by David Corn
never-depleted well in Washington is the source of Republican
ineptitude. In the post-impeachment period, the GOPsters keep proving their
cluelessness. Once their poorly reviewed impeachment production closed, the
Republicans realized they were in desperate need of a new start.
Reflexively, they turned to tax cuts: The grand idea was a 10-percent across-the-board cut, which was to be the foundation of the Republican revival. It lasted about three weeks -- this past week, House Republican leaders pronounced their blockbuster win-'em-back proposal DBA -- dead before arrival. Moderate and conservative GOPers, for different reasons, didn't cotton to the plan, so it was quickly shelved -- before Clinton and the Democrats could attack. Even when the Republicans are on the playing field alone these days, they lose.
The 10-percent solution was a dumb idea. According to Citizens for Tax Justice, a nonprofit research outfit, nearly 60 percent of the tax break would have benefited taxpayers hauling in more than $100,000 a year. This slice of the public would have pocketed thousands of dollars. The benefits for most Americans were slight: Those making less than $38,000 would have netted $99. Moreover, Republicans never said how they'd pay for the tax cut. Were they going to use the budget surplus? If so, then they were about to mount a trickle-up transfer of wealth. Nearly the entire surplus is the result of Social Security taxes. But those taxes are only paid on the first $65,000 of income. Using the surplus from these taxes to disproportionately dish out money to those who make more than $65,000 would have been obscene. The Republicans were indeed contemplating a raid on Social Security to benefit the rich. It's unfortunate they retreated before the public caught on.
Bad and unjust policy was not the only evidence of their cluelessness. The tax cut proposal ran counter to all public opinion polls, which rank such an initiative below other priorities, such as education and preserving Social Security. So it failed on the pander-meter. Moreover, the quick abandonment revealed little strategic thinking under way in the GOP. Before unleashing a major policy initiative, shouldn't a party canvass its own and determine the plan's support? Thus has Rep. Dennis Hastert, the no-name legislator who became speaker because Larry Flynt has money to burn, failed his first test as a big-league player. Conservatives around town were aghast. One right-wing columnist explained the Republican misstep to me this way: "What's the cause of bad thinking? Stupidity."
What's next for the Republicans? There's nothing obvious, but there are Republicans cooking up ideas. In Colorado, two elected Republicans -- U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo and state Sen. John Andrews -- signed a pledge calling for the elimination of all public schools. The pledge was devised by a California group called the Separation of School and State Alliance, whose motto is: "It's not the business of federal, state and local governments to be involved in Monday school any more than Sunday school." Tancredo, who sits on the House Education Committee, told The Denver Post that he signed the pledge "to push the envelope of debate." Imagine if Hastert and the GOP leadership embraced the abolition of public schools.
It's unlikely the Republicans will push the envelope of idiocy that far, yet after the embarrassing retreat on taxes was announced the Republican leadership kept acting like directionless whiners. At a meeting with the President, Sen. Majority Leader Trent Lott and House Majority Leader Dick Armey said they wouldn't work with Clinton on Social Security and Medicare unless he assured them that the Democrats would never use the issues against Republicans in the 2000 elections. Aren't Republicans the ones who are supposed to relish and have faith in markets, including the marketplace of ideas? If the GOP has the best proposals on Social Security and Medicare, then what do Lott and Armey fear? Are they asking that they be permitted to put forward any scheme they like and then be immune from criticism during an election? The Republicans are roaring like mice.
March 8, 1999 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
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