All hat, no cattle: House Republicans can’t match big talk with viable budget cuts
Well, that didn’t take long.
It looks as if we’ve reached the moment when House Republicans realize they are caught in their own trap. Since Republicans took power in January, they have threatened the U.S. economic recovery by refusing to raise the debt ceiling.
Last week at a private GOP retreat in Orlando, the chair of the House Budget Committee, Rep. Jodey Arrington (R-Texas), reportedly submitted to fellow Republicans a list of spending cuts, but the only substantive proposal apparently is to institute work requirements for the poor to access government health benefits and increasing work requirements for access to food stamps.
Beyond that Ebenezer Scrooge-style proposal, Rep. Arrington is only talking about small cuts, such as eliminating electric trucks for the U.S. post office.
Meanwhile, the far right of the House GOP majority, the House Freedom Caucus, also is proposing fringe budget cuts that are largely aimed at poor people.
Bottom line: Republicans don’t have a workable answer. They talk big, but when it comes to actual governing, they can’t.
With the GOP game plan falling apart, the White House is quickly labeling the mean-spirited attempt at budget-slashing as the equal of a “Five-Alarm Fire” for American families.
The Freedom Caucus plan will burn down “public safety [programs while] increasing costs for working- and middle-class families, all to protect and extend tax breaks skewed to the wealthy and big corporations,” the Biden White House declared in a written statement.
It turns out that Biden saw through the GOP’s empty talk earlier this month when he put his budget on the table. Like a good poker player, he called the GOP’s bluff.
“Lay it down,” he said, referring to the absence of any budget proposal from House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). “Tell me what you want to do … let’s see what we vote on.”
The size of the trap facing Republicans got bigger recently with the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank (SVB). Fear of economic recession became heightened, especially if the federal debt ceiling is not raised.
But some Republicans tried to blame the banking crisis on Democrats by suggesting that left-wing pressure for the finance sector to act on climate change and racial diversity was behind the problem.
Once again, the trap snapped back on the GOP.
House Republicans forgot that it was a Republican House majority in 2018 that stripped away some regulatory protections against banks’ mismanagement. They acted with the support of another Republican, President Trump.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who helped to put in place regulations to try to prevent bank failures during the last financial crisis summed up the situation.
“No one should be mistaken about what unfolded over the past few days in the U.S. banking system: These recent bank failures are the direct result of leaders in Washington weakening the financial rules,” Warren wrote in a New York Times op-ed. “But because those requirements were repealed, when an old-fashioned bank run hit S.V.B., the bank couldn’t withstand the pressure — and Signature’s collapse was close behind.”
The last gasp by the House GOP to win the budget fight is their call for Biden to agree to “prioritization” of debt payments in future budgets as the basis for the House GOP agreeing to hike the debt ceiling.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen dismissed that last-gasp gambit as folly. “Prioritization is simply not paying all of the government’s bills when they come due. That is something we have never done since 1789. That really is just default by another name,” Yellen told the House Ways and Means Committee last week.
Top Democrats are now trying to close the door on the GOP.
“What we’re seeing is a rewind of [previous debt ceiling threats] on steroids,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) told reporters last week. “They (House Republicans) really need to pull back from the brink, because they’re going to crush the American economy if they stay on this path.”
Van Hollen is referring to the dangerous — and ultimately pointless — stunt pulled by far-right “Tea Party” Republicans in 2011. That year, they refused to raise the debt ceiling, and the result was the nation’s credit rating being downgraded while the economy was still recovering from the 2008 financial collapse.
They did it again in 2013, causing a government shutdown. Then-House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said “knucklehead” members had led the party astray with a political game “that made no sense whatsoever.”
The American economy remains strong as it recovers from the pandemic. But there is real concern on Main Street and on Wall Street over any misstep by the Federal Reserve and by banks leading to a recession.
That includes a misstep by Congress.
The House GOP is now in a trap of its own making. They define dysfunctional politics.
Juan Williams is an author and a political analyst for Fox News Channel.
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