Romney's flip-flop was even swifter. In June, at the start of his campaign, he declared, "I believe that humans contribute" to warming through "our emissions of greenhouse gases." By October, he had fully embraced climate denial, insisting that "we don't know what's causing climate change." His jobs plan, meanwhile, casts the industries driving the climate crisis as victims of "the Obama administration's war on carbon dioxide." Like every other top Republican in the race, Romney also insists that the EPA be effectively barred from enforcing the Clean Air Act, calling the hallmark environmental legislation "outdated" and insisting that it must be "streamlined" to benefit coal plants by "removing carbon dioxide from its purview."
To date, Romney has received $300,000 in oil and gas contributions. That's a pittance in comparison to Perry, who has pocketed $740,000 from the same industries. Perry is a shameless climate denier who maintains – against all evidence – that "we have been experiencing a global cooling trend" and that climate change is "all one contrived phony mess" cooked up by Gore, that "false prophet of a secular carbon cult." The Texas governor insists that all new rules designed to curb the deadly emissions of coal plants or the toxic chemicals used in the fracking of natural gas should be put on hold.
Other GOP candidates go even further. Bachmann insists that under her presidency, the EPA will have its "doors locked and lights turned off." Gingrich blasts the agency – created by Richard Nixon – as "a tool of ideologues to push an anti-jobs agenda." Outdoing them all, Cain advocates that the EPA be overhauled by a commission staffed by "the people closest to the problem" – the "problem," in his view, being federal curbs on pollution, and the "people" being big-energy CEOs. "If you've been abused by the EPA like Shell Oil," Cain said this fall, "I'm going to ask the CEO of Shell Oil would he like to be on this commission, and give me some recommendations."
The leading GOP candidates also want to roll back new regulations introduced by the Obama administration to prevent industrial boilers, cement plants and coal smokestacks from pumping poisons into the atmosphere that cause tens of thousands of premature deaths each year. Even Republican veterans are appalled by such a blatant rejection of the party's storied history of conservation, dating back to Teddy Roosevelt. "These rules are grounded in the best available science," noted William Reilly, who served as EPA chief under George H.W. Bush. "But for some of the most prominent leaders of the Republican Party, science has left the building."
So extreme is the agenda of the GOP candidates, in fact, that it even trashes the laissez-faire legacy of Goldwater. "While I am a great believer in the free-enterprise system," the Arizona senator said in 1970, "I am an even stronger believer in the right of our people to live in a clean, pollution-free environment."
UNLEASH WALL STREET
The GOP candidates are not just seeking to roll back regulations on Big Carbon – they also want to gut a wide range of safeguards designed to protect consumers and workers. Perry has called for a "moratorium" on all pending regulations. Bachmann wants an end to "this red-tape rampage." Romney, in a fit of technocratic nonsense, is calling for a cap on regulatory costs, whereby the economic impact of any new regulation must be offset by repealing an established rule. Under his bizarre plan, a Romney administration might pay for new rules against contaminated meat by eliminating the current ban on lead paint in children's toys.
Above all, the GOP candidates are unanimous in their desire to kill the new post-crash rules crafted to end reckless speculation by big banks and Wall Street firms. Gingrich has gone so far as to call for the Democratic authors of the law, Chris Dodd and Barney Frank, to be jailed for "killing small banks, crippling small businesses, driving down the value of housing and creating corrupting Washington controls over the biggest banks." Repeal of Dodd-Frank would allow Wall Street firms like Goldman Sachs to return to the days of secretly trading trillions in derivatives contracts and betting against their own clients. It would also kill off the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the agency set up by Elizabeth Warren to prevent average Americans from being suckered into subprime mortgages and credit cards with usurious interest rates.
When the GOP candidates talk about these essential curbs on the abuses of big banks, it's as though they live in an alternate universe – one where Wall Street never drove the world's economy off a cliff. Cain insists that Dodd-Frank "does little to shield Main Street from the alleged risks of Wall Street," while Perry adds that the law should be replaced by "market-oriented" measures – but only if such controls should prove "necessary." The GOP front-runners are so committed to a Wall Street free-for-all that they even want to gut Sarbanes-Oxley, the accounting reforms passed under George W. Bush to bar corporate America from the kinds of bookkeeping fraud pioneered by Tyco, WorldCom and Enron.
