Saturday, April 17, 2010

Actions Speak Louder than Words, Sometimes

As a parent, I’ve learned that no matter what I can’t just leave. As a professional, I can’t just quit my job. As a taxpayer, I can’t just decide I don’t want to pay taxes. If my daughter does something I don’t like, I’m still her parent and as such need to continue raising and teaching her. I can’t just walk away and say, I don’t like that I’m leaving. I’m responsible for her upbringing. As a teacher, if the school does something I don’t like, that does not allow me to reasonably just up and quit in the middle of the day, or the middle of the week.

As a matter of fact in Florida teachers are restricted by law from going on strike. However, a few weeks ago, the entire Republican delegation of the U.S. Senate decided to leave their jobs as a form of protest over the passage of health care reform. The entire Republican caucus of the U.S. Senate fell into line as their leadership invoked a rule of the Senate NEVER before used in the history of that august body. As a protest/stunt the Republicans made the entire body stop business at 2 o’clock on the following day. This rule while never before enacted, had been written so that the Congressmen’s’ horses would be able to see on the way home. (OK so I made that up, but I can’t think of a better reason.) This group of adult men and women were upset that they had lost a series of votes and therefore decided that shutting down the place where they work was the proper answer to that set back.

The Republicans made a big deal about a procedural tactic used to pass a bill called reconciliation. Reconciliation is a technical procedure to allow controversial policies to get passed into law with a simple majority of support. This technique was first written into law in 1974. It has been used 23 times in the 36 years since its creation. Republicans utilized the procedure on 16 occasions (very often on budget resolutions).

This is the mechanism by which Democrats were able to successfully pass healthcare reform. This legislation was a centerpiece of President Obama’s campaign in 2008. Republicans consider these changes in our healthcare system to be quite a detriment to our society. There is a fear that this creates a whole new government bureaucracy, and pushes the country toward socialism.

For over a year, the American Public has heard people talk about how bad this bill is. Propaganda like “There will be a figures in black hoods taking part in “Death Panels”, that will kill my grandmother if her healthcare becomes too expensive.” This along with supposed cutting of social security and/or Medicare were all thrown around in an attempt to scare the general public into rallying their respective Congressmen/Senators to vote against this bill. There is nothing in this bill that suggests death panels, or rationing of care. The ‘death panels’ misunderstanding came from an amendment put forward by Congressmen Isakson (R) of Georgia. This amendment would have the government pay for a meeting between the individual and his or her doctor to create a living will.[1] Boy Howdy, doesn’t that death panel thing sound better… You Betcha.

Another complaint is that the new law would send the federal deficit through the roof. There’s an old saying about numbers and liars that I don’t want to get into. Considering the budgets that were passed by the previous Administration I have faith the Republicans know what they are talking about when it comes to running significant budget deficits. I however, have faith in the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office when it says that the program is fiscally sound.[2] Honestly, who the hell knows? What I do know is that the people who are bashing the economic solvency of this bill are the same Republican brain trust that talked about how bad President Clinton’s economic policies were. I hope we can return to the horror of those frightening budget surpluses.

These are but two of the reasons numerous pundits talk about how this legislation will lead to the Republicans possibly taking control of the Congress and with luck the Senate in the upcoming elections this November. While it is normal for the minority party to pick up seats in an off year election; it is not always as significant a number as we saw in 1994 or 2010. I can understand the belief that there will be some Republican gains, but 40 seats in the House and 10 seats in the Senate is a bit too much. What causes such a tidal shift in these chambers?

Well, what causes most people to be cynical about politicians in general? Most of them say one thing to get into office, and then do something different once elected. In fancy wonk speak that is known as demobilizing the base. When President Clinton made healthcare reform and gays in the military signature issues at the beginning of his Presidency, and then didn’t come through on either of them. He was perceived as ineffectual and therefore the base of the party did not come out for him in 1994.[3]

As you can see from the above chart when asked about the main parts of the new law, it is overwhelmingly popular. What this means is as long as the people know what is in the law they will not be dissuaded from coming out and supporting the Democrats. President Obama came into office and said he was going to pass this reform and he did it.

The President said he was going to pass a stimulus package to get the economy going again, and he did that as well. Unfortunately, the recovery is taking longer than any of us would like, but all of the indicators are their saying the national economy is going in the right direction. There are any number of actions that he has taken to fulfill his campaign promises, but I do not want to give you a laundry list. These things are only brought up to show that the accomplishments of the Administration should not cause a depressed electoral base.

Until recently, I had no real problems with the Republicans. All of their actions were understandable; I support the idea that you should voice your opposition in full throat if necessary to make certain that you are heard. My problems start with the co-opting of the whole party by the fringe rightwing elements. Spitting on people, and using derogatory terms are totally unnecessary, not to mention harmful to your own cause. Having Palin and Beck suggest violence is an example of going way too far as well. These are unfortunately, not unheard of in the halls of our Democracy. These oversteps of decorum occur whenever one side or the other feels they are very obviously losing a very important battle. The Republicans even invoked a rule never before used in the Senate to stop all business after 2 p.m. I guess this was their way of saying that if we do not get our way everybody needs to go home. That is remarkably childish.

If the Republicans really thought they were going to be on the winning side of history in this case, then they would just move forward without such stunts. Use the fact that no Republicans voted for this legislation in about 7 ½ months to take over both chambers, and repeal this legislation. However, shutting down the workplace smacks of desperation and gimmickry. Maybe that is why they only did it for one day.

President Obama was brought into office with a number of Congressmen and Senators on a platform whose central plank was healthcare reform. To think that he will appear ineffectual to his base and the country now that this part of his agenda has gone through seems unlikely. I’m curious which party seems less successful in its goals at this moment and time?





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