Cruel and Unusual Politics

Cruel and Unusual Politics


The US Capitol Building. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

The words most frequently used to describe House Republicans these days are “crazy” and “stupid.” And it’s not just liberal columnists and Democratic politicians who are questioning the GOP’s basic sanity and IQ. No less than the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal characterized the latest scheme to defund Obamacare by threatening an imminent government shutdown as “inept” and a “kamikaze mission”; Karl Rove called it “ill-conceived”; and North Carolina’s Richard Burr castigated it as “the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard of,” which says quite a lot coming from a senator who once introduced a bill to abolish the EPA.

The name-calling makes for good TV, and the GOP crack-up no doubt thrills many a progressive with a jolt of schadenfreude. All the Senate Democrats and several Republicans are opposed to this latest Tea Party hostage-taking plot, so the chances it will succeed in gutting Obamacare are nonexistent—though we may see a government shutdown before the rest of the GOP realizes the futility of this gambit and the damage it would do to their electoral odds. But all this attention to congressional procedures and electoral point-scoring misses something quite profound about what the GOP has proposed in the past few months: a chillingly cruel vision of society in which tens of millions struggle to survive in abject misery while the richest of the rich get richer. Call it Elysium in the real world, 2013.

Indeed, the day before the House voted to defund the Affordable Care Act, it passed a farm bill that would cut $40 billion from the federal food stamp program, which helps feed 48 million Americans, 3 million of whom would immediately lose their benefits should the GOP get its way. Conservatives like Paul Ryan berated the program for lulling “able-bodied” Americans into a “culture of dependency.” The program, however, provides on average just $4.45 a day, and most of its beneficiaries are children, the elderly and the disabled. The GOP demanded that food stamp recipients find jobs or participate in job-training programs. But it’s these same House Republicans who have failed to pass a single jobs bill, while also voting to cut job-training programs. The message, then, to the 17 million Americans who struggle to find enough food to eat is quite simple: time to starve.

Likewise, if the Affordable Care Act were to be scrapped, the GOP has no solution for Americans who lack affordable coverage or have pre-existing conditions. Once again, the implicit message is that people should simply submit to the vicissitudes of the free market—that society should just let the uninsured die. And the recent campaign to persuade young Americans not to enroll in Obamacare, while derided for its clownish execution, has a dark intent: actively encouraging young people not to seek healthcare.

Republicans may not succeed in enacting these miserable policies, but they are winning the larger debate: the Democratic counteroffer to the GOP food stamp proposal was a “modest” $4.5 billion reduction. There has been zero discussion of the need to expand benefits. Similarly, Democrats have failed to mount a credible challenge to the crippling sequester cuts. In short, the debate in Washington still accepts the false framework that government is spending too much, with Democrats relegated to doing damage control. With the GOP threatening a debt ceiling breach later this fall, it’s time for more Democrats to join the Progressive Caucus, supporting its powerful case for an active government that fights for ordinary Americans.

George Zornick lays out just how callous the Republican-controlled House is in a blog post that examines the federal food stamp program.

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