The 114th Congress was sworn in on Tuesday, opening the flood gates to legislation that will potentially damage the economy, hurt the middle class and the poor, and leave the retired Americans in the worst financial shape they've been in for years. After six years as a sleeper cell, the GOP is gunning for the American people -- the one thing they hate more than facts.
In last week's piece, "The 2015 GOP Clown Car: Bigger, Meaner, and More Dangerous Than Ever," I ended my post with:
"It's a new year though and the clown car about to be sworn in next week is bigger than ever with a majority in both the Senate and the House. A car full of gun loving, poor hating, veteran screwing, climate change denying, Wall Street deregulating, health care repealing, and wealthy old white man loving clowns."
I speculated that the GOP's plans for the coming year would include further repeals of Dodd-Frank, cutting and privatizing social security, cutting pensions, defunding Obamacare, eliminating food stamps, and more gifts and giveaways to the super-rich and corporations. I also joked about potential exhumations of Benghazi, IRS, and impeachment hearings.
That post got a lot of comments from right-wing nutters. Most of them insulting me and the article, with not one comment refuting the content of the article. Some even found the time to track down my personal email and write to me. One woman, apparently a Christian, wrote, "First off, I really hope someone comes and shoots or rapes you in your defenseless home and you live (sic), so you can learn a valuable life lesson."
I also wrote that, "As of Tuesday, they'll have the numbers to do what they want and by this time next year we could be having a completely different conversation in a completely different country."
As it happens, the GOP has wasted no time pushing forward a very dangerous and cruel agenda. It turns out that when it comes to destroying things that are good for people and society, they're highly motivated.
On Tuesday, the same day the new Congress was sworn in, it was announced that the Select Committee on Benghazi will continue into 2015, after House Republicans pushed through language to reauthorize the panel -- without budget restrictions or time limits. That's right, they are reopening the Benghazi hearings that dragged on at considerable cost to the taxpayers and turned up absolutely nothing in the final declassified report.
The five Democrats on the 12-member panel issued the following statement, saying that since the re-authorization language was included in the "must-pass" bill setting up the rules for the new Congress, it prevented any debate on whether the panel would continue:
We are disappointed that the Speaker incorporated the re-authorization of the Select Committee on Benghazi into the must-pass rules package, which sets no limit on the Committee's budget or time frame," the five Democrats said in the statement. "After eight months and more than a million taxpayer dollars spent, it remains unclear what new questions the Select Committee seeks to answer. Since our members were denied the ability to meaningfully debate or amend the resolution, we now look to the Committee to quickly adopt rules that ensure that our Democratic members are able to participate fully in the investigation.
Then on Wednesday, the GOP now apparently in full steamroller momentum, started hammering away at Social Security and paving the path to privatization. The GOP has wanted to privatize Social Security for a while now, meaning that the entire amount (now $1.7 trillion) would be handed over to Wall Street to "invest." We've seen how well 401(k)s and pensions have done under that model.
As Nancy Altman, founding co-director of Social Security Works, and Eric Kingson, a professor of Social Work at Syracuse University, write:
Republican opponents of Social Security have not wasted even a single day in their plan to dismantle Social Security brick by brick. What should be a dry, mundane exercise -- the adoption of new rules by the newly convening House of Representatives -- has turned into a stealth attack on America's working families.
The House Republicans, as one of their first orders of business, approved a rule preventing the reallocation of Social Security funds to men, women, and children who receive disability insurance, unless they are offset by benefit cuts or tax increases. Since Republicans will never agree to an increase in taxes, particularly on the wealthy, this sets the stage for the GOP to cut the benefits to 11 million people in the next two years. All under the ruse that Social Security is going bankrupt, which it's not.
According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, reallocating taxes between retirement and disability trust funds has always been noncontroversial -- it's been done 11 times since 1968 and it's a normal part of administering Social Security funds. This reallocation would keep both the retirement and disability fund solvent until 2033. The GOP has been trying to gut Social Security for years, calling it a hand out and now they're blocking something as simple as transferring money from a savings account to a checking account. As the LA Times reports:
Social Security advocates are almost universally aghast at the change. "It is hard to believe that there is any purpose to this unprecedented change to House rules," wrote Max Richtman, president of the committee, in an open letter Tuesday, "other than to cut benefits for Americans who have worked hard all their lives, paid into Social Security and rely on their Social Security benefits, including Disability Insurance, in order to survive." The rule change reflects the burgeoning demonization of disability recipients, a trend we've reported on in the past. It's been fomented by conservative Republicans and abetted by sloppy reporting by institutions such as NPR and "60 Minutes."
Senator Elizabeth Warren expressed her outrage on Facebook and Twitter on Wednesday, saying that the move on the part of House Republicans was inventing a Social Security crisis:
It's ridiculous - but not surprising - that on the very first day of the new Congress, Republicans are manufacturing a Social Security crisis to threaten benefits for millions of disabled Americans - including 233,260 in Massachusetts alone. We can't turn our backs on the promises we've made to our families, friends, and neighbors who need our help the most. House Republicans should stop playing political games to put America's most vulnerable at risk.
