01 March 2011

Republicans Assure Government Shut-Down With "Poison Pill" Amendments

by Ted McLaughlin

For the last few days the House of Representatives have been arguing over a continuing resolution to fund the federal government for the rest of the year. Time after time, Republicans have taken to the floor of the House to claim they are just doing what the people of America wanted them to do -- cut the deficit. But that is just not true, because they have ignored all of the biggest things that have caused the deficit in the first place.

When George Bush took office, he inherited a budget surplus from President Clinton. But with the help of his Republican cohorts, he went on an enormous spending spree and turned the budget surplus into a massive deficit. As the chart above shows, the current deficit was caused by Bush's huge tax cuts for the rich, the TARP bailout which he signed into law, the two unnecessary wars he started (and which are still draining the treasury), and his trickle-down economic policies which threw the nation into recession. In addition, the largest item in the discretionary budget, the Defense Department, continued to radically expand.

Any serious effort to cut the budget deficit would need to address most (or all) of those budget-busting measures. But the House Republicans haven't touched any of those areas in their "cuts". They still practice trickle-down economics, extended the huge tax cuts for the rich, killed funds for the government official who was overseeing repayment of TARP, continued funds for the two wars, and gave the Defense Department another raise. All they have done is play politics and try to defund some programs they never liked -- cutting only a drop in the bucket compared to their own spending.

This is no real surprise. I didn't expect the Republicans to do any real budget cutting (or create any new jobs). I knew it was going to be a very hard couple of years for everyone but the rich. However, I did hope the cuts wouldn't be too painful for most people and the government could go on operating -- albeit at a reduced and painful level. And in the last couple of weeks it looked like that could happen, as several top Republicans said they had no intention of shutting down the government to push their radical agenda.

But after watching the House for the last couple of days, I can see that's not going to happen. Either those Republican leaders have no control over House Republicans (a distinct possibility) or they lied. After seeing the vicious amendments to the continuing budget resolution passed by House Republicans, it is obvious that they are playing to their base and have every intention of shutting down the government.

The current budget resolution runs out on March 4th -- less than two weeks from now. If a new resolution is not passed by both the House and the Senate and signed by the president by that date, the government will run out of operating funds and will have to shut down (and government checks and payments will stop). There is time to get a new resolution approved and signed, but not with the amendments tacked on to it in the House -- amendments that amount to nothing more than "poison pills" that will make the resolution unacceptable to the Senate and the White House -- and the Republicans know that.

They have attached these "poison pill" amendments to make the Senate or the president kill the resolution and precipitate a shut-down crises in government. Consider just a few of these amendments. First is a total defunding of Planned Parenthood and an equally devastating defunding of Head Start programs. These are cuts that will be hard for Democrats to stomach, and the Senate is likely to kill these amendments.

But even if the Senate and the president could take those cuts, there are a couple of others that could never be agreed to by Democrats. The House has made huge cuts to the EPA. And they have voted to ban the EPA from regulating toxic emissions. Then they went even further to ban the EPA from enforcing any of their new rules regarding carbon dioxide emissions. In other words, they have gutted the ability of the EPA to do its job.

Then they passed a variety of amendments that would completely defund all aspects of the new health care reform law. Without funds, the health care reform is dead. Democrats (and the president) will never accept these amendments and kill health care reform. The Republicans know this. That's why they put them in the budget resolution -- so it would not be approved by the Senate and signed by the president. They want to shut down the government.

So we're left with only a couple of weeks to get a new budget resolution and a House resolution that is sure to be killed by the Senate or vetoed by the president. Unless the House gives up these "poison pill" amendments, the government will be shut down.

Are the right-wingers serious about shutting down the government? It sure looks like they are. We'll know in a few days. I have the feeling though that most Americans are not going to be happy about this.

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