Remember these votes in the House of Representatives?
“At 2:54 a.m. on a Friday in March, the House cut veterans’ benefits by three votes.
“At 2:39 a.m. on a Friday in April, the House slashed education and health care by five votes.
“At 1:56 a.m. on a Friday in May, the House passed the Leave No Millionaire Behind tax-cut bill by a handful of votes.
“At 2:33 a.m. on a Friday in June, the House passed the Medicare privatization and prescription drug bill by one vote.
“At 12:57 a.m. on a Friday in July, the House eviscerated Head Start by one vote.”
These votes all took place in the Republican-run House of Representatives in 2003.
So reported then-Rep. Sherrod Brown of Ohio in December 2003 in his article, “Democracy crumbles under cover of darkness,” in which he detailed the secretive and hyper-partisan nature of the Republican-controlled Congress.
Subversion of democracy
When Brown wrote that piece, the 1994 “Republican Revolution” was in its eighth year and the White House had gone from Democrat Bill Clinton to Republican George W. Bush. There would be three more years to go before the Democrats wrested back Congress in 2006.
The damage done to the political – and judicial – institutions of this country by the Republicans may never be tallied. But Brown summed up acts committed under the Republican-controlled Congress as the “subversion of democracy.”
In a late-night November 2003 battle royale, lasting from Friday night to Saturday morning, the Republican House leadership privatized a huge chunk of a most treasured American program – Medicare. They broke rules, bullied and twisted arms of fellow Republicans in an episode that Brown described as an “assault.”
They succeeded. And the public knew not a thing about it.
“You can do a lot in the middle of the night, under the cover of darkness,” Brown said.
1994: Mean and corrupt
The so-called Republican Revolution of 1994, led by Newt Gingrich, Dick Armey and Tom DeLay in the House, had a freshman class that included Sam Brownback of Kansas, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. Much of the legislation from their Contract with America, which they passed in 1995, was so extreme that it was even too much for the Republican Senate.
One of the first acts of the freshman class of 1994 was to shut down the government.
The Republican-controlled Congress wanted deep cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, education, the EPA and other government functions. Clinton refused, and the Gingrich, Armey, DeLay leadership forced the shutdown in the late winter of 1995.
Major government departments and agencies stopped work. Passports couldn’t be issued. National parks and the Smithsonian were closed. Veterans couldn’t access health and other services.
Some 284,000 federal workers lost their jobs during the shutdown. Some 800,000 government workers were furloughed. The shutdown actually cost the government MORE money than if it had stayed open.
Gingrich and DeLay eventually resigned from office in a cloud of corruption.
Armey retired and now leads the tea party movement through Washington, D.C.-based FreedomWorks, an ultra-conservative group that campaigns to lower taxes on the super-rich and corporations and to privatize Social Security.
Tea party/Republicans want repeat
Now the Republican/tea party candidates threaten a repeat.
Joe Miller, the Alaskan tea party/Republican candidate for Senate, said in an interview that he wants get rid of health care reform, Social Security, Medicare and other entitlements he considers “socialist aspects of government.” Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported: “Miller went on to say that Congress should have the ‘courage to shut down the government,’ if necessary, to eliminate government programs.”
While Republicans/tea partiers rant and rave at government programs, what they don’t publicize are the tax breaks the Republican-controlled Congress gave – not only to the ultra-wealthy but to corporations that laid off workers, cut jobs and outsourced them. Tax breaks for this group of special interests means tax hikes for the rest of us, economists warn.
The Republicans invited in corporate lobbyists to actually WRITE the legislation. They prevented non Republicans from participating in any committee work. The nation was held hostage during endless investigations, culminating in the impeachment of the president, and costing taxpayers millions of dollars, all in an attempt to wrest the White House from the Democrats.
A central part of the GOP strategy was an all out assault on civil rights, unions, women, people of color, gays and lesbians. The political atmosphere was rank with racism and bigotry. Gingrich and Co. took whole parts of a racist and pro-eugenic book “The Bell Curve” and attempted to turn it into a blueprint for legislation.
You can expect the same – on steroids – with a tea party Congress. The recent NAACP report that corporations are funding tea party groups that give “platforms to anti-Semites, racists and bigots” is a warning of what their legislative agenda would consist of.
There is a difference
By comparison, in 2007, the Democrats’ first year back in the leadership of Congress, and with George W. Bush as president, Congress passed a minimum wage increase, the House passed the Matthew Shepard hate crimes act – the first time the House brought a gay rights bill to the floor for a vote, and funding for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program was restored.
Since the election of Barack Obama, the list of legislation the Democratic Congress passed and the president signed into law that will have a positive impact on people’s lives is impressive. (For a summary click here.)
Let’s not condemn ourselves to repeat the past because of short-term memory loss. This is a “which side are you on” moment. The Rev. Joseph Lowery, civil rights movement leader alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., said, “In 2008, we voted to change the guard. In 2010, we have to guard the change.”
Photo: Newt Gingrich and GOP cohorts during the 1994 campaign.