Furthering the speculation and theory that Republicans are manufacturing a problem and setting up for a long game to gut or privatize Social Security, Sherrod Brown (D-OH), said, "...detractors working to privatize Social Security will do anything to manufacture a crisis out of a routine administrative function."
As for the assault on Dodd-Frank, the GOP not wanting to look like they're slacking off with all this new found power, took an axe to the Volcker rule. The Volcker Rule was adopted after the 2008 Wall Street meltdown and it bans banks from gambling with taxpayer money. The GOP is proposing legislation that would grant banks another two years to unload their toxic holdings in the form of Collateralized Loan Obligations -- complex contracts similar to the mortgage-backed securities that caused the meltdown in 2008.
Bank watchdog groups are cringing at the legislation:
"It's all about the bonus pool," said Dennis Kelleher, president and CEO of Better Markets, a financial reform nonprofit. "The attack on the Volcker Rule has been nonstop, because proprietary trading is about big-time bets that result in big-time bonuses. Wall Street has been fighting it from day one, and they're not going to stop."
"It's absurd," said Marcus Stanley, policy director at Americans for Financial Reform. "It's getting on five years after the passage of the Volcker Rule, and the banks have still not actually been required to stop doing anything that they want to be doing. And anytime we get close to the point where they could, somebody comes in with an extension."
Next on the agenda? Health care. After trying 50 times to repeal Obamacare, the GOP has decided to take a more tempered approach. Much like they did with Glass-Steagall during the ramp-up to the financial crisis. After picking it apart piece by piece until it looked like Swiss cheese, the legislation was so useless, repeal was easy. The GOP is making a concerted effort to make it difficult for Americans to receive coverage. This time, by reintroducing the 40-hour work week stipulation. The bill (H.R.30) would go after the mandate that requires a company with 50 or more employees to provide health insurance to 95 percent of its full-time employees. The law defines employees who work 30 hours or more as full time. The GOP wants to change that definition to 40 hours per week, making it easier for employers to avoid offering health care.
As pointed out in Mother Jones, "I call this the 'send people home a half hour early on Friday and deny them health insurance' bill," says Tim Jost, a health care law scholar at the Washington and Lee University School of Law who has consulted with the Obama administration on implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
The 30-hour threshold was intended to discourage companies from cutting workers' hours. Nearly half of Americans work 40 hours a week or more--meaning that, under current law, employers would have to cut those workers' hours by more than 25 percent to avoid buying them health insurance. But if the threshold were 40 hours, as the GOP envisions, many employers would only have to cut workweeks a tiny bit to avoid buying health insurance for their employees. "Raising the threshold to 40 hours would place more than five times as many workers at risk of having their hours reduced," Paul van de Water, a senior fellow at the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, wrote in 2013.
This move could deprive 1.5 million people currently receiving health insurance as a result of the mandate. To add insult to injury, the change in the law would also add another $53 billion to the deficit Republicans are always screeching about. According to Mitch McConnell, the 30-hour threshold should be ditched, regardless of costs to the deficit. In McConnell's view, adding billions to the deficit is a small price to pay in acceptable collateral damage if it means denying health care to millions.
In just a couple of days, the GOP, rather than work in the best interest of the American people, has laid the groundwork to dismantle nearly everything that has been accomplished and go after the things that people in this country rely on and benefit from.
In addition to trying to change the way the way the Congressional Budget Office calculates costs through "dynamic scoring," one of the more laughable claims and subsequent responses, came from Mitch McConnell who apparently received cues from Grover Norquist suggesting that Conservatives take credit for the improving the economy.
Norquist, known for demanding fealty to his pledge never to raise taxes, has yet to move many Republicans on this specific debate. Few in the party have been willing to talk up good economic news, even if only to credit it to conservative-leaning legislation. The preference has instead been to bemoan the president for ignoring long term deficits and debt, and for pushing "job-killing" regulations.
McConnell, like a scene out of A Christmas Story, rose to the occasion as if he were on the playground being triple dog dared to stick his tongue to a frozen metal flag pole. On Wednesday, the second day of the new GOP majority in Congress, McConnell made this delusional statement:
After so many years of sluggish growth, we're finally starting to see some economic data that can provide a glimmer of hope; the uptick appears to coincide with the biggest political change of the Obama administration's long tenure in Washington: the expectation of a new Republican Congress. So this is precisely the right time to advance a positive, pro-growth agenda.
In possibly the best response one could muster to such a claim, DNC Communications Director Mo Elleithee wrote:
Hahahahahahahahahahaha. That Mitch McConnell is one funny guy. He likes to remind people all the time that he's not a scientist. Now we know he's not a mathematician or an economist either. The fact is, under President Obama we've had 57 straight months of private sector job growth leading to nearly 11 million jobs added. All Republicans have given us is a government shutdown that cost the economy $24 billion. I get why he wants to take credit for the economic recovery. But maybe he should first do something to help contribute to it.
It's unfortunate, based on the first two days of the new Congress, that the responses to upcoming GOP policies won't be so humorous. This first week back from vacation paints a pretty grim picture of coming attractions and the American people are the ones who will suffer.
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