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.
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
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.”

Barack Obama quote on sequester

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?

Barrasso on defense cuts

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.

Guest columns are the signed perspective of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of WyoFile’s staff, board of directors or its supporters. WyoFile welcomes guest columns and op-ed pieces from all points of view. If you’d like to write a guest column for WyoFile, please contact Guy Padgett at guy@wyofile.com or Dustin Bleizeffer at dustin@wyofile.com.

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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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  1. I am always amused when I hear Republicans complain about “wasteful” spending — this from the same people who never met a tax loophole or subsidy for corporations they didn’t like; the same people who were silent when Dick Cheney said deficits don’t matter anymore; the same people who watched billions poured down various Iraqi and Afghan development ratholes for the past decade, and now we have nothing to show for it, other than bulging, offshore bank accounts by the hundreds of contractors who pigged out.
    I’m waiting for the Rethuglicans to go one crisis too far, and the American public wakes up the fact the GOP is entirely willing to sacrifice Grandma, the middle class, the environment, the fate of the planet — all to continue tax breaks, subsidies for anyone who is old, rich, male and white.

  2. Much virtual ink has been spilled over the decline of the mainstream media, measured by circulation, advertising revenue, or a general sense of irrelevance. Usual explanations relate to the changing economics of news gathering and publication, the growth of social media, demographic and cultural shifts, and the like. These are all important but the main issue, I believe, is the characteristics of the product itself. Specifically, news consumers increasingly recognize that the mainstream media outlets are basically public relations services for government agencies, large companies, and other influential organizations.

    Journalists do very little actual journalism — independent investigation, analysis, reporting. They are told what stories are “important” and, for each story, there is an official Narrative, explaining the key issues and acceptable opinions on these issues. Journalists’ primary sources are off-the-record, anonymous briefings by government officials or other insiders, who provide the Narrative.

    A news outlet that deviates from the Narrative by doing its own investigation or offering its own interpretation risks being cut off from the flow of anonymous briefings (and, potentially, excluded from the White House Press Corps and similar groups), which means a loss of prestige and a lower status. Basically, the mainstream news outlets offer their readers a neatly packaged summary of the politically correct positions on various issues. In exchange for sticking to the Narrative, they get access to official sources. Give up one, you lose the other. Readers are beginning to recognize this, and they don’t want to pay.

    Nowhere is this situation more apparent than the mainstream reporting on budget sequestration. The Narrative is that sequestration imposes large and dangerous cuts — $85 billion, a Really Big Number! — to essential government services, and that the public reaction should be outrage at the President and Congress (mostly Congressional Republicans) for failing to “cut a deal.” You can picture the reporters and editors grabbing their thesauruses to find the right words to describe the cuts — “sweeping,” “drastic,” “draconian,” “devastating.” In virtually none of these stories will you find any basic facts about the budget, which are easily found on the CBO’s website, e.g.:

    Sequestration reduces the rate of increase in federal spending. It does not cut a penny of actual (nominal) spending.
    The CBO’s estimate of the reduction in increased spending between 2012 and 2013 is $43 billion, not $85 billion.
    Total federal spending in 2012 was $3.53 trillion. The President’s budget request for 2013 was $3.59 trillion, an increase of $68 billion (about 2%). Under sequestration, total federal spending in 2013 will be $3.55 trillion, an increase of only $25 billion (a little less than 1%).
    Did you catch that? Under sequestration, total federal spending goes up, just by less than it would have gone up without sequestration. This is what the Narrative calls a “cut” in spending! It’s as if you asked your boss for a 10% raise, and got only a 5% raise, then told your friends you got a 5% pay cut.
    Of course, these are nominal figures. In real terms, expenditures could go down, depending on the rate of inflation. Even so, the cuts would be tiny — 1 or 2%.
    The news media also talk a lot about “debt reduction,” but what they mean is a reduction in the rate at which the debt increases. Even with sequestration, there is a projected budget deficit — the government will spend more than it takes in — during every year until 2023, the last year of the CBO estimates. The Narrative grudgingly admits that sequestration might be necessary to reduce the national debt, but sequestration doesn’t even do that. It’s as if you went on a “dramatic” weight-loss plan by gaining 5 pounds every year instead of 10.
    This is all public information, easily accessible from the usual places. But mainstream news reporters can’t be bothered to look it up, and don’t feel any need to, because they have the Narrative, which tells them what to say. Seriously, have you read anything in the New York Times, Washington Post, or Wall Street Journal or heard anything on CNN or MSNBC clarifying that the “cuts” are reductions in the rate of increase? Even Wikipedia, much maligned by the establishment media, gets it right: “ sequestration refers to across the board reductions to the planned increases in federal spending that began on March 1, 2013.” If we have Wikipedia, why on earth would we pay for expensive government PR firms?

  3. I participated (listened but had no chance to speak) in a conference call last week with Senator Barrasso. I was thinking perhaps I might be enlightened from various views, statements concerning recent topics. I was absolutely disgusted and even shocked by most of the comments from those in the “conversation”. It was 95% very belligerent negative verbiage blasting Pres. Obama for efforts/actions in reasonable gun regulation changes. I do not consider myself naive on this issue. It was the strong and at times abusive language aimed directly at the president that bothered me……plus the fact that Senator Barrasso agreed and made no effort himself to calm the hateful rhetorical comments toward our President. I feel it is incumbent on all to show respect for the president, no matter your politics.

  4. Many excellent points Mr. Drake, Barrasso is Mitch McConnell’s puppy, “Making Obama A One-Term President Is My Single Most Important Political Goal” was the GOTP battle cry and the record number of filibusters and obstruction around every corner has made life miserable for so many Americans, this is deplorable.

    Barrasso has also consistently lied about what the President actually said, but hey, all’s fair in love and war, right, The Grand Obstructionists Party has done everything they can to make the President look bad and they look like fools in the process, does he believe Wyomingites are blind? Some apparently are, or can’t be bothered to check the facts.

    I am so sick and tired of all these fake and distracting issues when Real People are having Real Problems, and Barrasso is one of them.

  5. How refreshing, someone who sees the Senator for what he really is. He certainly does not represent me or most of Wyoming. He needs to get his head out of the clouds (would prefer to say something else) and actually have a real discourse with the population of Wyoming. His town hall meetings are a joke and attended only by Republicans that only support Republicans and who have no experience or viewpoint other than what he feeds them. They are his yes men…. So sad.

  6. I will (maybe) believe that John ” Doctor No ” Barrasso is a sincere statesman , an inclusive policy maker, and a worthy representative of all the people not just some of them, when he sits down across the interview table from Rachel Maddow. His infatuation with Fox News as his preferred soapbox is growing ever so tiresome from a Senator who is just 4 chairs from the top of his exclusive country club heirarchy. It’s time Barrasso started granting open interviews to other mainstream news outlets besides Fox with occasional token forays on CNN. And especially WyoFile. An hour’s conversation between Rone Tempest and John Barrasso with no preconditions would be revelatory.

    It isn’t going to happen , of course. I would nevertheless ask all three of my Wyoming reps in Congress to quit being Republican and start being American . Can you do this one simple thing ?

  7. Thanks for this. Ordinary folks who are Republicans need to remove their heads from the Fox News echo chamber of scripted GOP talking points, and look at the situation with their own eyes. Columns like yours will help them. Your writing is great, and your viewpoint is much needed in Wyoming public discourse. Thanks again.