Rule By Extortion
Congress is more or less in recess. One might think this could give a short respite to the strong-arm tactics we’ve been seeing from Republicans. But no, the Republicans are holding occasional pro-forma sessions during the recess, simply to prevent President Obama from making any recess appointments to fill the positions in the Executive branch that Republicans have been filibustering for the last two years.
This is of a type for what the Disloyal Opposition has been doing since the election of President Obama. We saw the Luntz reactions to health care reform even before there were any proposals to react to (a government official between you and your doctor, government takeover of health care, and so on). During the debate, there was obstruction, filibuster, and outright lies (see: “death panels”).
Similar tactics were employed in the debate over a stimulus bill, and a financial regulations reform bill. It became clear that the Republican Party would not negotiate honestly, but would simply engage in brick-wall obstructionism. Despite this, the 111th Congress managed to enact these and other major pieces of legislation, watered down though they were.
But with the 112th Congress and the injection of more Tea Party members, Republican tactics have taken a new and dramatic leap. Not content merely to obstruct and impede, the new crop wants to force through its own agenda, despite having a smaller majority in the House than the Democrats did in the last Congress, and still a minority in the Senate.
The way they’re going about it is government through extortion, government through hostage taking, government by threat.
Republicans of the 111th Congress tried this tactic, but didn’t quite have the knack of it. In the lame-duck session of December, 2010, the biggest question to be decided was what to do about the expiring Bush-era tax cuts. Everyone agreed the cuts for the middle class and the working poor had to continue. The challenge faced by Republicans was finding a way to insure the people at the top got their cuts reinstated as well. They tried the threat tactic –– We won’t vote on anything else, they said, unless we get this first.
President Obama managed to outmaneuver them, by agreeing to their desired extension for millionaires and billionaires –- but only if they made concessions too, in the form of allowing a series of votes on other matters. Thus, START was ratified, DADT was repealed, unemployment benefits were extended, the middle class got a 2% temporary FICA tax holiday, and a major piece of civil rights law was enacted. Big victories for the Obama Administration.
The incoming class of Republicans learned this lesson –- take hostages, make threats, yes. But never negotiate, because President Obama will take you to the cleaners. Instead, simply make demands, and don’t back down. And make the consequences so awful that the enemy –- that is, the Democrats –- will be forced to give in.
We saw this approach in debate over the budget for Fiscal Year 2011. Republicans threatened to simply shut down the government unless they got their way, and made it plain they’d try to blame the President and Senate Democrats for the shutdown. It was, after all, the Democrats’ own fault for not paying the ransom.
This worked so well, they tried it again a few months later, over whether to raise the debt ceiling. Having agreed on the targets of Federal spending in the 2011 budget, they now refused to allow that money to be spent unless further demands were met. Threatening the first-ever American default, and preparing once again to blame the Democrats for it, they held the nation hostage for months. Republicans invented a crisis, to force cuts in spending.
In smaller matters as well, Republicans have used this technique of making outrageous demands, backed by even more outrageous threats. This year, the National Mediation Board released new regulations that would make it easier for airline employees to unionize. In response, congressional Republican demanded the regulations be decertified and subjected to judicial review. Democrats refused. Republicans took a new hostage.
The House declined to reauthorize funding for the Federal Aviation Administration, forcing temporary layoffs of 75,000 workers and contractors early in August. Republicans did offer a short-term extension of the then-current funding, but the bill would have eliminated a number of small airports in rural districts with Democratic representatives.
There was enough of an uproar among the victims of these Republican layoffs that a short-term extension without the job-killing airport shutdown provisions was enacted. Or rather, a bill that allowed Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to authorize a waiver keeping those airports open. But temporary funding expires on September 16. Republicans will have another shot at their union-busting hostage taking.
The cruelty, pettiness, and downright intransigence of elected Republicans seems to know no bounds. No threat is too large or too small, no demand too outrageous, no tactic too ugly to use in pushing forward their extremist agenda.
We can expect to see more of these strong-arm tactics when the 112th comes back from its August vacation. Expect the debt ceiling supercommittee to demand restructure –- or outright dismantling –- of Medicare, maybe even Social Security, with refusal even to consider revenue increases. Expect another threatened Federal shutdown over the 2011 Fiscal Year budget. Expect Congress to take up the question of extending the Bush tax cuts permanently, perhaps as part of one of these other fiscal matters, rather than allowing the cuts to expire as scheduled at the end of 2012.
In what other matters might the Tea Party Gang use their extortion tactics to demand further ransom? Perhaps requiring a repeal of Health Care Reform in exchange for continuing to fund the Pentagon? Maybe demand elimination of all capital gains taxes, as the price for allowing FEMA funds to cover recovery from Hurricane Irene?
Lock up anything that can be held hostage. The Republicans are coming back from vacation.
- The Republicans Should Take More Hostages (fdlaction.firedoglake.com)
- Congress reaches deal to end FAA shutdown (cbsnews.com)
- Do Democrats Have a Plan for the Next Hostage Crisis? [Politics] (gawker.com)
- Jonathan Weiler: The Hostage-Taking Metaphor Paints Democrats as Weak (huffingtonpost.com)
- Republicans Have Already Taken Their Hostages For “Super Congress” Negotiations (alan.com)
- Republicans Hold FAA Authorization Vote Hostage To Extort Anti-Union Deal (crooksandliars.com)
- Why Does Congress Permit Blackmail in Politics? (goodolewoody.wordpress.com)
- Editorial: To Escape Chaos, a Terrible Deal (nytimes.com)
- How S&P made it more likely the GOP will hold the debt ceiling hostage again (americablog.com)
- Next FAA shutdown deadline is Sept. 16 and John Mica wants the upper hand (dailykos.com)
About dcpetterson (198 posts)
D. C. Petterson is a novelist and a software consultant in Minnesota who has been writing science fiction since the age of six. He is the author of A Melancholy Humour, Rune Song and Still Life. He lives with his wife, two dogs, two cats, and a lizard, and insists that grandchildren are the reward for having survived teenagers. When not writing stories or software, he plays guitar and piano, engages in political debate, and reads a lot of history and physics texts—for fun. Follow on Twitter @dcpetterson