Pulse of the Peninsula: Hold firm against GOP hostage-taking

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Pulse of the Peninsula: Hold firm against GOP hostage-taking

Cars pulled up to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point the day after celebrating its 70th anniversary, to take students back home since the service academy was shuttered by the federal government shutdown.

 On Monday, Day 7, 7,000 the US Department of Veterans Affairs employees were furloughed and the regional offices closed. Veterans who need assistance for PTSD will also have to wait.

 Businesses and homeowners anticipating Sandy relief will have to wait because there aren’t the federal workers to process the applications; small businesses hoping for a loan also will have to wait.

 Also on Monday, Day 7 of the government shutdown, there was a tornado warning in our area. Had there been an emergency, FEMA workers would have had to have been brought back from furlough, and put into action without pay.

These are just a small sampling of what is happening in communities across the country – as 800,000 employees are furloughed, their work stopped, and businesses and investors get increasingly anxious about the impact on the economy and just how far the Radical Republicans will take their brinksmanship. 

Will they refuse to raise the debt ceiling, causing the US to default on its obligations for the first time in history, forever destroying the “full faith and credit” of the U.S. government?

 And that library bond referendum on Nov. 19? 

Well, the $10.4 million bond may cost the community $20 million because interest rates are likely to rise if the nation’s credit rating is downgraded for only the second time in history (the first was in 2011 when Republicans went through a similar show of brinksmanship, which has cost American taxpayers more than $1 billion in higher interest costs. That is, if there is any credit to be had at all.

It may not be as dramatic as the lights and water being shut off (that will come when if the U.S. defaults), but the government shutdown is having real, even devastating, impact on individuals and families.

 Take FEMA, for example, which is the lead agency for Sandy relief: “Work on previously approved and ongoing long-term recovery projects will, in many cases, be delayed due to furloughs of significant numbers of federal employees required to process and manage the funding for these projects. 

FEMA has also suspended the review and approval of new and pending disaster recovery projects, as well as most other work of the agency, across the country that does not involve immediate threats to the safety of life and property,” a spokesman for FEMA stated.

 And what about the new disasters unfolding: flooding in Colorado, tornadoes, hurricanes threatening New Orleans and Florida?

 “FEMA remains committed to supporting disaster survivors. Ongoing response operations to recent as well as any future disasters will continue because this work is funded by the Disaster Relief Fund, which did not lapse with other appropriations on Sept. 30, 2013. Individual and housing assistance to disaster survivors, for existing or newly declared disasters, will also continue in the immediate term.”

 However, 86 percent of FEMA has been furloughed. And when there is a disaster, they have to be brought back, which has to affect response time. And what happens when the Disaster Relief Fund is exhausted?

 That goes for national security as well.

 FBI agents are not reporting to work, 70 percent of the intelligence community have been furloughed, the border patrol agents are on the job, but not getting paid.

 I wonder what will happen if terrorists think this is just a fine-and-dandy time to launch an attack like on Benghazi. I fully expect Rep. Darrell Issa will haul Secretary Kerry before his Government Oversight Committee to chastise him for letting Americans die, just as he chastised Sec. Clinton without taking a bit of responsibility for slashing the State Department’s security budget.

 How hypocritical and absurd for Rep. Randy Neugebauer’s (R-Tex.) to castigate a Park Ranger for closing the World War II Memorial, blaming her for the closure he voted for and telling her that she should be ashamed of herself.

 But more than 400 national parks and monuments- Yosemite National Park which just celebrated its 123rd anniversary, and the Statue of Liberty among them – are shuttered, costing local businesses $30 million a day in lost revenue, not to mention the millions of people just as disappointed to be barred from as the World War II veterans.

A government shut down does not save a dime or cut the budget deficit or debt. It makes these worse. It is costing $300 million a day in lost output every day the government is shut down. And we are actually paying the workers for the time they are furloughed. It costs money to shut down offices and even more to re-start operations.

And the economic ramifications can derail the recovery, already fighting the headwind of the Sequester.

 The federal government is America’s largest employer, with more than 2 million civilian workers and 1.4 million active-duty military serve in all 50 states and all around the world.  Obama noted, “In the event of a government shutdown, hundreds of thousands of these dedicated public servants who stay on the job will do so without pay – and several hundred thousand more will be immediately and indefinitely furloughed without pay. 

 “What, of course, will not be furloughed are the bills that they have to pay – their mortgages, their tuition payments, their car notes…They are the customers of every business in this country.  And they would be hurt greatly, and as a consequence, all of us will be hurt greatly, should Congress choose to shut the people’s government down.

 “Across the country you’ve got farmers in rural areas and small business owners who deserve a loan, but they’re being left in the lurch right now. They might have an application pending as we speak, but there’s nobody in the office to process the loan. The SBA gives a billion dollars of loans a month to small businesses….  Right now those can’t be processed because there’s nobody there to process them,” Obama said.

“So a shutdown will have a very real economic impact on real people, right away.  Past shutdowns have disrupted the economy significantly.  This one would, too.  It would throw a wrench into the gears of our economy at a time when those gears have gained some traction,” Obama said.

 And what is the point of the government shutdown? To block 30 million Americans from access to affordable health insurance? Certainly not to reduce the budget deficit or national debt which are harmed by the shutdown and will be even more if Republicans don’t raise the debt ceiling.

 Speaker John Boehner has insisted on the fiction that Obama and Democrats refuse to compromise but that is simply not true.

 In fact, the Democrats already have compromised – accepting the Republican’s spending levels that continue the Sequester cuts by some $200 billion in spending.

 “One thing that’s gone almost unnoticed is how much Democrats already have conceded to Republicans on spending.” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt). “Democrats, in agreeing to a $986 billion sequestration budget, accepted significantly lower levels of spending in a so-far futile attempt to win the support of Republicans.” Senate Democrats wanted $1.058 trillion budget

 “The bill that is being presented to end the government shutdown reflects Republican priorities,” President Obama said on Monday during a visit to FEMA. “It’s the Republican budget.  The funding levels of this short-term funding bill, called the CR, is far lower than what Democrats think it should be.  Nevertheless, Democrats are prepared to put the majority of votes on to reopen the government.  So when you hear this notion that Democrats aren’t compromising – we’re compromising so much we’re willing to reopen the government at funding levels that reflect Republican wishes, don’t at all reflect our wishes…. “

Clearly the Democrats have compromised. But Obama should not negotiate further during the government shutdown or to avoid crashing the economy if Republicans refuse to raise the debt ceiling. Obama had tried that tact – in 2010, in 2011, and Republicans have clearly embraced hostage taking as the means to achieve their aims. Indeed, every time Obama concedes, the Republicans move the goalpost, as they did to refuse the negotiated “Grand Bargain” that led to the Sequester.

Conservative Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-IN), has the audacity to assert, “We’re not going to be disrespected. We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.”

Who is being disrespected, exactly? Grover Norquist has told his sycophants that Republicans should continue to dangle the threat of government shutdown on a monthly basis as a “leash” on Obama.

The result is that the US has had to endure one manufactured crisis after another, each time deflating the economic recovery, provoking uncertainty for businesses and investors, undermining jobs creation while prolonging the misery for average Americans.

What is the endgame? It is less about throwing monkey wrenches into Obamacare than to derail Obama and undermine the presidency altogether, in effect to let the minority rule.

 Indeed, this plan to shutdown government was hatched months ago and continues the strategy of obstruction which Republican leadership implemented the very day of Obama’s inauguration in 2009.

 As the New York Times reported this week, “A Federal Budget Crisis Months in the Planning,” a coalition led by former Attorney General Edwin Meese III, met shortly after the start of Obama’s second term to  plot “a blueprint to defunding Obamacare” which “articulated a take-no-prisoners legislative strategy that Republicans could derail the health care overhaul if conservative lawmakers were willing to push fellow Republicans – including their cautious leaders – into cutting off financing for the entire federal government…”

 Said Sen Bernie Sanders (I-Vt), “It’s enormously important that the American people understand that this debate is not just about Obamacare. What this debate is about is the Koch Brothers’ dream of repealing virtually every major piece of legislation passed in the last 80 years…. And if they get away with what they are trying to do now, in two weeks they’ll be back with the debt ceiling, threatening the financial stability of the entire world….”

 In 2011, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said the global economy is a “hostage that’s worth ransoming.”

 That’s why Obama has to break this cycle of brinksmanship, hostage-taking and manufactured crises, and not negotiate. Even though polls show a drop in approval ratings for Obama, the greatest drop in support has been leveled against the Republicans. Obama has to hold firm.

 Does anyone doubt that if Obama caves on Obamacare, they will next demand tax cuts for the rich, probably ending estate taxes, or else they will defund Social Security for seniors?

