The 112th Congress came to its grisly end a little before midnight New Year’s Day as the House passed legislation keeping the country solvent, at least for the time being.
The events leading up to the vote represent a grand squandering of the momentum Republicans thought they had gained as a result of the election of 2010. They must now be regarded as the party of no — no credibility and no brains.
By bowing to the demands of Grover Norquist and the tea party, the GOP backed itself into a corner from which it will have a hard time extricating itself. In the end, Republicans faced the dismal choice of saddling Americans with an average $3,000-per-household tax increase or going along with a bill that raises taxes on the wealthy and avoiding draconian spending cuts for which they would get absolutely no credit.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., may not be the most popular politician in Washington, but she proved much more adept at persuading her members to go along with the eleventh-hour compromise fashioned by the White House and Senate than did Speaker John Boehner. The latter’s party voted 150-85 against passage, letting all Americans know their fealty to the very rich took precedence over the danger inaction posed to the economy, not to mention the immediate needs of the elderly, the unemployed and a struggling middle class.
Throughout the past two years, Republicans have raised legitimate concerns about the size of the federal deficit and the inability and unwillingness of their counterparts on the other side of the aisle to cut government spending. But the fact is that they had a golden opportunity to get the ball rolling in terms of deficit reduction by signing onto the “grand bargain” drafted by Boehner and President Obama in the summer of 2011.
Their refusal to do so, or to endorse other schemes that combined revenue enhancement with cuts in entitlement spending recommended by the Biden and so-called “super” committee, represents one of the most boneheaded decisions in recent congressional history.
Even in victory late Tuesday night, Obama acknowledged that “the deficit is still too high” and expressed a willingness to work with the other side on reducing things like Medicare costs and “unnecessary spending in government.” (On the other hand, he made clear that he will not free Republicans from the responsibility of finding the means of paying for the two wars that began during the George W. Bush administration.)
Contrary to the Norquist/tea party version of conventional wisdom, a majority of Americans see a role for government and are willing to pay for it. A recent AARP poll showed that 85 percent of those 50 or older — a key GOP demographic — support government job-training programs, 76 percent favor greater investment in education, and 51 percent would like to see more money spent on roads and bridges.
Obama made no secret of the fact that he, too, favors such investments and believes that raising taxes on the most affluent is a legitimate means of financing them. And like it or not, he won both the Electoral College and popular vote in November.
Nelson Benton spent 40 years covering politics on the North Shore before retiring from The Salem News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.