How the Republicans roll — part two

In so many ways this is a defining moment for our nation. Some 100 million people (one in three) are living in poverty or on the cusp of slipping into poverty, to include 17 million children. It's a moral imperative that we do something to change the direction of our country. The truth is, we can. We need only begin.

And yet, we seem incapable of acting. But it's not indecision. It's something far more cynical and Machiavellian. Perhaps you've seen the bumper sticker: "If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention." That's a bit hyperbolic, perhaps, but not by much. Outrage is the operative word when we know that there are solutions to 9 percent unemployment (a conservative estimate). We can reorder our priorities. And we can extend a much-needed hand of hope and assistance to our people. To our children.

However, to implement any solution requires collaboration and compromise, once the essence of our democracy. What we are observing, and what should spark outrage, is that the Republicans have repeatedly chosen ideology before country, rejecting the idea that there is common ground to be found. No matter what the will of the people might be.

Consider the recently failed Joint Select Committee on the Deficit, comprising six Democrats and six Republicans.

Essentially, all the supercommittee needed to do was to commit to a long-term plan, mirroring the stark economic realities before us. The committee could have ignored, for now, the deficit, put together a massive stimulus plan (the template of FDR and the WPA is available, infrastructure projects await, millions stand ready to work), and once the economy rights itself, begin the debate regarding austerity and raising revenue. Call it a "grand bargain." This solution, simple and elegant, is understood by both parties and rejected by the Republicans.

Know that the failure of the committee was preordained. The meetings, the press statements, the feigned negotiations, the earnest TV cameos by Republicans were all theater. The fat lady holding the spear had sung before the first sit-down in a congressional chamber. Why? All six Republicans on the supercommittee had, long ago, signed the Grover Norquist tax pledge.

Norquist, a Washington lobbyist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, is best known for saying, "I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub." Part of his plan is to shrink government while making sure taxes are never raised. In service of this ideology, 238 of 242 House Representatives, 41 of 47 Senators, and all but one of the presidential candidates — plus all six Republican members of the supercommittee — have signed the Norquist Tax Protection Pledge.

The signatories promise to "oppose any and all efforts to increase marginal income tax for individuals and business "…" plus reject any elimination of deductions and credits (tax loopholes). If a senator or representative breaks the pledge, Norquist's group will do all it can to make sure said politician is not re-elected. This is no empty threat.

What is insidious about the pledge is that it rejects the very idea of seeking consensus through compromise. It means the Republicans have taken a pledge not to country but to an ideologue, and it was this pledge that sealed the fate of the supercommittee. It didn't matter what cuts the Democrats put on the table, or if they in turn demanded that revenues be raised through tax hikes on the 1 percent, eliminating fossil fuel subsidies or allowing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy to expire in one year. Republican intransigence was, from the outset, total. It was a shameful performance by the Republican six.

Regrettably, the Democrats agreed that entitlement programs could be limited in scope (raise the age for Medicare from 65 to 67, for example). Again, this allows the Republicans to frame the debate, as they did last summer. We don't need to cut entitlements in order to address the deficit. It's a myth. This is all about the conservatives going after what they refer to as big-government programs. Norquist can't get the government through the bathroom door, headed toward the bathtub, unless Social Security and Medicare are reduced in size and the EPA and Obamacare repealed.

Regrettably, nothing will change until next year, which means that the 2012 election must be a mandate election. If we, the electorate, continue to divide government, nothing will be accomplished for four more years.

The tragedy is that at this singular moment we need elected officials who will put country first. For so many, time is of the essence.

Chris Honoré lives in Ashland.

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