. Supreme Court overturning of the 1965 Voting Right Act’s toughest enforcement provision. In North Carolina, the GOP wants to repeal 20 years of best practices that made North Carolina a model of fair and accessible elections. In Texas, the GOP wants to revise political districts to dilute minority representation and pass tougher voter ID laws.The White House is not sitting still. On Wednesday, the president began a nationwide tour to tout an economic agenda favoring the middle class. He attacked Republicans for “an endless parade of distractions, political posturing and phony scandals.” On Thursday, Attorney General Eric Holder said the Justice Department would use the still-standing sections of the Voting Rights Act to try to stop the GOP in Texas and North Carolina, although election law experts say that is a risky “go for broke” strategy based on the conclusion that this Congress will do nothing to restore the Voting Rights Act.Stepping back, the country seems poised on the brink of a new era of political warfare, with the GOP following Niccolò Machiavelli’s advice in The Prince that one’s enemies must be annihilated so they cannot fight back.That comparison is not an exaggeration. Just look at David Corn’s report on the party’s newest rabid propaganda machine, where a who’s who of Washington GOP insiders—including the wife of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas—have been devising “strategies for killing immigration reform, hyping the Benghazi controversy, and countering the impression that the GOP exploits racism.”Let’s look at a half-dozen issues where the GOP is throwing the first punch in its renewed war on everyday Americans. It starts with the power of the federal purse and then moves to deliberately creating barriers for non-white voters.1. The latest House budget. There is no single federal budget bill, but a series of bills for combinations of different agencies. In 2013, House Appropriations Committee has been approving budgets that present some of the most draconian cuts seen in a generation. This week saw the panel pass a budget bill cutting the Environmental Protection Agency by 34 percent, including cuts to clean water programs by 60 percent. It gave the White House a quarter of what it sought for renewable energy and energy efficiency, and cut National Park funds by 10 percent and cuts national arts and humanities funding in half.Earlier Committee budgets cut in half funding for Community Development Block Grants, which is what cities use for housing and anti-poverty efforts. On Thursday, the Committee was expected to release its proposals for health, labor and education. A GOP staffer told the New York Times that education grants to poor students will be cut by 16 percent, and the overall Labor Department will be cut by 13 percent.This slash-and-burn spree goes beyond the so-called sequester for the current fiscal year ending on September 30, where every federal agency essentially swallowed a 5 percent across-the-boards cut. As Appropriations Committee Democratic Spokesman Dennis explained, the House GOP is continuing the “sequester” but taking the bulk of the funds from programs that they have long opposed: safety nets, environment, poverty, and a spectrum of agencies regulating business. The Times said Congress has not faced such a big budget battle since 1995, when the House GOP tried to close the departments of Energy, Education and Commerce—and ended up shutting down the federal government for 28 days.2. Holding Obamacare hostage. The October 1 implementation date for individuals to start enrolling in Obamacare (the first day of the 2014 federal fiscal year) has become another line in the sand for surly Republicans. Despite passage in 2010, a Supreme Court decision upholding most of it, a presidential election where the healthcare reform was an issue and voters re-elected Obama, top Senate Republicans are now saying that they will not pass any budget bill that includes funding to implement the law.The Senate’s top GOP leadership and other senators have signed a letter declaring, “The law cannot be implemented as written.” Whether this is just posturing—as single senators cannot block bills unless they have a majority—remains to be seen. It certainly signals to the House that there will be Senate support to gut funding for the law, which is consistent with the House Republican strategy of eviscerating programs and agencies they oppose.The GOP’s intransigence needs to be seen against the backdrop of last week’s supposedly bipartisan deal to approve a handful of Obama’s top agency heads. It hardly matters if these agencies have Senate-approved leaders if the GOP’s game plan is to defund and destroy these agencies’ effectiveness. 3. Stonewalling federal judgeships. This summer’s budget battles only add to the already toxic atmosphere in Washington. Senate’s Republicans have also abused their power by delaying the appointment of federal judges nominated by the White House. The American Bar Association’s president recently wrote an editorial complaining about the large number of federal judge vacancies, calling it a worsening “emergency.” The public doesn’t fully appreciate how powerful judges are. But senators do, knowing that they serve for life and will decide cases involving business and constitutional issues for a very long time. The Senate’s Republicans keep stonewalling, even though Obama’s appointments tend to be centrists. They are not reflexively libertarian and pro-corporate like the current U.S. Supreme Court majority—or the activist attorneys behind the new rightwing propaganda machine profiled by Mother Jones. This is yet another way in which intransigent Republicans are acting as if Obama did not win re-election.4. Stopping immigration reform. The GOP, and especially the House majority, knows their power will be diluted if more immigrants become citizens and vote. They also know that many industries rely on low wages for immigrant laborers, including people that pay more in taxes than they receive in government services. But the House GOP will not take up a Senate immigration bill with amnesty and a decade-long path to citizenship. Even Fox News contributor, Republican Juan Williams, has derided House GOP leaders as racist. He should not be surprised, because today’s Republicans are bent on retaining their power by any means, instead of persuading voters in open and fair elections.5. The attack on voting rights. The game plan here is as old as Reconstruction: block your opponents from voting. After the Supreme Court’s recent ruling, Shelby v. Holder, gutting the Voting Rights Act’s toughest provision that blocked racially discriminatory voting laws from taking effect, GOP-led states—North Carolina this week and Texas previously—have put forth bills to re-segregate voting and elections.What North Carolina Republicans are pushing through their legislature this week is on par with what Ohio’s GOP Secretary of State Ken Blackwell did before 2004, when his state re-elected President George W. Bush. Rick Hasen, a University of California law professor, wrote, “The bill is a nightmare for voting rights advocates: not only does it include a strict voter ID law and provision shortening early voting and eliminating same-day voter registration for early voting, it is a laundry list of ways to make it harder for people to vote.”The Shelby decision gives the GOP room to plot redistricting scenarios to lock in safe seats in Congress and locally because the Justice Department’s threatened pushback is on untested legal grounds. Texas Republicans quickly said they would revise district lines, instead of waiting for the 2020 Census, as well as toughen state voter ID laws. These discriminatory steps in key states, coupled with the House GOP’s anti-immigrant bias, underscore the party’s defiant obsession with preserving its political power.6. The attack on election regulators. Part of the attack on voting is an attack on election officials who were genuinely non-partisan, like North Carolina State Board of Election’s longtime director, Gary Bartlett. He was ousted earlier this year after two decades on the job after a new Republican governor reconstituted the state BOE. Bartlett had spent years making North Carolina’s election rules arguably the most progressive in the South. But the North Carolina GOP is also trying to end public financing for judicial elections, another successful anti-corruption program.Meanwhile, back in Washington, outgoing Republican members of the Federal Election Commission are trying to ram through rule changes that would tie their successors’ hands with regulating money in federal campaigns. These changes in the arcane rules and ways that elections are run are designed to deter voters and coddle wealthy special interests.Declaring Domestic Political WarTaken together, all of this might be seen as the desperate last throes of the modern GOP. But in politics, people who punch first often end up winning. They have an advantage with framing debate and setting the stage for ensuing fights and compromises. Despite Obama’s new campaign to defend the American middle-class, the president does not like to throw the first punch. He has been too busy with Obamacare implementation, and not, until Wednesday’s speech, with calling out the GOP and campaigning against them.Meanwhile, the GOP, by passing draconian budget cuts, stalling on judgeships and gaming the rules in voting, are doing what entrenched ruling classes have always done to preserve their power. The summer after a presidential election is often politically quiet, but not so in 2013 with the Obamacare startup and big budget battles on the horizon. Instead, rabid Republicans are declaring war on the rest of America—again.
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