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.