Saturday, February 19, 2011

Strip Tease

Okay now, settle down people, it’s not what you think.

For the past two days the weather in New York has been absolutely balmy. All over people were seen outside in shorts and tea shirts rejoicing in the break from what can only be described as one of the worst winters in recent memory. May in February. Who could resist the temptation to strip down and let it all hang out?

Unfortunately, we all know what happens to May-like days in February. They pass quickly into that long night of winter. That wonderful taste of spring becomes the acid reflux of winter and the painful reality dawns on us all. Spring, it turns out, is still weeks away, and what just occurred, though refreshing, was nothing more than a tease. The truth hurts, doesn’t it?

Well, it seems the weather wasn’t the only thing that was teasing us. Remember that tax cut deal during the lame duck? The one the White House brokered with Congressional Republicans that drew the ire of liberal Democrats? Yes, that one. For a brief moment both sides got together, albeit grudgingly, and agreed that there were enough good things about the compromise that they could wink on the bad things and get it passed. Ahh, bipartisanship, what a concept! Well, so much for the spirit of bipartisanship.

Like I mentioned in a number of op-ed pieces last December, much to the chagrin of the few brave souls who actually manage to find the time to read my op-ed pieces, the real fight was coming down the road. Healthcare, financial reform, the debt ceiling, there would be plenty of opportunities for progressives to get their dander up. Well progressives, here’s your chance. Start getting your dander up. Like the cold returning to the February air, Republicans are gearing up for the battle royale they have long anticipated and dreamt of. If you thought their conduct unbecoming over the last two years – when they basically sat on the sidelines and pouted like children – you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Stuck on a pledge they made to their Tea Party supporters to slash current spending by $100 billion – without of course touching entitlements or defense – the GOP has boxed themselves into a corner and drawn a line in the sand, daring the White House to step over it. To make matters even worse, the Republican-controlled House has passed a number of resolutions such as defunding the current healthcare law, eliminating all funding to Planned Parenthood, and prohibiting the EPA from enforcing pollution laws already on the books that prevent greenhouse gases from being spewed into the atmosphere. And we haven’t even talked about their long-standing feud against Big Bird and PBS.

While none of these initiatives has even an ice cube’s chance in hell of passing the Senate, much less being signed into law by the President, that’s not the point. It’s irrelevant to House Republicans. The fact that they are tied to spending measures ostensibly means that they go hand in hand with any talk of a continuing resolution to fund the government. The current CR expires March 4th. Failure to pass another one means a government shutdown. Period. Can you spell extortion?

Without having a majority in the Senate or occupying the White House, the GOP can basically bring the whole federal government to its knees. Why? Because by controlling the House of Representatives, Republicans get to write and, yes, fund anything they want. And while the Senate and White House can block anything they pass, what they can’t do is fund the government by themselves. You see the purse strings are attached to the House. While they can’t make new law on their own, they can put the brakes on any laws they deem unacceptable. In plain English, they can hold the government hostage until it meets their demands.

Now you know why I was so concerned last fall, and why I was so pissed at progressives who were whining about how Obama and Congressional Democrats weren’t doing enough for the cause. So a lot of you stayed home, or, worse, voted for third-party candidates, who likely prevented Democrats from holding onto their seats. I’m not implying that that was the sole reason for the landslide loss of the House to Republicans, but I’m equally sure had more of you swallowed hard and turned out to vote, some of this damage could’ve been mitigated. That you didn’t know what was at stake was appalling.

And now, as it says in the Good Book, we must all reap what we’ve collectively sowed. The war that’s coming will be of epic proportions. 1995 was nothing compared to what’s in store for America in 2011. For one thing, while Newt Gingrich may have been the most arrogant and self-absorbed Speaker that the House has ever had, he did not have the support of a movement as riled up and as resolute as the Tea Party behind him. The movement that swept Republicans into power in the ’94 midterms was primarily a populist one; this one makes that movement seem limp by comparison. They will fight like hell to get what they want, even if it means crippling a precarious recovery and hurting millions of people in the process. Irrationality this intense knows no quarter.

As this drama unfolds, don’t expect much willingness on the part of John Boehner to compromise. And with Obama threatening a veto, I fully expect things to come to a head this March. The only question is how long will the government be shut down this time? In ’95, the shutdown occurred in two parts. The first lasted a week; the second - which was a partial shutdown - just under three weeks. This time around it may well be a month or longer.

So hunker down progressives. The fight of your lives is about to take place. Now’s your chance to dust off that old musket you’ve been hiding in your closet and come out shooting, figuratively of course. Wouldn’t want a certain half-term governor from Alaska to get all hot and bothered now would I? Oh, and did I forget to mention the issue of the debt ceiling is right around the corner? Boy it’s really going to get intense around here. As I’ve said many times before, so much insanity, so little time.

Better button up your overcoat. Baby, it’s getting cold outside.

No comments: