Congressional Republicans are like a pathetic victim of bullying. When faced with a challenge, they draw up into a ball and beg not to be kicked.
The irony is they have the tools to defend themselves. They just don’t get it so they remain the helpless victim.
Think about their situation going into the recent debt ceiling “debate.” The vast majority in both the Senate and House realized this was another key opportunity to at least make a dent in the hard work of budget cutting.
Americans are with them on this. Polls have reliably shown growing numbers of citizens understand that public debt now hangs like a black cloud over our financial future. They regard it as far more important than income inequality, for example.
Moreover, in the political arena where public perceptions are everything, their nemesis the President committed a classic overreach. He haughtily refused to negotiate, which is undemocratic and unacceptable in our representative form of government.
We elect only a President, not a king. Americans know that, but Republican leaders failed to even try to capitalize. Instead, they meekly rolled over and rewarded the President by approving a “clean” increase in the debt ceiling.
In the end, 23 House Republicans gave up their majority status to side with a unanimous Democrat caucus (something Speaker Boehner once said he would never let happen) and pass the debt increase. Senate Democrats were unified too, but Republicans could have forced negotiations with a filibuster. Of course, they meekly gave up that right so the vote could proceed unobstructed. Wouldn’t want to cause any trouble or force any of those “hard choices for our children.”
Arizona’s senatorial profiles in courage, McCain and Flake, both voted to avert the filibuster. Once defeat was assured, they both voted against the debt ceiling increase. McCain took the extra step of leading the vilification of those who, like Sen. Ted Cruz, actually tried to get something done.
So once again the Republicans, all of whom campaigned as committed fiscal conservatives, proclaimed their determination to cut spending – just not now. Waiting until 2017 is a popular fantasy choice for when we really, really will cut spending.
But there’s no reason to think the environment for budget cutting will be improved then. Obamacare’s massive subsidies, including “risk corridors” for insurance companies, will be settled entitlements. Medicare and Social Security will be going into overdrive as baby boomers tumble into retirement. Income transfer payments will be ever more popular with the beneficiaries, especially if “comprehensive” immigration reform is enacted.
The political landscape may not be that much better either. Hillary Clinton lurks out there. A weak and unpopular president, like we have now, is actually a window of opportunity that may not soon be repeated.
Republicans’ inability to negotiate successfully has its consequences. It was 2.5 years ago that Speaker Boehner first shepherded a debt ceiling increase through a Republican House. Since then, on his watch, the debt has increased a total of $2.7 trillion, an average of $9,300 per household since August 2011 alone, or more than $1 trillion/year.
Look, everybody understands it’s not that easy. A sycophantic mainstream media resolutely sides with the president no matter how incompetent and hypocritical he may be. Political unity comes naturally to collectivists, for whom the perks of governing are more important than they are to the ideologically motivated Right.
But the Left wins, even though their ideas are tired and unpopular, because they stay on message and they stick together. They support their weakest and most radical members. They never back down. They even preposterously claimed the job losses caused by Obamacare are a boon in rescuing people from “job lock.”
Not so on the Right. Timidity and retreat are the norm. Those who stick their heads out of the foxhole to argue for a more principled course – the Tea Party, the Koch brothers, Senators Cruz and Lee – are slandered and vilified by their own side. The outcome is a foregone conclusion.
The Republicans’ ineptitude is exhausting their base. They lost the presidency in 2012 because unenthused Republicans didn’t bother to vote. Unless Republicans can give their followers a reason to believe in them, that’s likely to happen again.
• East Valley resident Tom Patterson is a retired physician and former state senator. He can be reached at email@example.com.