Republicans again holding the government (and this time, the global economy) hostage

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

Heather Cox Richardson

January 17, 2022

Today the bill for the elevation of Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) to House speaker began to come due. McCarthy promised the far-right members of his conference committee seats and far more power in Congress to persuade them to vote for him. 

Now they are collecting. 

Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), who was removed from committee assignments in the last Congress for her racist and antisemitic conspiracy theories as well as her encouragement of violence against Democrats, has a spot on the Homeland Security Committee. Such spots are usually filled by those with experience in either the military or intelligence, neither of which she has. And security is an odd fit for her: voters in her district tried to get her disqualified from running in 2022 because of her participation in the attempt to overthrow the results of the 2020 election.

Greene has not just that plum assignment, but another on the House Oversight and Accountability Committee. That committee manages investigations and has emerged as a coveted spot for the far right as its members prepare to go after figures in the Biden administration. It now includes right-wing figures Greene, Lauren Boebert (R-CO), Scott Perry (R-PA), Byron Donalds (R-FL), and Gary Palmer (R-AL), all of whom refused to acknowledge President Joe Biden’s 2020 election. 

Representative Paul Gosar (R-AZ), who was removed from committees two years ago after threatening Democratic lawmakers on social media, is now back on the Natural Resources committee. He also is now on the Oversight Committee.

The elevation of newer representatives over their more senior colleagues caused hard feelings. Tara Palmeri of Puck reported today that Vern Buchanan (R-FL), who was in line to become the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, confronted McCarthy for putting McCarthy ally Jason Smith (R-MO) in the spot instead. “You f*cked me, I know it was you, you whipped against me,” Buchanan told McCarthy.

There were rumors that Buchanan would consider resigning over the slight, and McCarthy cannot afford to lose any Republicans. His desperation is clear in his embrace of George Santos (R-NY), whom McCarthy appointed to two committees: the House Committee on Small Business and the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. Santos is facing pressure to resign as his campaign lies appear to include shady financing. 

But in an op-ed today at NBC News, Santos’s fellow New York representative Democrat Ritchie Torres noted: The presence of this man in Congress is a danger to our democracy and national security, a disgrace to this institution, and a major distraction from the pressing problems that are far more worthy of our time, energy and attention,” but the Republican Party will not disavow him because “House Speaker Kevin McCarthy needs every vote he can get, and he needs George Santos to remain in power.”

House Republicans also appear to be prepared to move forward with an impeachment of Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas. This is part of the Republican focus on applications for asylum at the southern border despite their recent refusal to consider updating legislation, as Mayorkas has repeatedly asked them to. Only once before has a Cabinet secretary been impeached—in 1876—and he was acquitted by the Senate. Two others resigned before impeachment votes were taken, the most recent in 1932.

Greene has her sights set even higher. She called today for the impeachment of President Biden, advising him on Twitter to “resign now.” 

McCarthy also agreed that he would not agree to raise the debt ceiling unless Congress cuts $130 billion in spending for next year, a demand that amounts to taking the nation and the world economy hostage to overturn measures that Congress has already agreed to. Once again, the debt ceiling is not about future spending, it is about paying the debts Congress has already incurred. Refusing to raise the debt ceiling means the United States will default, wreaking havoc on international markets and our own global standing.

But the right wing appears willing to burn down the global economy and to destroy our place in it to impose their will on the country.  

Emboldened, the far right is already insisting it will not raise the debt ceiling. Today, Andy Biggs (R-AZ), who was involved in the planning for January 6, tweeted, “We cannot raise the debt ceiling. Democrats have carelessly spent our taxpayer money and devalued our currency. They’ve made their bed, so they must lie in it.” 

In fact, the national debt skyrocketed under Republican president Donald Trump even before the pandemic, thanks to the big tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated would increase deficits by almost $2 trillion over eleven years. In 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic hit, the debt had grown to $22 trillion. Trump called it a crisis, but his budget that year increased the debt to $23.2 trillion. The CBO warned that the U.S. had never seen deficits so large in a time of high employment. 

And then the coronavirus hit, and the debt jumped to $27.75 trillion. 

At 5.2% of GDP, the growth of the deficit under Trump was third largest in our history, behind only that under Presidents George W. Bush—who launched two unfunded wars after passing a tax cut and thus presided over deficit growth of 11.7%—and Abraham Lincoln, whose Treasury had to invent a way to pay for a civil war out of whole cloth, resulting in the deficit growing by 9.4% of GDP.  

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen says the Treasury will hit the debt ceiling on Thursday but  can extend extraordinary measures to keep functioning until June. McCarthy has called for Democrats to talk with him about a plan that will permit an increase in the debt limit while cutting Medicare, Social Security, and federal agencies. 

Biden and administration officials say they will not negotiate with the right-wing Republicans who are trying to get their way not through normal legislative channels, but by holding the government—and the global economy—hostage

Culture wars, not kitchen-table issues, are the Republicans actual “bread and butter”

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

Heather Cox Richardson

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.