Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Continuing Extremism of Congressional Republicans

by Neil H. Buchanan

There is no question that moderation has died in the Republican Party, especially among those in the U.S. House and Senate.  From the environment to gun safety to women's rights to economic inequality to judicial appointments, congressional Republicans continue to vote in lockstep to pass an agenda that would make even Ronald Reagan cringe.

Recent events, however, have raised hopes that some of those extremely conservative Republicans will begin to act differently.  Might some, including those who are retiring -- the two most celebrated being Senators Bob Corker and Jeff Flake -- at last be willing to buck the party line and vote against the most extreme policies that their leaders have (since long before Donald Trump came along) been forcing down the country's collective throat?

Not a chance.  The underlying policy situation has not changed, with Republicans in Congress moving forward on their extreme agenda no matter what their feelings are about Trump's fitness for office or their worries about being complicit in the demise of democracy or nuclear Armageddon.  The United States Congress is still a place where elected Republicans go to give to the rich and take from everyone else.

The most recent example of this is the Senate's rejection this week of a regulation that would have prevented financial institutions from inserting forced arbitration clauses into their form contracts with customers.  Arbitration is great for banks and terrible for customers, and Wall Street has been whining about this proposed regulation while claiming (as they always do) that they merely want to eliminate "frivolous lawsuits."

(As an aside, I cannot help but note that the news article -- not an opinion piece -- in The Washington Post that described the Senate's vote included this nugget: "After years of suffering under tough regulations imposed after the global financial crisis, bankers had been giddy at the prospect of a regulatory reprieve."  Suffering?!  Then how is it that "American bank profits are higher than ever"?  May we all suffer so horribly.)

One might think that this could be an issue on which even some conservative Republicans would take a deep breath.  The recent Wells Fargo and Equifax scandals have hardly made the financial industry more popular in the public's eyes, and it is not difficult to imagine a Republican who values her or his moderate (or "principled" or "reasonable") street-cred saying that there is nothing good about forcing victims of Wall Street wrongdoing to have their fates decided in secret proceedings without due process.

But there were exactly two of those creatures.  The Senate's vote was 50-50, with Vice President Pence voting with his party to kill the proposed regulation.  Who were the two Republicans who voted with the 48 Democrats?  Lindsey Graham (who correctly called arbitration "a windfall for the companies in terms of how you settle their cheating") and Louisiana's John Kennedy.

This means that every other Republican who has ever put on airs about being independent or moderate or principled went along with their colleagues to allow banks to continue to cheat their customers.  All three of the supposedly principled conservatives who have made news in recent weeks by breaking with Donald Trump -- Senators Bob Corker, Jeff Flake, and John McCain -- rejected their fellow hyper-conservative colleague Graham and went along with Republican party leaders' effort to continue to feed Wall Street.

This is only surprising to people who imagine that these senators are somehow not comfortably in the pocket of moneyed interests.  Corker and Flake are hard-right ideologues who happen to believe that the president should not be a blithering idiot with no impulse control.  McCain is a cold warrior who is worried about Trump's isolationism.  McCain surprised everyone by rejecting the Republicans' unprincipled health care bills, but he did so on procedural grounds.

And did any of the other names that are often bandied about as either moderates or principled, reasonable conservatives oppose the bill?  Ohio's Rob Portman, whose only claim to moderation is his decision not to oppose same-sex marriage because he found out that his son is gay?  Nebraska's Ben Sasse, whose pretensions to intellectualism (and occasional mild tut-tutting of Trump) have made him a media darling?  No to both.

What about Lisa Murkowski, one of the other two Republican senators who killed one of the Republicans' health-care bills over the summer (but who never came out against the even worse Graham-Cassidy bill this fall)?  Or Nevada's Dean Heller, who caved on health care in July after being seated next to Trump at a lunch?  No, and no again.

And what of the pundit class's ultimate example of the principled and moderate Republican, Maine's Susan Collins?  Collins received a great deal of credit after joining McCain and Murkowski (and, let us remember, 48 Democrats) to kill TrumpMcConnellCare, and she even came out fairly quickly against Graham-Cassidy.  (Remember, Graham is the moderate hero in the forced arbitration vote, but he was fine with the health care mess.)

But where was Collins on this vote?  Siding with the full slate of Senate Republicans to give Wall Street a big win.  None of which should be surprising, because Collins reputation does not match the reality.

During the 2016 general election campaign, Collins made big news by coming out against Trump.  Yet she would not endorse Hillary Clinton -- who, Collins readily admitted, was "clearly qualified to be president" -- because Collins said that Clinton was making "[p]romises of free this and free that, that I believe would bankrupt our country."

