Point of View Columns

Free Range Congress – On the Loose

Ever since the results of the 2014 midterm elections were finalized, it has been clear that this country would be witness to a different kind of Congress – a Congress that would be unique for all the wrong reasons. Clearly closing down the government, the random blocking presidential appointments and threatening the international credit rating of the United States was just a warmup. The Free Range Congress is now on the loose.

After the 2010 midterm elections, we witnessed the ascent of the Tea Party which, in record time assumed virtual control of the Republican Party in Congress creating the nightmare for most Americans now known as the Teapublican Party. The Teapublican Congress spent two years opposing anything and everything proposed by President Obama, reserving special vitriolic ammunition for anything and everything that might serve to credit the Obama Administration.

It must be understood that the Teapublican Congress was motivated by a single ideological goal – to ensure that President Obama served only one term. It was an ideological goal that sacrificed common sense and logic. It was an ideological goal that provided the justification for causing the United States to default on its national debt. It also justified the shutting down of the federal government.

President Obama’s victory over the newly-minted Teapublican Mitt Romney by six percentage points seemed to stem the Teapublican tide, and clearly hell hath no fury like an unsatisfied zealot. Armed with a new goal, seemingly the eradication of the Obama Administration from history, the Teapublican Congress voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) over fifty times. This feat was accomplished while the infrastructure of the United States continues to crumble in real time and while American children lag behind most of the developed world in terms of educational achievement.

But the 2014 midterm elections brought forth a new phenomenon to Washington – the Free Range Congress. This country is now governed by Congress with a Teapublican majority in both houses and by failing or refusing to read the Constitution, the Free Range Congress seems to operate under the assumption that it now controls the United States.

The sketchy and pathetic and transparently partisan ploy of inviting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to criticize President Obama in Congress was just an opening ploy on the part of the Free Range Congress. That boorish act was followed by the mindless and constitutionally dubious letter to Iran signed by 47 senators obviously in the thrall of the Teapublican catechism.

The Free Range Congress is now warmed up and has presented a budget that will repeal the Affordable Care Act (of course), damning over 12 million Americans to the living purgatory of not having health insurance. The Free Range budget also guts Medicare and Medicaid (naturally) and provides tax breaks and windfalls for millionaires and billionaires (could it be any other way?). The Free Range Congress may prove to be a greater danger to this country than its Teapublican terrorist predecessor.

The Teapublican terrorists sought to hold this country hostage. The Free Range Congress does not seem to care that ignoring the infrastructure, despoiling the environment and extinguishing the hopes of millions of Americans is a recipe for a disaster that does not have to happen.

Most Americans would be shocked and appalled by the actual details of the budget put forward by the Free Range Congress. But then, most Americans do not bother with the details of anything.

Let us hope that this time it will be different.

Point of View Columns

It’s That Vision Thing

Too many people have been treating the presidential debates like some kind of “American Idol” episode where the contestant with the best performance wins. This is particularly troubling when there is an enormous difference in the vision being presented by President Obama and Governor Romney. The Romney/Ryan team is striving mightily to distract the public from their ultimate vision and that is understandable considering the very bleak future that it encompasses.

Mitt Romney has spent a lot of time walking back his infamous trashing of 47% of Americans by claiming that the statement was simply a regretful slip of the tongue. He has gone on to proclaim that his lifelong demonstration of compassion for the less fortunate should erase his momentary poor choice of words.

While Mitt Romney is a child of privilege, he does not possess a free pass on whatever he says. His 47% diatribe described a political strategy and a personal philosophy that was something more than a Rick Perry “oops” moment. Mr. Romney clearly stated that the 47% of the country that does not pay federal tax “has no interest in taking personal responsibility”.

Mr. Romney can moonwalk all he wants, but there are too many veterans, retired social security recipients and working poor who will not be satisfied with the thin gruel of apology that he is serving up. And Mr. Romney insults the intelligence of all of us if he expects us to believe that when he says that he “can’t worry about” that 47% that he was only describing a political strategy in an inelegant fashion.

But what is more important than the debate reviews or Mr. Romney’s 47% two-step is the vision that the Romney-Ryan team is serving up to the American people. A vision of smaller government and lower taxes for the wealthy looks good on paper, but it doesn’t play out so well in real life.

Various non-partisan research groups have concluded that the budget and tax plan envisioned by Paul Ryan and substantially endorsed by Mitt Romney would indeed result in federal tax increases for middle class Americans. What also must be noted that the reduction of federal government spending will result in fewer federal dollars for state and local governments.

That will, of necessity, require states and localities to cut vital services (not just Big Bird). A further consequence of this plan will be state and local tax increases not only for middle class Americans, but for virtually all Americans.

And, in shrinking the size of government, Mr. Romney engaged in a bit of rhetorical prestidigitation by focusing on one set of initials, PBS, as a target of his budget cutting. Some people may have shared a laugh with Mitt Romney targeting Big Bird, after all, how important could Big Bird be?

The answer is that Big Bird and Sesame Street and PBS are pretty damn important. Indeed, for children who do not dwell in the environs of the 1% or even Romney’s 53%, Sesame Street can be the only source of pre-school education. Considering that the Romney-Ryan vision will also eviscerate Head Start and other educational assistance programs, there is nothing funny about targeting PBS.

But Mitt Romney sought to turn attention away from other initialed, federally-funded programs that would be eliminated or shrunk to drowning size in Grover Norquist’s budget. Some of the initials – EPA – the Environmental Protection Agency which has been on the frontlines protecting the air we breathe and the water we drink; FDA – the Food and Drug Administration which has guaranteed the cleanliness of the food chain in this country; CDC – the Center for Disease Control which is Ground Zero in the fight against infectious diseases and epidemics which could easily become a part of the American way of life without proper, and well-funded, efforts by CDC.

The list of agencies and programs that would be targeted as a result of the Romney-Ryan budget is gruesome in its length. And as far as vision is concerned, does anyone think that programs that created the Hoover Dam, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the G.I. Bill, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security could ever see the light of day in the Romney-Ryan vision?

Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan and the Teapublicans are quite clear on this point. The answer is a resounding “No”, and that is not a misstatement.