As a result of the GOP's refusal to negotiate in good faith, America is now being subjected to austerity-by-a-thousand-cuts. Budgetary sadists like Paul Ryan will delight in the sequester's blows to vital anti-poverty programs: $285 million a year from heating assistance to keep the poor from freezing to death in their own homes. Another $543 million will be cut from nutrition assistance – throwing as many as 750,000 at-risk kids and moms out of the WIC program. California and Texas alone likely will be forced to lay off more than 2,000 teachers – leaving some 350,000 students in the lurch. Tens of thousands of preschoolers will be kicked out of Head Start.
Yet for all the pain they cause, these cuts will do little to balance the budget. As Fed chairman Ben Bernanke testified to Congress, "If you slow the economy, that hurts your revenues, and that means your deficit reduction is not as big as you think it is." Worse for a nation still mired in eight percent unemployment, Bernanke said, "This will cost a lot of jobs in the short run." The impact is particularly brutal for jurisdictions whose economies are dependent on federal and military contracts. Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C., are poised to lose a combined 450,000 jobs – double the losses projected for a megastate like California.
Some Republicans have attempted to blame the president for the pain caused by the "Obamaquester." But for the big bosses of the conservative movement, the true problem is that its cuts don't go far enough. Pointing to a right-wing think tank slamming the sequester as "insignificant," the GOP's anti-tax Svengali, Grover Norquist, snarked, "Ouch. Ouch. I cannot stand these 'meat cleaver' cuts in sequestration. Chain-saw massacre stuff."
TAX CUTS: STARVE THE STATES
Controlling only one-half of Congress, the Republicans can do little more than play defense by creating a deadlock in Washington. But with 24 statehouses now run by Republican governors and GOP-majority legislatures, the party is turning the states into laboratories for radical conservative governance.
In recent years, the GOP has sent talent from Congress back home to pursue its cruel economic agenda. From Louisiana to Kansas to Indiana, Republican governors with congressional pedigrees are working to slash state income and corporate taxes that hit the wealthiest – often calling on the working poor to make up the difference by paying higher sales taxes. In Indiana, Gov. Mike Pence – until 2010 the number-three Republican in the House leadership – has asked the legislature to squander a rare surplus by passing an "across-the-board tax cut" that heavily favors the rich: Twenty-eight percent of benefits would go to the top five percent of earners. One in three low-income Hoosiers would see no tax cut at all.
In Louisiana, Gov. Bobby Jindal wants to abolish income and corporate taxes – financing the giveaway by increasing the flat tax on purchases. Jindal claims the proposal "will put more money back into the pockets of Louisiana families." That's a lie. Taxes on the poorest 20 percent would rise nearly $400 a year in order to lower taxes on the top one percent by $25,000.
In Kansas, Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, a former U.S. senator, is trying to pull off the same boondoggle with the backing of powerful allies – the billionaire Koch brothers, whose Koch Industries is based in Wichita, and the American Legislative Exchange Council, ALEC, a corporate front group that pushes right-wing policy across state legislatures. Brownback began his tax-cutting in 2012 by eliminating the state business tax and slashing the state income tax, promising that these cuts would act like "a shot of adrenaline into the heart of the Kansas economy."
Instead, the state is on track to pile up $2.5 billion in debt by 2018, yet Brownback is still calling on the legislature to whittle away at income tax rates – which he declares are on a "glide path to zero" – even if that requires higher sales taxes. Thanks to the Koch brothers, Brownback enjoys a rubber-stamp legislature. Koch campaign cash in the past election put hardcore conservatives in control of both chambers; a board member of ALEC is now speaker of the Kansas House. If Brownback's latest cuts go forward, Kansas' $6 billion general fund will have been slashed by $1.1 billion a year, giving millionaires a tax cut of $28,000. "The magical growth model that the governor talks about only exists for the wealthiest Kansans who benefit from his tax plan," said Terry Forsyth, president of the Working Kansas Alliance.
VOTING RIGHTS: RIG THE SYSTEM
Republicans are painfully aware that a demographic tide has turned against them and that even turnout-suppressing voter-ID laws couldn't block the re-election of a Democrat to the White House in 2012. So party officials have become even more audacious in their plans to steal elections – this time by rigging the Electoral College itself.
