The New Republican Landscape
Published: April 17, 2011
Six months after voters sent Republicans in large numbers to Congress and many statehouses, it is possible to see the full landscape of destruction that their policies would cause — much of which has already begun. If it was not clear before, it is obvious now that the party is fully engaged in a project to dismantle the foundations of the New Deal and the Great Society, and to liberate business and the rich from the inconveniences of oversight and taxes.
At first it seemed that only a few freshmen and noisy followers of the Tea Party would support the new extremism. But on Friday, nearly unanimous House Republicans showed just how far their mainstream has been dragged to the right. They approved on strict party lines the most regressive social legislation in many decades, embodied in a blueprint by the budget chairman, Paul Ryan. The vote, from which only four Republicans (and all Democrats) dissented, would have been unimaginable just eight years ago to a Republican Party that added a prescription drug benefit to Medicare.
Mr. Ryan called the vote “our generation’s defining moment,” and indeed, nothing could more clearly define the choice that will face voters next year.
His bill would end the guarantee provided by Medicare and Medicaid to the elderly and the poor, which has been provided by the federal government with society’s clear assent since 1965. The elderly, in particular, would be cut adrift by Mr. Ryan. People now under 55 would be required to pay at least $6,400 more for health care when they qualified for Medicare, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Fully two-thirds of his $4.3 trillion in budget cuts would come from low-income programs.
In addition to making “entitlement” a dirty word, the Ryan bulldozer would go much further in knocking down government programs to achieve its goals. It would cut food stamps by $127 billion, or 20 percent, over the next 10 years, almost certainly increasing hunger among the poor. It would cut Pell grants for all 9.4 million student recipients next year, removing as many as one million of them from the program altogether. It would remove more than 100,000 low-income children from Head Start, and slash job-training programs for the unemployed desperate to learn new skills.
And it would do all that while preserving the Bush tax cuts for the rich, and even expanding them. Regulation of business and the environment would be sharply reduced.
The mania for blindly cutting has also spread to statehouses, many with new Republican governors and legislatures. Several states have cut their unemployment benefits below the standard 26 weeks. Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona has proposed removing 138,000 people from Medicaid. Many recession-battered states, including some led by Democrats, have been forced to cut other services because Republicans have made it so politically difficult to raise taxes. Education, mental health and juvenile justice funds have been particular targets.
In Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, Maine and Florida, Republican governors have used the smokescreen of a poor economy to pursue a long-held conservative goal of destroying public and private unions. This has nothing to do with creating jobs, of course, and it has shocked many blue-collar voters who are suddenly second-guessing their support for Republicans last November. Several states are also adopting Arizona-style anti-immigrant laws.
President Obama, after staying in the shadows too long, is starting to illuminate the serious damage that Republicans are doing. Their vision, he said last week, “is less about reducing the deficit than it is about changing the basic social compact in America.” Other Democrats are also beginning to stand up and reject these ideas, having been cowed for months by the electoral wave. Their newfound confidence will give voters a clearer view of this bare and pessimistic landscape.