Starting with a budget deal that concluded the business of the last Congress back in December, the newly ensconced GOP Congressional dominance has so far proven to be more of the same. The Cromnibus led off with provisions designed to begin rolling back some of the important provisions of the Dodd-Frank financial reforms. Once again, the US taxpayers find ourselves faced with the increased possibility that we will have to foot the bill for bailing out big banks that have been allowed to gamble our deposits on risky deals – pretty much where we stood when the economy collapsed back in 2008.
Since the GOP Senate majority took office after the first of the year, both the Senate and a bolstered GOP majority in the House of Representatives have gone about business as usual for them since President Obama took office. No longer handicapped by having a majority of Democrats in the Senate, they set about trying to enact a conservative legislative agenda that has done little more than block any real progress for the people of this country for years. They can continue to do so with impunity as long as they continue winning elections despite behavior and policy positions that have been regularly opposed by a vast majority of the inhabitants of this country.
Potential progress being made in the area of regulating the financial services industry (most notably the big banks) which caused the financial collapse at the end of the Bush Administration have been delayed and are now in real danger of being dismantled entirely. The GOP majority in Congress seems more intent on serving the short-term interests of their Wall Street benefactors than those of the American people as a whole. A significant portion of the Democratic minority has also participated in this effort – Corporate Democrats need campaign contributions, too. The bailout provisions reintroduced in the budget deal are only the beginning. The GOP appear to be bound and determined to put the economy back into the same situation that precipitated the Great Recession in the not-so-distant past.
Early legislative efforts have also included a renewed effort to force through legislation giving the Keystone XL Pipeline approval, as well as efforts to outlaw most abortions and otherwise cripple many of the most beneficial aspects of the Affordable Care Act. Some are still determined to scrap the ACA altogether. The law is still under threat in the Supreme Court as well. The Republicans have become masters of obfuscation, trying to sell the Keystone XL pipeline as a job creation effort, despite the fact that permanent jobs created by its completion would number in the 10’s, not the thousands they purport. Despite demonstrable cost savings already brought about by the health care law, along with the millions of previously uninsured now being helped by it, the GOP still seek ways to weaken or destroy it.
For the seventh consecutive year, the President has given an excellent State of the Union address, filled with items comprising a progressive agenda aimed at enhancing the lives and livelihoods of people who have been held back from prosperity by an economic system that has resulted in stagnant wages and limited economic mobility for the vast majority of Americans. Rather than boosting the economy for all, trickle down economic policies have exacerbated economic inequality here for decades. Even the alleged recovery from the economic downturn has primarily benefitted the already wealthy. One of the most frustrating aspects to listening to such a positive speech advocating common sense, creative solutions to vexing problems that would improve the lives of millions is the knowledge that most of them will never even come to a vote. Congress no longer represents the vast majority of people affected by their actions. They get away with it by systemic gerrymandering, voter suppression and campaign finance laws that make a mockery of the concept of “one person, one vote”.
The only major area of agreement between the Congressional GOP leadership and President Obama at this juncture seems to be in the area of trade negotiations – a position which sets the President at odds with many in leadership positions in his own party, along with many traditional supporters of Democratic and progressive candidates. In other areas, such as immigration reform, wages, taxes and education policy, we are pretty much dependent upon the President to veto bills passed by Congress which would set back the country or enact better policies through executive action, which he has been willing to do, but which has much more limited scope than legislation would carry.
This country needs to progress to an economic and social system that alleviates economic inequality and poverty rather than exacerbating it as past and present GOP proposals have done consistently since the Reagan era. Despite the fact that many of the financial deregulation that ultimately precipitated the financial crisis of 2008 was enacted under a Democratic president, it certainly had the stamp of approval of a Republican Congress and was far from being either progressive or even responsible legislation. To revert to the status quo pre- Dodd-Frank would be a recipe for disaster repeating itself. We need to strengthen regulation of the financial sector, not weaken it again. We also need to reform tax and other policies that increase the share of the benefits that accrue to those who reside at the top of the economic pyramid at the expense of the rest of us.
We need to get away from having the best government money can buy for those who have wealth, and strive for one which seeks to improve the situation of all the country’s inhabitants. Equal opportunity needs to become a reality, not just a catch phrase justifying preferential treatment of certain people over others on an arbitrary basis. Money and greed should not be glorified, institutionalized and protected by further unwarranted political influence as has become the case in governments at every level within this country. Our priorities need to be based on more humanistic and humane values than those often expressed by the oligarchs and plutocrats who are currently enabled to purchase influence in our government to an unprecedented extent. Continuing on the current path is dangerous for maintaining our democratic ideals. We need to become a society where people vote and dollars don’t.
Increasing attention will be paid in the days and months ahead to the 2016 elections. We need to be careful to make sure that a GOP majority in both houses of Congress does not undo the good that has been done for us by not having had to deal with President McCain or Romney. We’ve dealt with unfair sequestration, a bloated defense budget (which in reality is just a war budget) and policies which enabled the 1% to gain 95% of the benefits of an unequal recovery. We do not need to compound these with further attacks on living standards, economic conditions, civil and human rights for most of us to further benefit those who need more the least. We do need to make our voices heard louder than the lies being used to subjugate us to the whims of those who seek only self-aggrandizement.
Further Suggested Readings: