Party Like It’s 1994!

The Republicans have tried their best to make 2010 the new 1994.  In 1994, after 46 years of Democratic control, the Republicans finally won the majority in the House. They remained in control of the House for 12 years until 2006, when the Democrats took back the House. From 2002-2006 the Republicans controlled the House, the Senate, and the Executive Branch. During that time they had the opportunity to implement everything important to them. What they did do (and didn’t do) is telling: They started an unprovoked war in Iraq. They tried to privatize social security (and failed), but did nothing to expand healthcare to millions of uninsured citizens. They did nothing to improve government transparency, but rather, they allowed illegal wiretapping. They did nothing to rein in unchecked spending, but instead set spending records and allowed no-bid contracts to private contractors such as Halliburton and Blackwater. When the Republicans now claim to want to fix healthcare, create transparency, and rein in spending, why would we believe them. We need to look closely at the Republican agenda. Why would we give them power, when in fact their agenda is against the interests of most Americans?

This week, they took the House, and picked up seats in the Senate. Commentators are trying to make sense of the shift. It can’t be the Tea Party, because very few of those candidates won. It isn’t a “mandate” of their agenda or a “referendum” on Obama’s party because a number of Democrats won, such as Cuomo as New York Governor, and Senate Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. Rather, the shift was a predictable change that comes with most mid-term elections for a first-term president. But this time around, voters are disgruntled about the slow progress of the economy, and they took out their frustration at the polls. The problem with giving Republicans another chance at fixing the problems that they created is that they don’t have a different plan from what they have done in the past. That is, their plan  is to do what they have always done over thee past several decades.

Since the 1980s, the Republicans have basically used their “Starve the Beast” strategy. This strategy is basically to cut taxes (i.e., revenues) so that we can’t afford government programs. The ultra-rich are given special tax cuts, breaks, credits, loopholes, etc. Military spending is increased to suck up most of the federal budget. With less tax revenues they drive up the deficit, blame the Democrats, and scare the public about the mounting deficit. Once voters throw them out of office, Republicans happily leave behind a huge mess for the Democrats to clean up. Democrats now have to make the tough choices about spending and reviving the economy. While out of power, Republicans sit on the sideline and criticize anything the Democrats do to fix the mess, and even try to block anything that might help people, such as extending unemployment benefits. Republicans do everything they can to cut social programs that actually help people and create a middle class, and to cut taxes that would actually help us pay down our debt. They turn the public against Democrats with their rhetoric about “tax-and-spend-liberals,” and throw in a few words about abortion and gay marriage to please the religious right (but do nothing on these issues while in office). And then they bet on public amnesia to try to regain power in subsequent elections. This strategy has worked for them over the past several decades, but it has harmed our country.

Now that Republicans have reclaimed power in the House, what will be their agenda?

In 1994 the Republicans released the “Contract with America” (Bill Clinton recently called it the “Contract On America” on The Daily Show). The Contract basically was created to divert voters’ attention from their real agenda: taking power back. This year, under the direction of many of the same Republicans that wrote the Contract, the party released the “Pledge to America.” The Pledge is basically a way of saying, “Last time we were in power, we let some bad things happen, please give us another chance.” The Pledge is full of scare tactics, populist rhetoric, and false claims, but very few specific solutions. Republicans love to say “cut spending,” but the moment you ask them what they want to cut, you get the deer in the headlights.

See: FactChecking ‘The Pledge’. It is interesting that, when you boil it down to its basic message, the “Pledge to America” is essentially the same agenda as the “Contract with American.”

Contract with America (1994) Pledge to America (2010)
Select a major, independent auditing firm
to conduct a comprehensive audit of
Congress for waste, fraud or abuse
The best way to get people working
again is to rein in the growth of government
and end the uncertainty facing small
That historic change would be the end of
government that is too big, too intrusive,
and too easy with the public’s money.
We have a plan to impose fiscal discipline
and cut government down to size.
Guarantee an honest accounting of
our Federal Budget by implementing
zero base-line budgeting
President Obama and Democratic Leaders
have stepped on the accelerator and
demonstrated unparalleled recklessness
with taxpayer dollars.

We will set strict budget caps to limit federal
spending on an annual basis. Budget caps were
used in the 1990s, when a Republican Congress
was able to bring the budget into balance and
eventual surplus.

A balanced budget/tax limitation
amendment and a legislative line-item
veto to restore fiscal responsibility to an
out- of-control Congress, requiring them
to live under the same budget constraints
as families and businesses.
We will curb Washington’s spending
habits and promote job creation,
bring down the deficit, and build long-term
fiscal stability.
Cut the number of House committees,
and cut committee staff by one-third
We will impose a net hiring freeze on
non-security federal employees and
ensure that the public sector no longer
grows at the expense of the private sector.
We shall bring to the House Floor the
following bills, each to be given full and
open debate, each to be given a clear and
fair vote and each to be immediately
available this day for public inspection
and scrutiny.
Under Speaker Nancy Pelosi and
her leadership, Americans are demanding
change in the way Congress works, and we
are fighting to bring much needed sunlight
to the process and give the American people
a greater voice in their Congress.
It can be the beginning of a Congress
that respects the values and shares the
faith of the American family.
America is the belief that any man or woman
can – given economic, political, and religious
liberty – advance themselves, their families,
and the common good.
Require committee meetings to be open
to the public
We pledge to make government more
transparent in its actions, careful in its
stewardship, and honest in its dealings.
Ensure that the Federal budget deficit
will be less than it would have been
without the enactment of these bills.
Requiring that government programs
end – or “sunset” – by a date certain.
We will adopt this requirement at the federal
level to force Congress to determine if a
program is worthy of continued taxpayer
To restore accountability to Congress.
To end its cycle of scandal and disgrace.

