On Wednesday, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp. Republican of Michigan, finally unveiled a tax reform plan many years in the making behind closed doors. There is no question that it is a substantive, comprehensive proposal deserving of serious consideration by tax experts. When and if Congress ever takes up tax reform, some parts of it will undoubtedly be viable and worthy of consideration.
The problem is that Congress is not going to take up the Camp plan or any tax reform plan for at least the next several years. Both House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell immediately threw cold water on Camp’s work.
In truth, it is doubtful that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives is prepared to take up substantive legislation on any topic, regardless of urgency or necessity. The most it will do is the absolute minimum amount of work on the budget that it has to do and then take the maximum amount of time off for campaigning, this year being a congressional election year.
Republicans are betting that anything they might do on any issue is more likely to divide its base than unite it. Therefore, doing nothing will yield more Republicans in Congress than acting on pressing national priorities. To give the illusion of action, Republican strategists believe show votes on symbolic issues like repealing Obamacare will be sufficient for the party base.
The fact is that the Republican caucus is deeply divided between those who only wish to do nothing except tear down the institutions of the New Deal and the Great Society in the name of misguided liberty or at the behest of libertarian billionaires who bankroll the Tea Party. The Republican old guard, who believes conservative governance is not a contradiction in terms and who came to Washington to improve life for their constituents, are retiring en masse this year.
For 5 years, the do-nothing/know-nothing caucus has been in firm control. They have shut down the government, demanded almost weekly futile votes on repealing Obamacare, come close to defaulting on the national debt, and engaged in hundreds of hours of debate over faux outrages, such as the Benghazi “scandal,” long forgotten by all except right-wing extremists.
Back in 2009, Republicans promised a comprehensive alternative to the Affordable Care Act before completion of debate on that legislation. Only this week have Republicans finally come up with that legislation, H.R. 2575. The Congressional Budget Office has already determined that it would reduce health insurance coverage to 1 million workers and increase the budget deficit, among other things. Not much of a threat to Obamacare, I think.
How can one take a political party seriously that treats important issues like health care for millions of Americans and uses them as nothing but a political bludgeon, even going so far as to reject free federal money to expand Medicaid, the only effect of which is to cause extreme hardship on innocent people?
This lack of seriousness and concern for the wellbeing of anyone who doesn’t belong to the Tea Party is unfortunately the hallmark of today’s GOP. It contrasts sharply with the party of Dwight Eisenhower, who spent billions to build national highways; Richard Nixon, who created new government agencies to deal with environmental pollution and worker safety; Gerald Ford, who created the refundable Earned Income Tax Credit to aid the poor; Ronald Reagan, who gave amnesty to millions of illegal aliens; and George H.W. Bush, who bravely raised taxes knowing his own party would turn its back on him and probably defeat him. Even George W. Bush looks compassionate compared to the likes of Senator Ted Cruz, whose open disdain for the poverty stricken and unemployed makes him a Tea Party hero.
As far as tax reform is concerned, the problem for Republicans is they don’t actually believe in the “reform” part of tax reform. That would be the part that eliminates unjustified tax cuts and loopholes to pay for statutory rate reductions. In their heart of hearts, Republicans only believe in tax cuts, especially for big corporations and the ultra-wealthy. They, like the right wing novelist Ayn Rand, believe that only the wealthy create wealth. Average workers are greedy parasites, especially when they have the temerity to join a union and, like Oliver Twist, ask for “more.” The Republican establishment pulled out all the stops recently to kill the unionization of an auto plant in Tennessee lest workers get too uppity.
To be sure, there are very slight signs of sanity here and there. Companies like Walmart are hinting at pay raises for their workers, many of whom rely on food stamps to live because their pay is so low. Even stores that cater to those with low incomes are struggling because the poor are so poor due to high unemployment and decades of stagnant wages. A few conservatives have now hinted at support for a higher minimum wage, even though their hated enemy Barack Obama supports it.
I think there is a chance that the billionaires are becoming disgusted with their partners in crime and becoming open to abandoning them. They have children and siblings who are gay, they are overwhelmingly secular, embarrassed by the daily gaffes constantly being uttered by right wing radio hosts and commentators and on extremist web sites and YouTube videos. The billionaires may have concluded that the downside to constantly rocking the boat is not worth the potential payoff, especially as demographic projections show a decline in the elderly, white Tea Party base and a rise in young, nonwhite progressives.
Some leaders of what’s left of the sane wing of the GOP are quietly trying to find ways to actually do policy in areas such as prison sentencing reform, which is flying below the Tea Party radar for now. But their ranks are being depleted by exhaustion and retirement, and they must often waste huge amounts of time and money fighting off well financed Tea Party challengers in primaries.
It is unlikely that the 2014 election results will fundamentally change the congressional political dynamics. But the day after the election, the race for 2016 starts.
Top Reads from The Fiscal Times: