Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American
January 11, 2022
Watching the news today, I suspect I am not always going to report all the twists and turns of the House Republicans for the next two years. They campaigned in the midterm elections on so-called kitchen-table issues—inflation, primarily—but upon taking control of the House, they instantly reverted back to the culture wars that are their bread and butter. This is largely performative for their base, since the Democratic-led Senate will never pass their extreme measures.
On Monday evening the new Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed a bill to cut funding for the Internal Revenue Service that the previous Congress included in the Inflation Reduction Act, funding intending to add workers to clear a big backlog of unprocessed returns, overhaul technology, and improve customer service. Republicans insist that funding the IRS will send bureaucrats to hassle ordinary Americans, but in fact, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has directed that none of the new resources will be used to increase audit rates for small businesses or households with an annual income below $400,000.
If the House measure were to become law—which it will not because the Senate will not pass it—it would add significantly to the deficit. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said that the Republicans’ bill would increase the deficit by nearly $115 billion over ten years.
The Biden administration has focused on tax evasion among the wealthy and has sought since the beginning of Biden’s term to crack down on tax cheats.
The administration responded to the House measure with uncharacteristic saltiness. “With their first economic legislation of the new Congress, House Republicans are making clear that their top economic priority is to allow the rich and multi-billion dollar corporations to skip out on their taxes, while making life harder for ordinary, middle-class families that pay the taxes they owe,” responded the Office of Management and Budget.
“That’s their agenda; not lowering costs or cutting taxes for hard working Americans—as President Biden has consistently advocated. If the President were presented with H.R. 23—or any other bill that enables the wealthiest Americans and largest corporations to cheat on their taxes, while honest and hard-working Americans are left to pay the tab—he would veto it.”
Today the House followed up on its IRS bill with two antiabortion measures. With only three Democrats joining the Republicans, they adopted a resolution condemning attacks on “pro-life facilities, groups and churches.” Democrats pointed out that abortion providers and women seeking to obtain abortions have suffered deadly attacks, including the 2009 murder of Dr. George Tiller of Kansas.
Mini Timmaraju, the head of NARAL Pro-Choice America said: “If you’re going to put a resolution out on violence against churches and fake pregnancy centers, why are we not also addressing violence against abortion providers and violence in general?”
The second measure is called the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act and requires doctors to care for infants who survive an abortion. Opponents of the measure point out that such a scenario is exceedingly rare and that doctors are already required to do what the bill requires. The new measure adds new penalties for doctors.
The first of these measures is not a law; the second will not pass the Senate. Still, both are much less extreme than what Republicans planned to offer when they expected the 2022 elections to go their way.
A week ago, Bloomberg’s editors blamed the Republican Party’s dysfunction on the fact that the party has ignored public policy. “After a campaign in which culture-war issues took the place of an actual governing agenda—and in which the GOP nominated numerous on-message candidates who were clearly unfit for office—House Republicans have found themselves in power without a plan,” they wrote.
Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin today called out the elephant in the room when she wrote that “there are no moderate House Republicans.” The positions of the extremist Republicans in the fight over House speaker often made people talk of the rest of the party as “moderate,” but in fact, as Rubin points out, they all supported Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) for speaker, and McCarthy is an election denier. They also voted for the extremist rules package that threatens to bring the country to the unthinkable: a financial default.
Rubin pointed out that with the House as closely divided as it is, a few of these so-called moderates could defeat the radicals and force the party closer to the mainstream. So far, though, they have shown no inclination to do so.
But there has been a sign that a new crop of Republicans might someday demand the party clean itself up (which doesn’t sound like much, but a fight against corruption was what launched Theodore Roosevelt’s political career in 1884). Today, four new Republican representatives from New York called on Representative George Santos (R-NY) to resign. During his campaign, Santos lied about his education, work experience, and also apparently about his finances, which could involve him in legal trouble.
Republican officials in New York’s Nassau County also demanded Santos resign, saying: “This scandalous behavior does damage to all of our reputations because there is a part of our public that is cynical about politicians and public officials.”
But Republican House leadership, including McCarthy and Elise Stefanik (R-NY), who is the third most powerful Republican in the House and was a key endorser of Santos, have stayed silent. For his part, Santos vows to stay in office.
As I say, I may well not follow all the performances of House members going forward unless a performance seems like it will change the larger story of the country, in part because I worry that letting them take up all the oxygen will crowd out other crucial stories, like this one:
Since late last year, California has been pummeled by storms traveling in what are known as “atmospheric rivers,” powerful bands of water-filled clouds that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) describes as “rivers in the sky.” These storm systems have created floods and mudslides, especially on land scarred by recent fires, and brought 70-mile-per-hour winds to Sacramento, knocking out power for more than 345,000 people.
More than 4.5 million Californians have been under flood watches, and at least 17 people have died. According to San Francisco area meteorologist Jan Null, this has been the third rainiest period in San Francisco since the 1849 Gold Rush.
On January 4, California governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency, and Biden issued an emergency declaration on January 8.
The warming climate is intensifying both droughts—which feed fires—and storms like those currently creating such destruction.