“I will not negotiate over Congress’s responsibility to pay bills it’s already racked up.  I’m not going to allow anybody to drag the good name of the United States of America through the mud just to refight a settled election or extract ideological demands.  Nobody gets to hurt our economy and millions of hardworking families over a law you don’t like. 

“There are a whole bunch of things that I’d like to see passed through Congress that the House Republicans haven’t passed yet, and I’m not out there saying I’m going to let America default unless Congress does something that they don’t want to do.  That’s not how adults operate. 

“Certainly that’s not how our government should operate.  And that’s true whether there’s a Democrat in this office or a Republican in this office.  Doesn’t matter whether it’s a Democratic House of Representatives or a Republican-controlled House of Representatives – there are certain rules that everybody abides by because we don’t want to hurt other people just because we have a political disagreement….”

In essence, Obama is talking about preserving the democratic process, the Presidency, and the concept of co-equal branches. But the Republicans, apparently recognizing that they may not win back the White House for a long time (they no longer even care to maintain the pretense of a “big tent” that “welcomes” women, Hispanics, Blacks, etc. etc. etc.) have abandoned the concept of the Unitary Executive they so enthusiastically bestowed on George W. Bush (because he was so easily handled by the Neo-Cons), giving Bush the ability to overturn hundreds of laws as passed by Congress with signing statements, and broad authority to disregard the Constitution by claiming war powers. Instead, they want to nullify the power of the Majority and the President.

What is clear is that Republicans are ruthless in taking political power but don’t have a clue how or why to govern. They can outspend and buy elections, gerrymander districts so that they don’t have to fear any repercussions from irresponsible actions, and when even that is not enough, suppress votes to steal elections by purging, closing and moving polling places, putting inadequate numbers of voting machines, imposing voter ID requirements designed to disenfranchise certain segments including young voters, old voters, disabled and minorities. But they have nothing but disdain for government and the people.

 Now it seems they have decided they do not even want to bother about elections – they want to nullify the result of elections – the fact that Obama was reelected (with a margin of more than 5 million votes) promising to implement Obamacare and Romney was defeated pledging to repeal it, that the Senate retained its majority, and that 1.5 million more votes were cast for Democratic Congressmen than Republicans. They also dismiss the reality that 75% of Americans did not want the government to shut down over Obamacare.

 This is quite literally a coup – a takeover of the government – and a destruction of the democratic process by this small group of Radicals. It is the ascension of the Neo-Confederates – no different, really than the Confederates who fought the Civil War – who are using nullification to overturn the will of the majority. These Tea Party Radicals are succeeding where 19 terrorists on 4 planes nor any number of terrorists could accomplish: the destruction of the nation’s economy and its political process. “They hate us for our freedom.” No, the Tea Party Republicans hate America.

Michael Lofgren, former staff member of the House and Senate Budget Committee for 28 years and author of “The Party Is Over: How Republicans Went CRAZY, Democrats Became USELESS, and the Middle Class Got SHAFTED” appearing on “All In w/Chris Hayes,” said, “We have an insurrectionist, neo-confederate party that seems dedicated to all kinds of apocalyptic outcomes. I don’t know if this comes from their fundamentalist religious outlook or whether it’s just good fund-raising for them among their base, but they are no longer a normal political party. They are an insurrectionist party that is bringing down the government.”

So Obama has to up the stakes and show the Radicals there are consequences for extortion. Every day the government is shut down, he should take some action to show Republicans there are consequences of their reckless actions, and to uphold the power of the Presidency. He tried for too long, and too naively to “change the tone in Washington” and compromise. He needs to act through executive order:

 First: issue his ruling nixing the Keystone Pipeline.

 Next: the SEC should require companies to disclose to shareholders their political  contributions, requiring a vote of shareholders for spending of a certain threshold.

 Third: the SEC should impose a transaction tax to raise money so that Republicans have less of a debt to complain about, while helping to restore more stability and order to the markets and encourage longer-term investing.

 Fourth: the IRS should enforce the letter of the actual law regarding 501 (c) (4) status for nonprofit social organizations in order to allow their donors to be anonymous: no organization engaged in political activity should have the ability to hide its donors.

I can think of other executive actions Obama can take – on immigration reform, voter suppression, climate change, gun violence prevention.

 And he should sue Congress in the Supreme Court for violating the 14th Amendment, and therefore their oath of office, so should be impeached from office.

 That would nullify their election, but that’s nullification I can support.

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