Our plan stands on the principles of smaller,
more accountable government…
We now
propose changing the way Congress
once and for all.

Restoration of the essential parts
of our national security funding to
strengthen our national defense and
maintain our credibility around the world.
The primary obligation of the federal
government remains providing for the
common defense…We offer a plan to keep
our nation secure at home and abroad that
will provide the resources, authority, and
support our deployed military requires…
Small business incentives, capital gains
cut and indexation, neutral cost recovery,
risk assessment/cost-benefit analysis,
strengthening the Regulatory Flexibility Act
and unfunded mandate reform to create jobs
and raise worker wages.
A plan to create jobs, end economic uncertainty,
and make America more competitive must be the
first and most urgent priority of our government.
…We will end the attack on free enterprise by
repealing job-killing policies.
“Loser pays” laws, reasonable limits on
punitive damages and reform of product
liability laws to stem the endless tide of
We will enact common-sense medical liability
reforms to lower costs, rein in junk lawsuits
and curb defensive medicine.

The Pledge gives us a sense for what the Republicans are after: (1) Don’t tax the rich; (2) deregulate big business to increase their profits; (3) increase military spending while decreasing social spending; and (4) power. They scare people into buying this agenda with the treat of an economy-crushing deficit, immigrant-criminals crossing our borders, terrorists threats, and government take-overs.

And this is how they sell it: With fear.

Scare tactics:

  • The social fabric that binds us as citizens, families and communities is unraveling.
  • An unchecked executive, a compliant legislature, and an overreaching judiciary have combined to thwart the will of the people and overturn their votes and their values, striking down longstanding laws and institutions and scorning the deepest beliefs of the American people.
  • Our standing as the world’s leader of democracy and economic growth is ending.
  • Politicians in Washington have imposed an agenda that doesn’t reflect the priorities of the people.
  • An arrogant and out-of-touch government of self-appointed elites makes decisions, issues mandates, and enacts laws without accepting or requesting the input of the many.
  • We will end the attack on free enterprise by repealing job-killing policies and taking steps to assure current businesses and future entrepreneurs that the government will not stifle their ability to compete in the global marketplace.
  • We will rein in the red tape factory in Washington, DC.
  • We cannot spend our way to prosperity.
  • We offer a plan to repeal and replace the government takeover of health care.
  • We are offering a plan to reform Congress and restore trust so that we can put power back where it belongs: in the hands of the people.
  • The only parts of the economy expanding are government and our national debt. It is time to end this liberal Keynesian experiment and stop the attacks on our employers that prevent them from investing in our economy. We need private sector jobs, not more government.
  • Obama wants to raise taxes on roughly half of small business income in America. Raising taxes on anyone in a struggling economy – especially family-owned businesses – is precisely the wrong thing to do. Economists agree, as do the American people.
  • We now borrow 41 cents of every dollar we spend, much of it from foreign countries, including China, and leave the bill to our kids and grandkids
  • Our debt is now on track to exceed the size of our economy in the next two years.
  • All this borrowing runs the risk of causing a damaging spike in interest rates, which would cripple job creation.
  • The new [health insurance] law will force some 87 million Americans to drop their current coverage
  • Americans are overwhelmingly opposed to using tax dollars to pay for abortion, and the executive order issued by President Obama in conjunction with congressional passage of the health care law is inadequate to ensure taxpayer funds are not used in this manner.
  • No more hiding legislative language from the minority party, opponents, and the public.
  • We will prevent the government from importing terrorists onto American soil. We will hold President Obama and his administration responsible for any Guantanamo Bay detainees they release who return to fight against our troops or who have become involved in any terrorist plots or activities.
  • We will work to ensure foreign terrorists, such as the 9/11 conspirators, are tried in military, not civilian, court.
  • We will work to ensure critical funding is restored to protect the U.S. homeland and our allies from missile threats from rogue states such as Iran and North Korea.
  • The Iranian regime people has declared its determination to acquire a nuclear capability, which threatens its neighbors and the security of the United States.

The Pledge says what Republicans plan to do. Part of their plan includes a number of things that the new healthcare law already put into place: (1) “Reduce the number of uninsured Americans”; (2) “We will make it illegal for an insurance company to deny coverage to someone with prior coverage on the basis of a pre-existing condition, eliminate annual and lifetime spending caps, and prevent insurers from dropping your coverage just because you get sick”;  (3) “Health care should be accessible for all, regardless of pre-existing conditions or past illnesses.” All of the sudden they want to do many of the things this legislation has already made into law; while they have demonized the bill for the past year, and say they want to repeal it. Why didn’t you guys do this when you had the power in the 2002-2006? I will tell you why. Republicans are not trying to help average citizens. They are trying to stay in power, and to do that they want to help the ultra rich to maximize profits. Period.

Let’s not get confused by their populist discourse. They do not care what the people think. In 2008, when Dick Cheney was asked about how his rosy view of the war squared with the polls that showed two-thirds of Americans said the fight in Iraq is not worth it, he replied, “So?”
The reporter asked, “You don’t care what the American people think?” He responded, “You can’t be blown off course by polls.”
George Bush once said, “Some call you the elite, I call you my base.” The new House Speaker, John Boehner, has freely admitted that he is “cozy with lobbyists,” and had no problem handing out donation checks from the tobacco lobby on the House floor. This is not what democracy looks like. Obama will have quite a battle over the next two years.