Such deregulatory radicalism puts the GOP candidates at direct odds with Paul Volcker, the former chair of the Federal Reserve who helped steer the nation out of a crippling recession during the Reagan administration. Volcker, too, is critical of Dodd-Frank – but he believes the law doesn't go far enough. "I think Dodd-Frank was close to as good as we could get," Volcker said this fall. "But it's nowhere near what we need."
DESTROY THE SAFETY NET
The Republican candidates are uniformly committed to repealing the president's health care reform – what Perry, with characteristic subtlety, calls a "man-made disaster of epic proportions." Under the GOP plans, nearly 1 million young adults would once again be denied coverage, seniors would be forced to shell out billions more for prescription medicines, and insurers could return to hiking premiums while denying coverage to Americans with pre-existing conditions. For these and other reasons, Romney insists, "Obamacare is bad for America's families."
Obamacare, however, is only the top entitlement program on the GOP hit list. Almost all of the Republican candidates want to privatize Medicare, replacing its guaranteed benefits to retirees with a fixed voucher insufficient to cover the soaring costs of private insurance. The GOP front-runners have also endorsed a radical plan to cap the federal contribution to Medicaid – a move that would gut insurance for the poor by as much as 3.5 percent a year and shift $150 billion in annual costs onto cash-strapped states. According to the Congressional Budget Office, states unable to pay the added costs would be forced to either "curtail eligibility" to those in need or "provide less extensive coverage."
When it comes to Social Security, the Republican candidates have all advocated that it be privatized for younger workers – creating a system of personal accounts that would place their retirement security at the mercy of the stock market. The undisputed victor of the GOP plans would be Wall Street, which would profit enormously from collecting management fees over a worker's lifetime. A study by the University of Chicago that analyzed a similar privatization scheme proposed by George W. Bush projected that such fees would hand Wall Street "the largest windfall gain in American financial history" while "reducing the ultimate value of individual accounts by 20 percent."
WRECK THE ECONOMY
While threatening to slash the safety net for millions of Americans, the GOP candidates are also committed to a brutal austerity program that would tip the nation back into recession – if not a full-scale depression. The proposal in question is a constitutional amendment that would require the federal government to pass a balanced budget each year. According to Macroeconomic Advisers, a top economic forecaster, balancing the budget in 2012 alone would throw 15 million Americans out of work, double unemployment to 18 percent and contract the U.S. economy by 17 percent. Going forward, the government would be barred from borrowing money during hard times to provide unemployment benefits, food stamps and other essential aid to those in need. As a result, the analysts report, "recessions would be deeper and longer." Even in times of plenty, a balanced-budget amendment would "retard economic growth" by increasing economic uncertainty – which Republicans have repeatedly blamed as the root of the current lackluster recovery.
WAGE ENDLESS WAR
One portion of the budget that the GOP's austerity agenda doesn't touch is the Pentagon, where the Republican candidates call for the kind of costly investments they refuse to back for America's poor and middle class. While demanding that federal spending be capped at 20 percent of GDP, Romney would mandate that at least one in five federal dollars be spent on defense. "I will not look to the military as a place to balance the budget," he says. Neither will Gingrich, who calls on taxpayers to "recapitalize our military infrastructure," or Perry, who wants to sink billions into missile defense and "modernized fleets of ships and aircraft."
To justify such massive defense spending, the GOP candidates would ensure that America remains entangled in bloody wars in the Middle East. When Obama announced earlier this fall that he would complete the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq – on the timetable negotiated by President Bush – Romney denounced the move as an "astonishing failure." Bachmann called on "our troops to remain there to preserve the peace," and Perry insisted that "we need to finish our mission in Iraq" – which evidently involves occupying the country indefinitely, regardless of the wishes of its democratically elected government.
The GOP candidates have been even more hawkish on Iran, with Perry, Romney, Gingrich and Bachmann all promising to go to war to prevent the regime from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Of the top-tier candidates, only Cain expressed reservations about another war in the Middle East, saying instead that he would surround the country with a mobile missile-defense network and tell Ahmadinejad to "make my day."
"This is nonsense – idiocy! – to contemplate another war in that region right now," says Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to Colin Powell. Obama's remarkable successes in foreign policy, he adds – including the demise of both Osama bin Laden and Muammar Qaddafi – have panicked the GOP field into a reflexive hawkishness. "For the Republicans, that's their mantra," Wilkerson says. "The only thing they know is war, war and more war."
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