December 5, 2017The current Republican Congress is a menace to good government — to any government — as demonstrated by its votes on health care and taxes. However, any thought that the present-day Party is uniquely destructive, unusually captive to an anti-government philosophy because of the advent of Donald Trump, vanishes with a brief glance at its history.
A book written by a former Congressman, Tom Allen, Dangerous Convictions: What’s Really Wrong with the U.S. Congress, describes the tax cuts of 2001 under a Republican Congress and President. A speech by George W. Bush shortly after his inaugural, pushing his tax cut proposal, described the "reality" of his plan: increased discretionary spending, $2 trillion of debt paid off, $1 trillion in a contingency fund, and money left over. "Bush was in fact not talking about ‘reality,’ because none of it was true." It reminds one of the claims this year by Congress that the tax cuts would help middle class families and create jobs, and Trump’s assertion that the cuts wouldn’t help him.
Allen notes that Paul Krugman exposed the lies in his book, Fuzzy Math; Krugman said this: "There's something about the tax cut crusade that gives the crusaders a disdain for petty concerns, like telling the truth about their own proposals. . . . [T]he arguments made for tax cuts have been startling in their intellectual dishonesty." Although extreme partisanship was present under Gingrich in the 90s, Krugman saw a new form after 2000: "[W]hat has happened since Bush moved to Washington—the deliberate mis-statements and suppression of the facts—is, as far as I know, unprecedented in the history of American economic policy. It would be a shame if this style of governing succeeds, because it will set a precedent for future administrations." He certainly was right in the last observation.
In 2006, Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, scholars of, and partisans for, Congress —to them the First and most important Branch of government — wrote a book entitled The Broken Branch, describing Congress’ decline. That same year, they wrote a column for The Los Angeles Times in which they described a bill pushed by the Republican Speaker of the House: "Hastert and his fellow House Republicans have refused to say exactly what they will include in the 300-page court security bill . . . ." Again, a familiar pattern. "If this were one isolated instance of a Congress pushing through sloppy and ill-considered legislation . . ., we would wince but move on. But this breach of the normal legislative process is all too typical of today's Congress. Over the last five years, Congress has abandoned the web of rules and norms that have long governed how a bill is considered, how votes take place and how outcomes are decided."
In a later book, It’s Even Worse than It Looks, Mann and Ornstein put it more bluntly: "Today’s the Republican Party. . . has become an insurgent outlier — ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition, all but declaring war on the government."
Republicans’ contempt for social policy is illustrated by comments by two Senators. Orrin Hatch expressed his disdain for "entitlement" programs: "I have a rough time wanting to spend billions and billions and trillions of dollars to help people who won’t help themselves, won’t lift a finger, and expect the federal government to do everything." Not to be outdone, Chuck Grassley proclaimed: "I think not having the estate tax recognizes the people that are investing, as opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it’s on booze or women or movies." Or on food, shelter, other such luxuries.
I suppose that having such contempt for ordinary people — you know, the ones Trump promised to protect — makes it easier to be flunkies for the favored few.
55. Dangerous Convictions (2013), 43-44
56. Fuzzy Math (2001). 8-9
57. It’s Even Worse than It Looks (2012), 102-03