• Blackmail and brinkmanship
    July 25,2013

    President Obama went to the heartland Wednesday to promote his economic agenda, warning that partisan gridlock in Washington imperils the nation’s halting recovery from the Great Recession.

    Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress have unveiled budget proposals suggesting they do not intend to retreat from the politics of blackmail and brinkmanship, pushing scorched earth budget cuts and trying to gut progressive economic policies.

    As 2013 moves toward 2014, the Republicans may be heading toward their own Battle of Gettysburg, a desperate, last-ditch effort to undo the Obama presidency before the elections of 2014. Or they may attempt their version of the Civil War’s Wilderness campaign, a blazing, inconclusive battle of attrition that Republicans believe they can win.

    The danger for Republicans is that the agenda they are pushing is out of sync with the views of the American people, and if they succeed in forcing the federal government to its knees, they will reap a major portion of the blame. The danger for Democrats is that the people will be so disgusted they blame both parties. It must be Obama’s goal to make sure the American people know the nature of the disastrous choices the Republicans are pushing.

    His appearance in Illinois on Wednesday was said to be the first of several appearances where he will attempt to drive home his economic and political message. He should not be shy about it. He ought to press a hell-raising, barnstorming campaign to warn the American people about what the Republicans are up to and to show that there is a better way.

    The Republicans appear to be pressing their budget-cutting battle on several fronts. In the House, members have announced a series of draconian cuts that would cripple important functions of government on behalf of a narrow ideological agenda. These cuts were detailed in a story in The New York Times on Wednesday. Here are some of them:

    Cut the Environmental Protection Agency by 34 percent and eliminate regulations limiting greenhouse gas emissions at power plants.

    Reduce the amount requested by Obama for renewable energy and energy efficiency by more than two-thirds.

    Eliminate the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

    Cut education grants for poor students by 16 percent.

    Cut Amtrak by a third.

    Cut the Securities and Exchange Commission funding by 18 percent.

    Cut clean water grants by 83 percent.

    Cut the Internal Revenue Service by 24 percent.

    Cuts proposed by Republicans are said to be the most serious since 1995, when House Speaker Newt Gingrich engineered a government shutdown, which proved to be politically suicidal for Republicans.

    Meanwhile, Republicans in the Senate are seeking to hold the Affordable Care Act hostage. Three of the most conservative senators, Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah, have drafted a letter saying they will not approve any spending measures if any money at all is spent on Obamacare. Never mind that states all across the country, including Vermont, are building wholly new health care programs based on Obamacare and are expecting federal money. Never mind that millions of Americans are already enjoying the benefits of Obamacare, as the bill expands access to health care. Republican leaders, bowing to the most ideologically extreme members of their party, have signed on to the health care blackmail scheme.

    The American people are sick of these Republican tactics. Not only do extreme budget cuts target vital programs. Economically, budget austerity in Europe and Japan has proven to be a failed means to achieve economic recovery. The United States’ economic performance since the advent of the recession has outshone that in Europe precisely because Obama has worked to avoid the extreme austerity measures pushed by the mindless budget cutters among Republicans in Congress.

    A small group of Republican senators, with John McCain as their leader, is showing signs it will reject the blackmail and brinkmanship that have proven so disastrous in recent years. That is one good sign. Obama’s willingness to take this fight to the American people is another good sign. The people will be on his side if he aggressively seeks their support.

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