By William Spriggs, AFL-CIO
Back on Sept. 12, the Republican-led House of Representatives voted for the 42nd time to derail the Affordable Care Act. That’s 42 more times than they have voted on raising the minimum wage, increasing federal investments in our roads or highways or helping local school districts get the hundreds of thousands of teachers whose jobs were lost when the Great Recession cut local tax revenue back into our children’s classrooms. That makes the count zero votes on the things America’s families want to see Congress address. Instead, having lost 42 times at this strategy if this were a best of competition, like the World Series best of seven games, House Republicans are now playing for best of out of 85 to see if they can finally derail people from getting access to affordable health insurance.
The catch is that the best of 85 tries they are shooting for is now coming at the expense of all America’s workers having access to their government. So, families of veterans cannot get timely payments to help bury their dead, small business owners cannot get loans, people cannot get their home loan papers approved on time, children are losing out on Head Start, mothers are losing out on food assistance for their children through the Women, Infants and Child (WIC) nutrition program, all so the Republicans can try stopping peoples’ access to health insurance from private health insurance companies.
Having failed through normal channels of getting legislation passed, Republicans sided with conservative strategists who earlier this year conceived a plan to shut down the federal government to force President Barack Obama to concede. Thank goodness the president has stood firm to this reckless behavior and refused to negotiate with these tactics.
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To understand if these tactics are really what Republicans claim to be the new rule of the day, ask how Fox News would react if the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) decided that it would vote against a funding resolution for the government if the House Republican leadership did not pass the comprehensive immigration reform legislation passed early this year by the Senate. With America’s families taking to the streets asking Congress to take action, the CHC would be responding to the will and desires of millions of Americans. I am sure that Fox News’ anchors would go ballistic over national parks being closed and held hostage to demands on immigration reform. Despite analysis from the Congressional Budget Office that passing the immigration act will lower the federal deficit and raise projections of future growth rates for America’s economy, Fox News would insist the government cannot be highjacked by demands from a few members of Congress.
Yet, here we are. The House has held 42 votes to kill access to subsidies for private health insurance to America’s middle-class families, refuses to fix our broken immigration system in a way that would cut the deficit and boost growth and is sticking to its strategy of closing the government to the people.
Their next move is to double down on threatening the fragile state of the economy by repudiating the word and honor of the United States of America. Around the globe, governments, companies and people hold U.S. Treasury notes, because at its founding, America pledged and made good on its word as a fledgling nation to honor its debts. China does not buy U.S. Treasury notes out of some nefarious motive as much as they understand that U.S. Treasury notes are better than gold in the current world economy. Our ability as a nation to have a government with the option of expanding our economy when needed and make investments in our children’s future rests on the bond of the full faith people have that America keeps its word. At the moment, it is what makes us the global leader. Even the thought of reversing the hard-earned legacy of our nation’s 237-year history is to surrender our unique standing in the world. It would be equivalent to sending our nuclear arsenal to China and handing them the global mantle. The world economy would be thrown into disarray as central banks and governments rushed to devise another standard of security. Loan activity would halt because U.S. Treasury notes serve as rock solid collateral for so many transactions.
Clearly, this is not the way to run government. Creating crises that affects the functioning of the government and threatening to create a global economic crisis over the honor of America is not acceptable. If President Obama concedes to this type of strategy, then America will limp from one manufactured crisis to the next. Congress has a responsibility to pass a budget, and to pass legislation to ensure that America pay its debt. President Obama need not bargain anything to get Congress to do its job.
The current potential resolution is a Senate proposal to fund the government at a level below the amount originally proposed by Republican Rep. Paul Ryan for 2014 back when he took power of the House Budget Committee in 2011. Since 2010, the president has negotiated to give Republicans more than they initially requested in budget cuts. The federal deficit is now half the size it was relative to the size of the economy in 2009. And the deficit is projected to continue to fall as a slice of the economy below the targets set by the Super committee that initiated the sequestration cuts.
All this has been the wrong set of policies. The economy is still not recovering from the Great Recession of five years ago: employment is still below its 2007 level, median family incomes are still thousands below their peak and more of America’s children struggle in poverty. Fixating on the deficit is ruining our economy. It is now reckless to engage in further cuts to our children’s education and risk America’s future with inadequate investments in our roads and bridges, and research in science and health, because it is precisely now we need to concentrate on getting people back to work and improving the prospects for continued American growth and prosperity.
It also would be wrong for President Obama to trade our earned benefits from Social Security and Medicare to satisfy the demands of Republicans for low taxes for the richest Americans, many of whom benefited from the bailout of the corrupted banking system. The lesson of this downturn is that America’s families are underinsured for the ups and downs of the economy. Scaring older people and stealing benefits from our children, who will bear the brunt of the cuts, is not going to make America’s economy stronger. Continuing a path of growth too slow to generate jobs and cutting off our children’s future is a poor legacy to leave.
Enough is enough.
Follow Spriggs on Twitter: @WSpriggs.