The Electoral College is almost exclusively winner-take-all: The top popular vote-getter in Florida, for example, receives all 29 electoral votes. To benefit future GOP nominees, however, Republicans from blue-trending battleground states are seeking to divvy up their states' Electoral College bounty. These ploys are nothing more than dirty politics – and even GOP leaders admit it. "It's something that a lot of states that have been consistently blue that are fully controlled red ought to be looking at," said Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus, making clear that the strategy to reapportion Electoral College votes is appropriate only for strategically important swing states, not for Texas or Georgia.
In Pennsylvania, Republicans have introduced a bill to split Electoral College votes proportionally – a plan that would have robbed Obama of eight of the state's 20 votes in 2012. In Michigan, the state GOP has endorsed a plan to award an electoral vote to the winner of each congressional district. Because those districts were themselves gerrymandered by Republican politicians, this plan would have awarded Mitt Romney a majority of the Electoral College votes from Michigan – a state he lost by nearly 10 percent.
These state measures pale in comparison with a case now being weighed by the Supreme Court. Conservatives are hoping to nullify a bedrock provision of the Voting Rights Act, the law that brought democracy to the American South. "Section 5" of the 1965 law – renewed almost unanimously by Congress in 2006 – gives the Justice Department oversight of elections and redistricting in nine mostly Southern states. The suit is backed by the Koch-founded Cato Institute, which declared in a friend-of-the-court brief that "three generations of federal intrusion have been more than enough to kill Jim Crow. . . . Without the threat of federal interference, would state legislatures feel free to engage in mischief? It seems wildly improbable, even in the Deep South."
During oral arguments in February, the hard-right majority on the Supreme Court appeared receptive to this line of attack – which is not surprising. As a young attorney in the Reagan Justice Department, the current chief justice, John Roberts, wrote legal briefs challenging the constitutionality of the VRA. And in the February proceedings, Reagan appointee Antonin Scalia slammed the law that guarantees the franchise to all Americans as a "racial entitlement."
The recent history of the Deep South proves that racially discriminatory mischief is still with us. In Texas, where Gov. Rick Perry decries Section 5 as having been "unconstitutionally extended," the Justice Department used the provision to block a voter-ID law that could have disenfranchised some 600,000 duly registered voters – most of them black and Latino. (The law endorsed a conceal-carry gun permit as acceptable ID for voting but deemed student and even state worker IDs invalid.)
The Lone Star State also violated the Voting Rights Act in its congressional redistricting. A panel of three federal judges decried the "discriminatory intent" displayed by state legislators who had carved job-creating commercial centers out of majority African-American districts and redrawn the lines of at least one Hispanic-dominant district to "strengthen the voting power of . . . Anglo citizens."
GLOBAL WARMING: DENY, DENY, DENY
The Republican party also remains committed to violence against the environment. The House Science, Space and Technology Committee, which has jurisdiction over global-warming research, has been stacked with hardcore deniers like California Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, who once blamed climate change on "dinosaur flatulence," and Georgia Rep. Paul Broun, a creationist who blasts science – "all that stuff I was taught about evolution, embryology, big-bang theory" – as "lies straight from the pit of hell."
The committee is chaired by Texan Lamar Smith, who has taken more than $500,000 in oil money during his political career and recently received a $10,000 check from Koch Industries. In one of his first moves as chairman, Smith planned a hearing about giving global-warming skeptics a congressional platform in a House "review" of climate science – only to have it postponed because of a severe storm.
In the states, Kansas is poised to join Louisiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas in passing ALEC-sponsored legislation mandating that schools teach the "scientific controversies" of climate science. In South Carolina, conservatives have suppressed publication for more than a year of a study predicting dire global-warming impacts in the state – which reportedly include flooded homes, shriveling wetlands, ocean dead zones, and an invasion of piranhas and Asian swamp eels. For his part, Sen. Rubio in Florida doubts whether humans are driving climate change and believes we should just let it ravage the planet in any case: "We can pass a bunch of laws that will destroy our economy," he said, "but it isn't going to change the weather."
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