Why is the GOP so willing to throw people out of work?

Sen. John Barrasso speaks at the 2012 State of Indian Nations conference in Washington, D.C. (National Congress of American Indians/Flickr — click to view)
Guest column by Kerry Drake
March 5, 2013

When I hear Republicans in Congress talk about the sequester issue, I feel like I’m living in an alternate universe, where the truth is stood on its head daily.

Recent comments by Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyoming) tried to push us all down the political rabbit hole once again, with the bizarre argument that the sequester process was something we actually wanted to do, instead of what it really was; an  expedient compromise designed to be so bad that neither Republicans or Democrats would actually go through with it.

Kerry Drake

According to Barrasso’s comments in television interviews with Fox News and MSNBC, the only thing wrong with sequestration is that its automatic, $85 billion across-the-board spending cuts to social services and so-called entitlement programs don’t go far enough. If we would just gut those budgets, I guess we’d really see some progress.

So throwing a projected 750,000 more people out of their jobs, cutting the safety net for the poor, putting less money into education and shutting down government agencies is supposed to kick-start the economy?

That kind of empty conservative logic is typical of the GOP’s shameful, exasperating willingness to plunge the economy deep into a recession just so it can pin the blame on Barack Obama’s administration and supposedly improve its chances of regaining the White House in 2016.

In other words, Republicans consider the majority of Americans fools who won’t be able to remember in a few short years precisely how our nation got into the mess it’s in. That strategy backfired on the party in last year’s election, so what makes the GOP’s leaders think the results will be any different next time?

Barrasso, who has never met a TV camera he didn’t like, was on the tube repeatedly last week in his campaign to blame Obama for all of the country’s economic ills as the federal government began sending furlough notices to employees. Unbelievably, Barrasso said he sees no evidence that the president is reaching out to Capitol Hill for a solution, even though Obama literally begged Congress to pass a bill so the sequester cuts didn’t have to go into effect.

Our nation’s representatives and senators adjourned on Thursday, anxious to get out of town and apparently not caring about the inevitable chaos that will ensue due to their inability to work together. The Senate had a majority of votes to pass a Democratic bill that took a balanced approach with both spending cuts and revenue enhancements, but naturally Republicans used yet another filibuster to shoot it down.

“It looks to me like (Obama) wants to spend his time causing fear and anxiety among the American public, to force Congress to raise taxes, but it doesn’t work with me,” Barrasso said. “They just need to cut this wasteful spending. We’re not going to trade a spending cut for a tax increase.”

Obama pointed out at a news conference that the GOP “allowed these (sequester) cuts to happen, because they refused to budge on closing a single wasteful loophole to help reduce the deficit. [On Thursday] they decided to protect special interest tax breaks for the well-off and the well-connected, and they think that that’s apparently more important than protecting our military or middle-class families from the pain of these cuts.”

He didn’t share any evidence at all about why he thinks so, but Wyoming’s junior senator claimed the impact of the sequester cuts has been greatly exaggerated.

“The sequester will go into place, and realistically it should not do all of this damage that the president continues to say is going to happen,” said Barrasso, chairman of the Republican Senate Policy Committee.

He added, “My concern is [the administration] may have hyped things in such a way that they may have to force things on the American people. A good leader would try to rearrange it so it would minimize the impact on citizens of this country, not increase the pain.”

If he wants to be honest with his constituents, Barrasso should admit that the shot they are about to receive is going to hurt them a lot more than it is him — and certainly be far more painful than he suggests it will be.

“This is no longer an abstract concept — these documents show for the first time in concrete terms that sequestration is real, it’s here, and it’s incredibly damaging,” said Oversight Committee Ranking Member Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland). “With every passing day … Americans across the country soon will begin experiencing firsthand the deterioration of critical services they rely on every single day.”

Barrasso maintained he wants to cut wasteful spending, but absolutely not when it comes to the Defense Department, which is infamous for billion-dollar contracts for military weapons that former Defense Secretary Robert Gates admitted we don’t even need.

Barrasso said a big part of his objection to Chuck Hagel, who was finally confirmed last week as Defense Secretary, was that unlike his immediate predecessor, Leon Panetta, the former GOP senator thinks the Defense Department “is bloated and there are plenty of places to cut.”

Hagel has it right, but the GOP just wants to focus on cuts to Social Security and Medicare that our senior citizens depend on for survival. Beneficiaries have paid into Social Security for years, and it’s not an “entitlement” program — they earned it. No less a Republican luminary than Ronald Reagan correctly said that Social Security doesn’t contribute one dime to the national deficit, so why is it always the program that conservatives point to when they go on their budget-cutting warpath?

Moreover, why won’t Republicans admit that government spending is actually growing at a slower rate under Obama than it has under any president since Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was in office six decades ago? According to a Bloomberg analysis, federal spending grew just 0.6 percent from 2009-12.

The facts don’t jibe with conservative talking points that make it sound like Obama has blown through our treasury like a drunken sailor. But the president and the nation are still recovering from the insane fiscal policies of mega tax-cutter George W. Bush, who managed to grow the deficit by $5 trillion during his eight years in office — not counting his wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which he didn’t even bother to officially put on the books.

Barrasso said folks in Wyoming have told him they aren’t going to stand for increasingly wasteful federal spending. It’s true that more attention needs to be paid to making all federal programs more cost-efficient. But many people in Wyoming conveniently ignore the fact that when it comes to federal spending per capita, Wyoming ranks No. 1 in the nation, taking in $3,757 for every man, woman and child in the Equality State in 2011, according to a Pew Charitable Trusts study.

Obama has already agreed on $1.4 trillion in spending cuts with congressional leaders, which, combined with new revenues and reduced interest payments, will reduce the deficit by $2.5 trillion over the next decade. Republicans could have seen the deficit decrease even more, had they not foolishly rejected a bargain Obama attempted to work out last year with House Speaker John Boehner.

Of course, the president insisted on tax hikes for the nation’s highest earners, and that’s completely unacceptable to the GOP.

But Republicans have no qualms about taking 750,000 jobs out of an economy that’s still struggling. The majority are federal government jobs, which don’t seem to count in the GOP’s alternate universe, even though government workers have to pay the same bills everyone else does.

Why are Republicans almost gleefully destroying jobs, instead of focusing on ways to get people back to work, like they promised voters last year?

Obama said “we shouldn’t be making dumb, arbitrary cuts to things that businesses depend on and workers depend on, like education and research and infrastructure and defense.”

“It’s unnecessary, and at a time when too many Americans are still looking for work, it’s inexcusable,” the president said.

He should have added one more thing:  for a party that lost the popular vote in November to force such a thing as sequestration knowing that it will hurt our struggling economy seems downright unAmerican.

— Kerry Drake of Casper has 37 years of experience as a reporter, columnist and editor at Wyoming’s two largest daily newspapers.

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Kerry Drake

Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake has covered Wyoming for more than four decades, previously as a reporter and editor for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and Casper Star-Tribune. He lives in Cheyenne and...

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