Six Years Too Late, Media Call Congressional Republicans "Traitors"
"Traitors." That's the word the New York Daily News, certainly no friend of President Obama, used on Tuesday to describe the 47 Republican Senators who signed an unprecedented letter to the Iranian leadership designed to sabotage the current nuclear negotiations. Sadly, the Daily News and other media outlets are about six years late in reaching that conclusion. After all, with their record-setting use of the filibuster, unprecedented obstruction of judicial and executive branch nominees, threatened and actual government shutdowns, and most of all, their unheard of debt ceiling hostage-taking, Republicans have been undermining the federal government and the U.S. economy since Barack Obama first took the oath office in 2009.
Consider, for example, the GOP's recurring threats to trigger a sovereign default by refusing to raise the debt ceiling. Until Republicans captured the House in the 2010 midterms, no party has had both of the votes and the intent to block a debt ceiling increase and thereby produce what new Speaker John Boehner deemed "financial disaster, not only for our country but for the worldwide economy."
But when Democrat Barack Obama took the oath of office, the routine practice of boosting Uncle Sam's borrowing authority, performed 40 times since 1980 (including 17 times by Ronald Reagan and 7 by George W. Bush) was jettisoned by Congressional Republicans in 2011 and 2013. During the tense summer of 2011, U.S. job creation faltered, consumer confidence plummeted and borrowing costs jumped as Republicans threatened to bring the global economy to its knees. For its part, Standard and Poor's left no doubt who to blame for its downgrade of U.S. credit:
S&P senior director Joydeep Mukherji said the stability and effectiveness of American political institutions were undermined by the fact that "people in the political arena were even talking about a potential default," Mukherji said. "That a country even has such voices, albeit a minority, is something notable," he added. "This kind of rhetoric is not common amongst AAA sovereigns."
That kind of rhetoric may not be common amongst AAA sovereigns, but it's all in day's work for the Republican Party. Especially, that is, for a GOP determined to block President Obama's nominees at rates never seen during the post-World War II period.
The GOP strategy of blocking the court house doors to new Democratic judges the moment Barack Obama first walked into the Oval Office. Citing research by the Alliance for Justice, in June 2011 ThinkProgress reported:
[T]he Senate confirmed fewer of [Obama's] district and circuit nominees than every president back to Jimmy Carter, and the lowest percentage of nominees - 58% - than any president in American history at this point in a President's first term. By comparison, Presidents George W. Bush, Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Reagan and Carter had 77%, 90%, 96%, 98%, and 97% of their nominees confirmed after two years, respectively.
Senate Republicans' mass obstruction of Obama's judges stands in stark contrast to the treatment afforded to past presidents. Indeed, the Senate confirmed fewer judges during Obama's first two years in office than it did during the same period in the Carter Administration, even though the judiciary was 40 percent smaller while Carter was in office.
As dismal as that record was, it was actually an improvement from a year earlier, when only 43 percent of President Obama's judicial appointments had been confirmed:
It's no wonder Chief Justice John Roberts--again, no friend of Barack Obama and the Democratic Party--urged action in January 2011 to address "the persistent problem of judicial vacancies." Eventually, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) went "nuclear," banning the filibuster on non-Supreme Court nominations. But by 2014, the confirmation rate for Obama's selections still trailed George W. Bush's by 88 to 79 percent. And Obama's choices for both the federal bench and executive agencies had to wait far longer to be confirmed:
Republicans on Capitol Hill also threw up roadblocks to the government departments doing their job. By 2013, the GOP had filibustered 27 of Obama's executive branch nominees, compared to just 7 during Dubya's 8 years in office. The most notorious example concerned the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) created by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform bill. Republicans, who overwhelmingly opposed the bill, simply declared they would not allow anyone to be confirmed as head of a federal agency created by Congress and signed into law by the President of the United States. As the Washington Post reported in 2011:
An aide to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Thursday that the lawmaker stands by his vow to block any candidate. Late last month, McConnell led 44 senators in a letter to the White House calling for structural changes to the bureau. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) has accused GOP opponents of discriminating against Warren because she is female, but McConnell's complaints are much broader.
"It's not sexist. It's not Elizabeth Warren-specific," McConnell spokesman Donald Stewart said. "It's any nominee."
The days when Republicans like Texas Senator John Cornyn demanded as "up-or-down vote" are long gone. As he put it in 2013 during the confirmation process for Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel (previously a Republican Senator):
There is a 60-vote threshold for every nomination.