Aha.  So Collins is all about not bankrupting the country!  In faux-moderate-speak, that means not running up big deficits.  (Leave aside the minor fact that Clinton's spending proposals were extremely moderate and paid for -- and that, even if they had increased deficits, they would still have improved the country's overall financial position, not moved us toward bankruptcy.)  We can therefore be sure that Collins will be against big giveaways that will increase the national debt?

Not a chance.  Republicans in the Senate just passed a budget blueprint (now also now passed by the House) "that would protect a $1.5 trillion tax cut from a Democratic filibuster."  Principled enough for you?

It gets better/worse.  "The budget resolution could also pave the way for opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil exploration by ensuring that drilling legislation can pass with only Republican votes."  Reasonable, indeed.

Did any Republicans vote against the budget resolution?  In the House, some blue-state Republicans voted no because they are (rightly) opposed to White House's desire to repeal the state-and-local tax deduction.  But in the Senate, only arch-libertarian Rand Paul voted no, "in protest of what he deemed excessive spending."

So it was not just Collins who went along for the ride to pass regressive tax cuts.  It was McCain, Graham, Portman, Heller, Flake, Corker, Murkowski, and every other Republican.  I have no doubt that some of them will claim that this was merely a procedural vote, and they will fight later about particular tax proposals.  But that is a dodge.  They just all but guaranteed that some version of a "budget-busting" tax cut for rich people and large corporations will pass.

None of which, again, is surprising.  These people have been making it clear for years who and what they are.  Not only are they not moderate, but they are not even principled conservatives,  nor are they amendable to reason.  As a Post columnist wrote about the most recent go-round on the health care mess, "‘Reasonable’ Republicans are betraying us, too."  Rarely have scare quotes been more deserved.


Joe said...

It has also been announced that Lindsey Graham will be a character reference at Sen. Mendendez's trial. Graham's name was attached to the health care bill and generally is consistently conservative but has his moments. Sen. John Neely Kennedy, he of the confusing name, as well. For instance, Kennedy publicly was upset at a conservative judicial nominee doing the usual dance where they don't want to say anything. He'll vote for the candidate, mind you, but he was upset. Lest we think this is totally new, Scalia at his confirmation hearing famously didn't want to firmly support the result of Marbury v. Madison.

Shag from Brookline said...

Growing up in the 1930s/40s I saw my share of Cowboys & Indians movies. The recent Wells Fargo scandal brought back memories of Wells Fargo stagecoach chases/robberies, with the stagecoach drivers fighting off the pursuing robbers and protecting passengers. With the recent scandal, the Wells Fargo "drivers" were robbing the "passengers."

John Barron said...

Let's be honest: It doesn't matter if you are voting for Cory Booker or Cory Gardner; they are both in the back pocket of Big Pharma. The Kleptocrats (there's only one true Party left in America) service the plutocrats, who will eventually get their way. We saw this movie in the 2000s.

Hillary Clinton has spent more time on her knees before the banksters than Madonna had ever contemplated:

And remember the fellow with the big ears? Barry, the Wall Street Water-Boy? We didn't even get spare change from him. No rollback of the Bush tax cuts we couldn't afford. No change in the carried interest rule. No accountability for the 2008 collapse of the banking system -- we prosecuted 29 less banksters than Iceland. No end to our needless wars of empire. No constraints on Big Pharms and Big Insurance. No foreseeable end to deindustrialization of the American heartland. No meaningful curb on global warming. But now, gays can get married. Yay.

Why should reasonable Republicans stand on principle? Flake and Corker are going to need jobs, and even if they had an unexpected bout of conscience, a Cory Booker, Joe Manchin, or Hillary Clinton would step up and take their place.

People voted for Obama out of desperate hope. They voted for Trump out of frustration. There is nowhere left to turn.

Joe said...

Article in the NYT likely troubles the author given his past comments on subject. Inside the article is this comment: "While I.R.S. acknowledged wrongly targeting groups based on political leanings, report this month found that behavior crossed party lines." But:

And, the "wrongly targeting" frame is itself questionable & the article doesn't discuss the details there regarding the nature of the law in question and how certain groups do not get the relevant tax benefit, which explains the whole enterprise.

Shag from Brookline said...

Over at his blog, Eric Posner posted on October 26, 2017 "Are We In A Constitutional Crisis (Yet)?" He does not provide an answer in the post in attempting to come up with a definition of what constitutes such a crises, presenting a couple of interesting graphs. I don't think we are in a constitutional crisis but I believe that many may think we are. Such a crisis may be like porn: You'll know it when you see it. But I've got only one working eye and it doesn't see that well.

John Barron said...

