It gets worse. Romney has promised to use the “reconciliation” process to repeal Obamacare. But what will replace it? Well, again, chaos, no doubt, but also the Ryan plan—named for its author, Wisconsin Republican and Ayn Rand devotee Representative Paul Ryan, and now gospel among the GOP faithful. Romney has called himself “very supportive” of the plan, adding: “I think it’d be marvelous if the Senate were to pick up Paul Ryan’s budget and adopt it and pass it along to the president.” The House of Representatives has already passed it 235 to 193, with only four Republicans in opposition.
Among its provisions is a rise in the eligibility age for Medicare for future retirees and a retraction in Medicaid coverage, including its replacement by a voucher system. The net result would be not only the jump in the size of the deficit predicted by the Congressional Budget Office, but also, according to the calculations of the Urban Institute, the loss of Medicaid coverage for 27 million Americans. Meanwhile, another 30 million people—many of them children—would lose the insurance included in Obamacare. Add it all up and, according to Harvard health policy researcher (and former Obama administration official) David Blumenthal, writing in The New England Journal of Medicine, “by 2020, 20% of Americans may be uninsured, even as 20% of our gross domestic product is devoted to health care.”
America’s children will also feel the wrath of Romney and the radical Republicans when it comes to education policy. Romney calls school choice “the civil rights issue of our era.” His education proposals eschew any new funding for public schools, preferring to direct it toward private school vouchers, privately managed charter schools and for-profit online schools. Like Wisconsin’s Scott Walker and other Koch-funded right-wing demagogues, Romney blames public school teachers and their unions not only for the failures of the US education system, but also for the fiscal problems facing state and local governments. He hopes to weaken these bastions of Democratic fundraising and people power by using federal funds to reward states for “eliminating or reforming teacher tenure.” (Republican budget plans also slash programs like Head Start.)
As education expert Diane Ravitch observes, “Vouchers have been the third rail of education politics since Milton Friedman proposed them in 1955.” But in what she calls a likely “template for the Romney plan,” the Louisiana legislature instituted a voucher system independent of a popular vote. Ravitch explains, “With no increase in funding, all the money for vouchers and private vendors and online charters will be deducted from the state’s public education budget.” Beneficiaries in Louisiana have included outfits like the Eternity Christian Academy, a school with only fourteen students that applied under the voucher system to enroll an additional 135. According to Reuters, its students “sit in cubicles for much of the day and move at their own pace through Christian workbooks, such as a beginning science text that explains ‘what God made’ on each of the six days of creation.” Students are not exposed to the theory of evolution because, as the pastor turned principal explains, “We try to stay away from all those things that might confuse our children.”
At the university level, Romney will encourage private sector involvement by inviting commercial banks to profit from the federal student loan program, in keeping with the right-wing Republican fear of (and contempt for) knowledge. Romney also favors the creation of for-profit online universities, recently described in a report by Senator Tom Harkin, chairman of the Senate health and education committee, as institutions characterized by “exorbitant tuition, aggressive recruiting practices, abysmal student outcomes, taxpayer dollars spent on marketing and pocketed as profit, and regulatory evasion and manipulation.”
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Then there’s the Supreme Court. The Roberts Court is already America’s most conservative since the New Deal. But with the addition of a single Romney nomination, it will become a rubber stamp for the ideological obsessions, corporate demands, and religious fanaticism on display at Tea Party rallies and Fox News–sponsored debates.
One need only take note of what former New York Times Supreme Court reporter Linda Greenhouse termed the “breathtaking radicalism” of the four dissenters in the Affordable Care Act decision to see where a Romney-appointed Court will be headed. With their signed opinions in the ACA case, Justices Scalia, Alito, Thomas and Kennedy “outed themselves,” in the words of legal scholar Jeffrey Rosen, “as partisans of the Constitution in Exile—the movement of economic libertarians who want the courts to resurrect pre–New Deal limits on federal power in order to dismantle the regulatory state piece by piece.” Three of the justices will turn 80 or older during the next four years, and a fourth will be 77. One more vote and the Roberts Court will enjoy unchecked power to increase the legal rights of corporations to pollute our air and rivers; mistreat workers and fire them should they complain; discriminate on the basis of race, gender or sexual orientation; decertify unions; and control our political discourse with secretive campaign contributions and relentlessly scurrilous advertisements—indeed, to reduce the security of every American citizen. As legal reporter Dahlia Lithwick has written, “If you care about the future of abortion rights, stem cell research, worker protections, the death penalty, environmental regulation, torture, presidential power, warrantless surveillance, or any number of other issues, it’s worth recalling that the last stop on the answer to each of those matters will probably be before someone in a black robe.”
One area where the courts are certain to matter is immigration policy. It was here that Romney chose to burnish his Tea Party credentials most energetically during the primary season. He called Arizona’s draconian SB 1070—the one that allowed anyone’s papers to be checked on suspicion of looking Hispanic—a “model” for the rest of the nation. (This was before the Court found its key provisions unconstitutional.) He came out in favor of “self-deportation”—actually a right-wing euphemism for an immigration strategy of “attrition through enforcement”—and promised to veto the DREAM Act should its supporters somehow manage to pass it. Cognizant of how many votes this belligerent nativism would likely cost him among Hispanic voters, however, Romney has refused to say anything substantive on this issue since wrapping up the nomination. Still, it is no secret where he and his party stand, as immigration is one of the most animating issues for Tea Party enthusiasts.
Regarding the foreign policy agenda—which, after all, is where a president has the most freedom of action—an internal dossier from McCain’s presidential campaign noted back in 2008 that “Romney’s foreign affairs résumé is extremely thin, leading to credibility problems.” His disastrous July misadventures abroad did little to disabuse anyone of this view. Romney has surrounded himself with a group of extremely hawkish advisers, who even Colin Powell worries are “quite far to the right.” None had the prescience to oppose America’s disastrous invasion of Iraq, and more than a few give the impression of looking forward to trying something like it again.
Like most Republicans—and, to be fair, most Democrats—Romney has had next to nothing to say about America’s major foreign policy headaches of the past decade: Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. But if Romney becomes president, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a Vegas oddsmaker willing to take bets against an Israeli, American or American/Israeli attack on Iran. While the Obama administration’s rhetoric on the question has hardly been reassuring to those who continue to favor diplomacy over bombing, Romney almost always manages to go the president one better. Romney has called Iran’s leaders the “greatest threat to the world since the fall of the Soviet Union, and before that, Nazi Germany.” He says he would not even consult Congress before beginning an attack. As he explained on CBS’s Face the Nation in mid-June, “If I’m president, the Iranians will have no question but that I will be willing to take military action if necessary to prevent them from becoming a nuclear threat to the world. I don’t believe at this stage, therefore, if I’m president, that we need to have a war powers approval or special authorization for military force. The president has that capacity now.”
True, an attack would likely cause a conflagration in the Middle East, including missile attacks on Tel Aviv (as the Iranians have promised), a violent uprising among the Palestinians, the end of the Palestinian Authority and the unchallenged ascension of Hamas on the West Bank and Hezbollah in Lebanon, and a likely wave of terrorism against Israeli and American targets worldwide. But insofar as Romney and the Republican Party’s current foreign policy is concerned—dominated as it is by neoconservative adventurists, far-right American Jewish funders like Sheldon Adelson, and evangelicals obsessed with Israel’s role in biblical revelation—whatever Bibi Netanyahu wants, Bibi gets.