And when they weren't filibustering people, the GOP was blocking legislation at more than twice the rate of any previous Congress. (The GOP Senate minority actually started that practice during the last two years of President Bush's tenure. As Trent Lott (R-MS) put it in 2007, "The strategy of being obstructionist can work or fail. So far it's working for us.")
As even Robert Samuelson (yet again, no friend of Democrats) acknowledged, "From 2003 to 2006, when Republicans controlled the Senate, they filed cloture 130 times to break Democratic filibusters. Since 2007, when Democrats took charge, they've filed 257 cloture motions." The Republicans didn't merely eviscerate the old mark for cloture motions and filibusters after their descent into the minority in 2007. As Paul Krugman detailed in late 2009, the GOP's obstructionism has fundamentally altered how the Senate does - or more accurately, doesn't do - business:
The political scientist Barbara Sinclair has done the math. In the 1960s, she finds, "extended-debate-related problems" -- threatened or actual filibusters -- affected only 8 percent of major legislation. By the 1980s, that had risen to 27 percent. But after Democrats retook control of Congress in 2006 and Republicans found themselves in the minority, it soared to 70 percent.
Now, as the Washington Post three years ago, total obstructionism is the new normal for Republicans.
When the GOP hasn't blocked legislation from getting a vote, Republicans in Washington and the states have done their damnedest to derail it after the fact. Here, the comparison between President Bush's Medicare Part D prescription drug plan and Obamacare is quite instructive. As you may recall, most Democrats opposed the $400 billion, unfunded Medicare Rx program. But when its rocky launch left millions without prescription coverage, Democrats in DC and the states nevertheless rallied to make President Bush's bungled program work.
Of course, the GOP response to the Affordable Care Act has been different in kind and degree. Republicans have staged over 50 repeal votes without offering an alternative. They've launched multiple lawsuits against Obamacare's individual mandate, its Medicaid expansion and its contraception coverage provisions. GOP leaders in many red states rejected Medicaid expansion and blocked the work of "navigators," despite the fact that Medicare has used the same outreach approach for over 20 years. The result is that millions of Americans, primarily in Republican-led, southern states, are needlessly uninsured and thousands will die each year as a result.
The unprecedented Republican politics of spite don't end with Obamacare. After their successful 1990's crusade against the Internal Revenue Service, Congressional Republicans are now attacking Uncle Sam's tax collector with a vengeance. Congress has reduced the annual IRS budget for five straight years, even as the number of returns continues to grow and the "tax gap" between what Americans owe and what they actually pay has grown to an estimated $500 billion a year. Thanks to its much smaller staff and periodic employee furloughs, IRS customer service levels have plummeted and refunds delayed. It's no wonder Jonathan Chait so aptly labeled the Republicans the "the pro-deficits, pro-tax evasion party." Or as IRS chief John Koskinen lamented last year:
"I have not figured out either philosophically or psychologically, why nobody seems to care whether we collect the revenue or not."
The answer, sadly, is that the political party that hates government wants to make sure no one else runs it. As Robert Draper revealed, the GOP's best and brightest met on the night of President Obama's inauguration to plot a strategy to do just that. As California Rep. Kevin McCarthy, now the second ranking Republican in the House, put it:
"If you act like you're the minority, you're going to stay in the minority. We've gotta challenge them on every single bill and challenge them on every single campaign."
It wasn't just that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's announced goal was "for President Obama to be a one-term president." As Vox reminded readers on Tuesday:
A few months later, McConnell acknowledged that Republicans had decided to deny President Obama any bipartisan support, not because they necessarily opposed each and every initiative, but to hurt Obama politically. "We worked very hard to keep our fingerprints off of these proposals," he said. "Because we thought -- correctly, I think -- that the only way the American people would know that a great debate was going on was if the measures were not bipartisan."
But when partisan tactics intentionally produce more debt, economic damage and dead Americans, this is no longer a question of politics as usual. There are two words to describe the people who wouldn't stop there, but would actively try to blow up the President's foreign policy--and the entire Middle East--twice in one week. One word is "Republicans." The other is "traitors"--the one The Daily News used today, six years too late.
Note that "traitor" is being used with a small "t" and not as defined by the Constitution. But what Republicans have done--and continue to do--has resulted in real damage to the United States and the American people.