We have a man-child with ADD and the emotional maturity of a two-year-old with his finger on the button. We have a Bill of Rights that is void for want of enforcement. We have a legislature and Department of Justice that are subsidiaries of corporate interests (see The Chickenshit Club at Amazon). We have an ecosphere on the verge of collapse, and as relevant executive agencies sold off to other corporate interests, there is nothing we can do to stop it. And the parasite of faction has consumed our notion of being a people.

Even a blind man can see it. We're in an existential crisis.

Shag from Brookline said...

I can understand an individual being in an existential crisis, or perhaps a related group. But can a nation, ours, have an existential crisis? I did some Googling and came up with a 9/15/17 article titled "Why America's Existential Crisis is Good for the World" at:

Assuming that America has an existential crisis, might that be worse than a constitutional crisis? Could it result in anarchy?

The article was published in the course of the 2016 general election campaign. I'm not challenging John's narrative and could add to it (as I assume John could as well). In the year since the article was published, the situation has worsened. I have not had an existential crisis in my lifetime that I am aware of. There have been many crises in America since my birth in 1930 that I was aware of as they occurred, including WW II, possible nuclear holocausts, Watergate, so many wars after WW II that continue, and the issues America faces today. We have survived. If America does have an existential crisis, how many Americans agree? I don't know if polling addresses this. Meantime the stock market continues to rise. A 3% growth rate was announced for the quarter ended September 30, 2017, despite the hurricanes. I'm not that confident about the economy what with a continuance of political dysfunction. If indeed a significant number of Americans believe America has an existential crisis, what does that portend for America's future? As a geezer and long time progressive, I personally don't have that much to lose, but I still think of two steps forward, one step back. Of course I'm concerned about my children and grandchildren, as well as others Survival instincts are built into Americas and I believe we can survive this crisis, whatever it is called. After all, I survived Watergate - and I never learned to swim.

Shag from Brookline said...

I'm sort of a Luddite in the current world of technology. While I do engage in the Internet, I am not involved with what I read about the social media other than indirectly. I have never owned a cell/smartphone nor do I plan to. I don't have a a geezer "alert" system. I do comment at this and other legal blogs, which I do not consider social media, as they (and I) can get unsocial at times. At some of the news and media websites on my daily Internet activities [no porn, thank you] I see tweets, etc, from social media. Maybe America is in a "social media crisis." But as a semi-Luddite, I am not well qualified to say that we are. I was not into the computer in my private law practice to any significant extent when I closed up shop early in 1995 and went to work for a longtime client as in-house counsel until late 1998 when I went into semi-retirement. I then got involved in the Internet and was amazed by Google and other search programs so I could keep a hand in the game without the need of maintaining a law library and relying less on Boston's Social Law Library and Boston's library system to do some keeping up with the law. With time, accommodating longtime clients diminished; but I was not interested in financial rewards from the small legal projects I would get involved in. The past 3 or 4 years I have not heard from former clients.

But back to social media and whether it is a crisis, a lot has been posted on the Internet on the subject. I no longer read hard copy of much of anything because of eyesight issues, relying upon the Internet with may desktop's magnifying feature, which permits me to read law review and SSRN articles.

I have been reminded by what I read via the Internet of the subject of public relations (PR) that surfaced in the early years of my law practice in representing a start-up corporate client that was rapidly growing in reviewing the client's product and marketing literature. In the course of my research, I learned of Edward Bernays who had been described as the Father of Public Relations. The FTC back in the 1960s had some sticky rules on product advertising. For example, the FTC frowned on the use of the word "FREE," such as "Buy one, get one Free." If you had to buy one, then the second wasn't really "Free." So a shirt in language resulted, at least until the 1980s, to "Buy one, get another at NO ADDITIONAL CHARGE." I read a fair amount of literature written by and about Edward Bernays on the subject of PR and propaganda. The early days of TV saw some huckster advertising that was much more effective than radio advertising that I grew up with in the 1930s/40s. I do recall cereal commercials on kids' radio programs urging us to "corral you're Ma" to buy that cereal, but being an urban kid, I didn't have a lasso. On TV Old Gold Cigarettes commercials with a man in a white coat assured us that with Old Gold there's "not a cough in a carload," which turned out to be a carload of manure.

PR has served some good purposes. But with technology advances with the Internet and social media, it can and has caused a lot of harm, what with claimed 1st A protection. Bernays, a saucy fellow, died at the age of 103. It has been said that his PR was influenced by his uncle Sigmund Freud. Social media can be and has been infected with PR on steroids and/or opioids. But do we have a "social media crisis"? Perhaps some visitors to this Blog who are active in social media might share their thoughts. Meantime, I'll stay away to avoid carpal tunnel syndrome.