GOP Mission Accomplished

Tea Party Republicans showed what stubbornness and working on behalf of organized money can accomplish as they forced President Obama and the Democrats to knuckle under on the debt ceiling deal rather than risk default.

House Speaker John Boehner, who answered to the 87 teabaggers during debt ceiling negotiations, said, “I got 98% of what I wanted. I’m pretty happy.”

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said Republicans discovered the debt ceiling is “a hostage that’s worth ransoming.” Whoever is the next president will have go through the process again, McConnell said.

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It should be no surprise that S&P criticized the federal government, after the Republicans refused to negotiate and blocked all attempts to increase revenue, which is plainly needed in the long run to retire the debt.

But the idea that the US is a worse credit risk than France or the United Kingdom is nonsense and the market rightly ignored S&P’s judgment. Paul Krugman noted Aug. 8, “S&P declared that US debt is no longer a safe investment; yet investors are piling into US debt, not out of it, driving the 10-year interest rate below 2.4% This amounts to a massive market rejection of S&P’s concerns.”

But the US economy remains stalled. The nation gained 117,00 jobs in July, dropping the official unemployment rate a click, to 9.1% (representing 14 million people), but that decline in the unemployment rate was due to people who have stopped looking for a job and were no longer counted, the Economic Policy Institute noted. If those discouraged workers were counted, the unemployment rate would be 10.7%. The underemployment rate, which includes people who work part-time but want full-time jobs, also declined a click to 16.1%. That means 25.1 million workers need a full-time job. Those people don’t need budget cuts or lower taxes; they need jobs.

To get back to the pre-recession unemployment rate (5% in December 2007), somebody must create 11.1 million jobs. To get there by the middle of 2014, 400,000 new jobs are needed every month. Republicans have not offered any solutions other than tax cuts and deregulation. Instead, the budget cuts the GOP required in the debt ceiling deal will slow growth and make joblessness worse. EPI estimated that the spending cuts, along with the failure to extend the payroll tax holiday and emergency unemployment benefits, will cost 1.8 million jobs through 2012.

Obama is trying to pivot to a jobs program, with proposals to extend those payroll tax cuts and unemployment benefits, set up an infrastructure bank, complete trade deals with South Korea, Colombia and Panama and reform the patent process. But the debt deal restricts any new spending, patent reforms are unlikely to have an immediate impact on jobs and the trade deals are likely to alienate organized labor. The AFL-CIO labor federation is opposed to all three trade deals, but especially the proposed US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, given the high incidence of violence against labor organizers in Colombia.

Democrats in Congress should oppose “free trade” agreements with nations that do not have enforceable labor, health and environmental standards — and that includes the trade deals now before Congress. They should inform the White House that they will not support any cuts in Social Security or Medicare benefits. Instead, they should hang the Medicare cuts Republicans already have voted for around the necks of their GOP opponents. And they should call for a constitutional amendment that corporations are not persons and are not entitled to the same constitutional protections as natural people.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) has introduced the BUILD Act, which would create an American Infrastructure Financing Authority to help finance public works projects. With an initial investment of $10 billion, it could leverage more than $600 billion in private investments to repair, modernize and expand roads, bridges, water and energy infrastructure. Supporters of the project include the AFL-CIO and the US Chamber of Commerce.

The BUILD Act could mean up to 2.6 million new jobs, based on an analysis from the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM). But it would increase the debt, improve the economy and make Obama look good, so the GOP will never go along with it.

But the American people will go along with creating jobs. AAM commissioned a bipartisan poll of 1,202 likely voters, conducted June 14-19 that found just 29% want Washington to focus on deficit reduction while 67% favor job creation. Independents also favored job creation 67% to 28%. Even likely Republican primary voters favored job creation over debt reduction, 55% to 41%. “Creating manufacturing jobs in the US” and “strengthening manufacturing in this country” are the top voter priorities for the president. But only 50% of voters believe that president Obama is working to create manufacturing jobs, an 11% drop from 2010. Congress fares even worse — 41% say Dems in Congress are working to create jobs, while 32% see the GOP working to create jobs.

Many liberals sat out the 2010 election because they were dissatisfied with Barack Obama’s accomplishments in his first two years in office. But, quite the opposite of making Obama more progressive, liberals who thought to punish Obama instead let the right wing take over the House of Representatives.

Nancy Pelosi was the most accomplished liberal House speaker since John McCormack in the 1960s, as she kept her majority in line. But the new Republican majority replaced her with John Boehner, who is in thrall to the most reactionary elements in the country. Hopes for further economic stimulus were lost.

But that’s not all: Republicans also seized control of 55 of 99 state legislative chambers, the most since 1952, and 26 state legislatures. Republicans gained control of the legislatures and governor’s offices in Alabama, Indiana, Maine, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin; they gained control of the legislatures in Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire and North Carolina, but are tempered in those states by Democratic governors.

The flipping of statehouses was especially important because it puts Republicans in charge of redrawing 190 congressional districts in those 26 states, out of 435 districts nationwide. That has resulted in gerrymandering such as splitting Austin, Texas, five ways among districts stretching to San Antonio, Fort Worth, Houston, Waco and West Texas in an effort to elect four Republicans and one Latino Democrat, targeting US Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Austin).

Republican legislatures have been busy trying to make it more difficult for labor unions to organize and represent government workers — who tend to be aligned with the Democrats. GOP legislatures also have been passing restrictive voter ID laws that threaten to disenfranchise students, minorities and the elderly who do not have drivers license or other approved government IDs. Some states also have made it much more difficult for independent groups to register voters, in what is seen as an an attempt to discourage Democratic voters.

Democrats, led by organized labor, have risen up against the Republican power grab in states such as Wisconsin and Ohio, where voters are able to petition to recall abusive legislators and/or repeal unpopular bills.

Wisconsin voters turned out in high numbers Aug. 9 for elections to recall six Republican senators who were part of the high-handed effort led by Gov. Scott Walker (R) to crush the public unions and privatize many government functions.

Democrats appeared to win two seats in what had been solidly Republican districts, and gave other incumbent Republicans the fight of their lives, showing that voters will turn out for candidates who support workers’ rights. More than $35 million was spent on the races, much of it coming from out of state.

Democrats should be inspired by the successes in Wisconsin in the face of millions in corporate cash that defended the Republican incumbents. Republicans must be challenged, but Democrats also should be prepared to mount primary challenges of incumbent Dems who won’t support progressive principles.

From The Progressive Populist, September 1, 2011