Republicans have become detached from the real world
The modern Grand Old Party is lost in fantasy
Republican Paul Ryan, chairman of the House budget committee, makes claims about having a plan to slash deficits but doesn’t spell out the details. Photograph:John Adkisson/Getty Images
Last week, House Republicans voted for the 40th time to repeal Obamacare. Like the previous 39 votes, this action will have no effect whatsoever. But it was a stand-in for what Republicans really want to do: repeal reality, and the laws of arithmetic in particular. The sad truth is the modern Grand Old Party (GOP) is lost in fantasy, unable to participate in actual governing.
Just to be clear, I’m not talking about policy substance. I may believe Republicans have their priorities all wrong, but that’s not the issue here. Instead, I’m talking about their apparent inability to accept very basic reality constraints, like the fact that you can’t cut overall spending without cutting spending on particular programmes, or the fact that voting to repeal legislation doesn’t change the law when the other party controls the Senate and the White House.
Am I exaggerating? Consider what went down in Congress last week.
Don’t cut you, don’t cut me
First, House leaders had to cancel planned voting on a transportation Bill because not enough representatives were willing to vote for the Bill’s steep spending cuts. Now, just a few months ago House Republicans approved an extreme austerity budget, mandating severe overall cuts in federal spending – and each specific Bill will have to involve large cuts in order to meet that target. But it turned out that a significant number of representatives, while willing to vote for huge spending cuts as long as there weren’t any specifics, baulked at the details. Don’t cut you, don’t cut me, cut that fellow behind the tree.
Then House leaders announced plans to hold a vote cutting spending on food stamps in half – a demand likely to sink the already struggling effort to agree with the Senate on a farm Bill.
Then they held the pointless vote on Obamacare, apparently just to make themselves feel better. (It’s curious how comforting they find the idea of denying healthcare to millions of Americans.) And then they went home for recess, even though the end of the fiscal year is looming and hardly any of the legislation needed to run the federal government has passed.
In other words, Republicans, confronted with the responsibilities of governing, essentially threw a tantrum, then ran off to sulk.
How did the GOP get to this point? On budget issues the proximate source of the party’s troubles lies in the decision to turn the formulation of fiscal policy over to a con man. Republican Paul Ryan, chairman of the House budget committee, has always been a magic-asterisk kind of guy – someone who makes big claims about having a plan to slash deficits but refuses to spell out any of the all-important details. Back in 2011 the Congressional Budget Office, in evaluating one of Ryan’s plans, came close to open sarcasm; it described the extreme spending cuts Ryan was assuming, then remarked, tersely: “No proposals were specified that would generate that path.”