Start with the opening of EJ Dione’s column: “This Republican Implosion Has Been a Long Time Coming” in the Washington Post (July 30, 2020): “It should be clear to everyone: The Republican Party is incapable of governing.” They’re great at obstruction, propaganda, and destroying opponents (think Hillary Clinton), but they fundamentally do not believe in government. Remember the Bush presidency handling of Katrina. Remember Mitch McConnell, Senate Majority Leader, stating his purpose in 2009: The Senate’s role is to deny Obama a second term. That meant opposing all things from the Obama White House—most of which were necessary for American success (like stimulus coming out of the Great Recession or moving closer to universal healthcare).*
I should note that Republicans ran the government effectively in the past. During the post-World War II period, Eisenhower would be my prime example. Since then, Republicans probably have been on par with Democrats (this varies by president and perspective; e.g., what do you think of LBJ or Nixon?) The usual more recent Republican game plan seemed to be cutting funding to departments (got to fund those tax cuts), which means that government acts less effectively. Case in point is major cuts for the Internal Revenue Service. A fully functioning IRS means collecting taxes that are due (that is, more funding for the IRS pays for itself in more tax revenue). An underfunded IRS means few audits and more tax cheating (think Trump tax returns; also, Mnuchin and Ross). The current IRS (and Treasury more generally), doesn’t have the infrastructure and resources to send out stimulus money to those that really need it in effective amounts; therefore, a fixed supplementary amount to the unemployed and a stimulus check to everyone.
That’s right, I’m a believer in effective government. If it has “public” in its name, it’s a government function: public health, public education, public safety, public parks. The key point is to make them efficient and effective. This is harder than a corporation focusing exclusively on profit, but can be done. Large governments use some form of program budgeting, and have various types of audits. The federal government has audits, inspector generals, and so on for transparency, feedback and enforcement. Unfortunately, politics gets in the way. This is most evident in the Defense Department (it’s a long story, but can start with Eisenhower’s warning of the “military-industrial complex”).
Back to Dionne’s Column
The Federal Reserve already blasted off with guns firing on the monetary side. Dionne’s column is based on Republican attempts to pass another stimulus package in the Senate—the fiscal side. The Democrats in the House want to blast off and have a common position (passed more than two months previous), a $3 trillion package of goodies (more than I would want, but most components seem useful). Republican waited until that last minute before unemployment runs out, then want to stimulate on the cheap (hard to believe when we’re talking about a trillion bucks). They are arguing about money to rebuilt the FBI Building in Washington (possibly to protect a Trump hotel) and funding Defense spending that Trump diverted for his border wall. The different groups don’t want to compromise.
Dionne states: “The truth is that the GOP simply hates the idea that Washington should have a big role when catastrophe strikes.” Ted Cruz said: “Simply shoveling cash from Washington is not going to solve the problem.” Of course, shoveling cash is the fiscal role to take. State and local governments are broke and have balanced budget requirements. Either the feds step in or state and local governments have to slash their own funding, meaning utter chaos. Plus, no support for the unemployed because of the pandemic, schools, PPE for healthcare workers.
“Having skipped their homework, having spread the coronavirus with a spring break fantasy that bars and restaurants and everything else could open wide, Republicans had the nerve on Wednesday to ask for an extension, Pass a ‘skinny’ bill extending some unemployment and a rent moratorium (without, or course, helping renters pay the rent).”
Dionne’s answer: “Right now, the party has earned itself only a multi-year expulsion.” The Republicans need to reform and come back as a pragmatic conservative force, including the ability to compromise to solve real problems. In the meantime, moving toward public finance of elections (that is, getting special interest campaign funds out of politics) could move us back to full democracy.
Postpone the Election?
I may never finish this blog as one issue after another pops up. Trump tweeted he wants to postpone the election. That added on top of claiming mail-in voting is fraudulent. [Federal aid to the Post Office and states for election assistance would help.] Of course, if the election were postponed, when would it occur? I assume Trump’s preferred answer is never. Fortunately, there are constitutional protections and Republicans in Congress oppose it. Trumpian positions are usually easy to figure out. Powerful Republicans, not so much.
No doubt, McConnell wants to stay in power and he’s up for reelection. I assume his position is dangerous, with powerful counter-interests: a Democratic House and a Supreme Court that doesn’t always toe the party line. [If all the power zones had aligned, would he have supported a dictatorial state under Trump?] The skimpy Republican stimulus package when GDP dropped 9.5% for the second quarter suggests he wants Republicans to lose (or thinks he can spin it to blame the Democrats). It could be Republicans in power can’t bring themselves to support people in need—they may be Democrats.
*I remember Governor Rick Perry’s rejection of the Medicaid expansion for Texas, maintaining the state as number one for most uninsured. All he had to do was change it up a bit, call it Perry Care and claim full credit. Perry also was the illustrious presidential candidate who couldn’t remember the third federal department he wanted to eliminate: “Oops.” That was the Energy Department; just the qualification Trump needed for Perry to head up the Energy Department.