Tuesday, January 4, 2011

They're Baaaaack

The 112th Congress is the name, and austerity is the game, at least to hear new House Speaker John Boehner tell it. The nation will be better because this Ohioan and his GOP colleagues are determined to “listen to American people” who have already determined that what “the people” want:
"We are going to fight for their priorities: cutting spending, repealing the job-killing health care law and helping get our economy moving again."
The 112th will convene Wednesday in Washington, D.C. This legislative assembly will continue through January 2013.

Before we get to the meaning of the “austerity” of which the Representative speaks, let’s get the numbers clear. The House has a Republican majority with the GOP occupying 242 seats to the Democrats’ 193, quite a contrast to the advantage held of 255 to 71 held by the Democrats at the end of the 111th Congress.

In the Senate, the Democrats still have the majority but with reduced numbers: 53 caucusing with the Democrats and 47 Republicans. (The Democratic caucus includes two Independents – Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut.) In the last Congress, the Democrats had 58 in their caucus, while the Republicans had 42.

The Senate will continue to be led by Harry Reid and the Democrats, but in the House it is fruit-basket-turn-over for the leadership, including committee chairs, committee compositions, offices, and, let’s not forget, legislative priorities.

Which takes us back to Boehner’s austerity agenda. High on the GOP list is the repeal of the health care reform bill. Never mind that the bipartisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the health care overhaul will reduce deficits by more than $140 billion over 10 years, largely because new spending will be more than offset by new taxes and cutbacks in the growth of Medicare. There is a lot to be said for austerity, but repeal of the health care reform bill can hardly be considered.

The effort to repeal is mostly theater, since such a measure would not likely pass the Senate, and would certainly be vetoed by President Obama. The vote to repeal, already set for January 12th, is an opportunity to let all of those Representatives who ran their campaigns on repealing the measure an opportunity to cast a vote that they can say to their constituencies, “See, I voted to repeal it.”

The effort to repeal is not without its risks to the Republicans because it gives the Democrats an opportunity to show why it’s needed:
“Representative Robert E. Andrews, Democrat of New Jersey, challenged the Republicans to bring it on. “We will respond by pointing out the impact of repeal on people’s lives,” Mr. Andrews said. “On women with cancer who could be denied insurance because of a pre-existing condition. On senior citizens who would lose the help they are receiving to pay for prescriptions.”
Democrats argue that repeal would increase the number of uninsured; put insurers back in control of health insurance, allowing them to increase premiums at will; and lead to explosive growth in the federal budget deficit.”
In blunt language, Bob Herbert warns that Republican talk of austerity is not what it appears. I think he’s right.
“It was ever thus. The fundamental mission of the G.O.P. is to shovel ever more money to those who are already rich. That’s why you got all that disgracefully phony rhetoric from Republicans about attacking budget deficits and embracing austerity while at the same time they were fighting like mad people to pile up the better part of a trillion dollars in new debt by extending the Bush tax cuts.
This is a party that has mastered the art of taking from the poor and the middle class and giving to the rich. We should at least be clear about this and stop being repeatedly hoodwinked — like Charlie Brown trying to kick Lucy’s football — by G.O.P. claims of fiscal responsibility.”
Contributing something better to the present and future begins with resisting the siren of a disastrous past.
- Milo

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