When the Republicans took control of Congress during President Bill Clinton’s first term, it took a while before the “Gingrich Republicans” imploded. Newt Gingrich rose to prominence as Speaker of the House by helping to craft and deliver the Republicans’ “Contract with America,” a document outlining their legislative initiatives. One of the young Turks in Gingrich’s inner circle was John Boehner, the man who is about to take over the position once occupied by his former mentor.
Boehner has been getting a good deal of face time and ink lately. Although he has been around the national political scene for two decades, the country is now getting to know the man with the tan and the new plan for America. Borrowing a page from the Gingrich playbook and delivering the Republicans’ “Pledge to America,” Boehner has put himself on the front lines of the war against President Barack Obama alongside Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the man who stated that his No. 1 objective is to ensure that Obama is a one-term president.
Both men are unapologetic when it comes to defending big business, tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and political campaign donations. McConnell’s all-night filibuster against the McCain-Feingold bill for campaign finance reform and the infamous incident when Boehner handed out contributions from tobacco companies to his colleagues on the House floor speak volumes about what makes them tick.
And that’s cool. It illustrates who they are and what their intentions are: power and control. But lately the platitudes they’re offering through McConnell’s measured speeches about wanting Obama to change and Boehner’s public blubbering on 60 Minutes sound disingenuous, particularly in light of Republicans strong-arming Congress to push through the Tax Relief Unemployment Extension Bill, extending what are known colloquially as the “Bush Era Tax Cuts.”
Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, famously wrote, “If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, we have at least to consider the possibility that we have a small aquatic bird of the family Anatidae on our hands.” Perhaps an appropriate update might be: “If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and shits all over your living room carpet while flapping about and knocking over your valuables, we have to consider the possibility it’s actually an elephant in duck’s clothing.” And this is no lame duck we’re talking about here. In fact, this duck is vibrant enough to hobble America with its arrogance.
The bill has Americans quibbling over the fine points, namely the extension of tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans. While this might be deplorable, it’s hardly the most outrageous thing happening at the moment. The bill is essentially a third-round stimulus package that pumps nearly $1 trillion back into the economy over the next two years, requiring the federal government to dig deeper into debt while we attempt to pull out of the Great Recession. It’s a gamble that may actually boost President Obama’s approval ratings in the coming months if consumers begin to feel that things are turning around. Or not.
Either way, the real crime here is the way in which Democrats and Republicans alike have negotiated this bill and the $8 billion of proposed earmarks that come along with it. What’s remarkable about this number is that it exceeds the entire amount requested in the Zadroga bill to compensate 9/11 responders who are dealing with illnesses related to cleaning up the toxic aftermath of the World Trade Center collapse. (Watch Jon Stewart’s reaction piece to Republican hypocrisy related to 9/11 – you’ll laugh through your tears.)
The wave of anger that swept away so many incumbents and installed an entirely new cadre of jackals in November was powerful and effective. But anger burns faster than Boehner’s two-pack-a-day habit.
President Obama may be taking hits for being cool and aloof, but by the time the next election cycle comes around he may look like the only sane one in the room. As president, maybe he should be calm, cool and collected. What has me flummoxed is how the tri-state congressmen and senators aren’t publicly losing their minds every day like Rep. Anthony Weiner did with Rep. Peter King – and that was an argument over procedure by two guys who favor the Zadroga bill.While Republicans in Congress have been busy masquerading as thinking, feeling human beings, the Democrats are busy feasting on their favorite meal: themselves. Any hope that they would muster some palpable outrage to aid the Zadroga bill quietly drowned in the tidal wave of tax cut rhetoric. Not even Sen. Charles Schumer, one of the most powerful Senators in modern times, could marshal enough votes to bring the bill forward, let alone raise his voice. As he took the Senate floor to urge his colleagues to “step up to the plate” and pass the 9/11 Health Care bill, he calmly yielded the floor four minutes later. At least Boehner cries when he thinks about billionaires having to pay 3 percent more on their taxes.