Politics over progress

When Republicans delivered their famous midterm shellacking in 2010, they quickly deployed their famous tea party-infused agenda of working to guarantee that President Barack Obama was a one-term wonder. The tactics involved a brazen caucuswide policy of obstructing anything Obama proposed just because he proposed it. Doing so made the 112th Congress the least productive in history – so far – and led to the unseating of no small number of Republicans in 2012 as well as Obama’s re-election. In other words, the strategy backfired.

Apparently, though, congressional Republicans are slow learners. After a brief and not all that intimate a honeymoon after November’s election, wherein some faint glimmers of bipartisanship lit the Washington, D.C., sky, it is back to business at what has now become usual.

Centered around the primary business of the legislative branch – namely that of spending the public’s money – congressional Republicans have launched a renewed effort to sink every Obama priority and are doing so with a tasteless focus on disadvantaged populations as well as critical common resources such as clean air and water. The blatant agenda is offensive and disappointing.

The New York Times reported this strategy Wednesday, saying, “Republicans are open about their intentions to target the president’s priorities.” The laundry list of cuts in various House bills includes a 34 percent slashing of the Environmental Protection Agency budget with new greenhouse-gas regulations completely eliminated, a 16 percent cut in education grants for low-income students as well as a reduction in Community Development Block Grants – primarily used for housing and social programs – from $3.3 billion to $1.7 billion.

The House has responded to Democrats’ funding requests with meager counteroffers: Obama’s $3 billion proposal for energy efficiency and renewables programs was met with an $826 million response from the House. Senate Democrats asked for $380 million to fund energy research; the House offered $70 million. The National Endowment for the Arts, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Internal Revenue Service and Amtrak all face budgetary strangulation under the Republicans’ agenda, as does, of course, the Affordable Care Act.

The most egregious of these attacks originate in the House, where it appears representatives are setting their sights on the 2014 elections – or beyond – rather than the necessary business of realistically funding the government they were elected to run. It would have been reasonable to think that Republicans had been chastened somewhat by November’s election results, at least sufficient to push them to craft a new strategy. Instead, it appears they are rededicating themselves to an obstructionist approach to paralyzing Obama and his party, regardless of who gets hurt in the process.

Of course, this posturing amounts to little more than grandstanding. The House budget slashing will go nowhere outside that chamber, and the Senate’s answer to the proposals will be similarly hog-tied. It is a recipe for a congressional session even less productive than the last – a dubious honor that lawmakers already are on pace to achieve.

Congressional Republicans have themselves to thank for that, and while a defensive strategy certainly is a viable one at times, building an agenda that stings so many people and essential programs reveals a hara-kiri mentality that benefits few and harms many. That is far from leadership.

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