Triumphant Republicans prepare to take on the 'job-killers'

 

AMERICA:The greatest suspense on the day Congress opened was how long it would take Speaker of the House John Boehner to cry, writes LARA MARLOWE

THE 112th Congress came to town this week, with a typically American blend of religiosity, family and theatrics.

The newly empowered Republicans are scheduling votes for the sake of symbolism, and reading the constitution out loud.

Congressional inaugurations are family affairs, with members bringing spouses, siblings, children and grandchildren to witness right-hand-on-the-Bible swearing-in ceremonies. It took two buses to carry the family of the Speaker of the House, Congressman, John Boehner, of Ohio, from a prayer service at St Peter’s Catholic Church to the Capitol building.

“I have 11 brothers and sisters,” Boehner explained when he won an award for his opposition to abortion last year.

“I know it wasn’t convenient for my mom to have 12 of us, but I’m sure glad they’re all here.”

American media now politely refer to the Boehner family pub in Cincinnati as a “tavern”. It took Boehner seven years as a janitor to work his way through Xavier University. He then became a plastics and packaging salesman, until he entered politics.

The greatest suspense on the day Congress opened was how long it would take Boehner to cry. Americans unfamiliar with his prolific tear ducts were shocked on the night of the Republicans’ midterm victory, when the new Speaker blubbed like a baby in front of television cameras.

“I spent my whole life chasing the American dream,” Boehner sobbed. “Put myself through school, working every rotten job there was . . .”

Joy Behar of the television talk show The Viewchristened Boehner the “Weeper of the House.”

His behaviour provoked a national debate about the latent sexism that does not accept women politicians crying, but believes male politicians are “humanised” by displays of emotion.

In a CBS interview last month, a weepy Boehner explained that he cannot visit schools, or even look at children on a playground, because he starts crying. Three topics are guaranteed to open the floodgates: children, soldiers and his own success.

Boehner teared up twice in the House Chamber this week, when the outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi greeted his wife and children sitting in the gallery – they were crying too – and when Representative Jeb Hensarling from Texas thanked “providence or destiny” for calling “a man of uniquely American values” who “has lived the American dream and will protect it for posterity” to the country’s third highest office.

Boehner holds the record for receiving the most campaign contributions – $2.9 million (€2.24 million) – from Wall Street.

And he ranks high on the list of recipients of largesse from the health care industry, petroleum and pharmaceutical companies.

When President Barack Obama came to office two years ago, the new president talked of banishing lobbies – the powerful interest groups who influence legislation through money — from US politics. The lobbies are back with a vengeance.

A group called MAPLight.org used data from the Center for Responsive Politics to match campaign contributions with Republican appointees as committee chairmen.

The lobbies seem to have an infallible knack for zeroing in on candidates who will promote their interests. For example, the leading contributors to Representative Paul Ryan, the new chairman of the budget committee, were securities and investment firms, to the tune of $212,350. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the new chair of the House Foreign Affairs committee, received her largest contributions, totalling $148,607, from pro-Israel groups.

“Is Darrell Issa the new Joe McCarthy?” David Ignatius of the Washington Postasked this week, comparing the new chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to the senator who went on a 1950s witch-hunt against suspected communists.

Issa has said he wants “seven hearings a week, times 40 weeks” into what he calls the “corruption” of the Obama administration. When pressed, Issa admitted he was not referring to criminality, merely the profligate spending of money. Issa has sent letters to 150 companies asking them what “job-killing” business regulations they’d like him to undo.

“Job-killing” is the Republicans’ favourite word, injected into every characterisation of the Obama administration’s policies. The first Bill on Speaker Boehner’s list, which will come to a vote on January 12th, is cheekily entitled “Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act”. It will pass in the House, but will die in the Senate, which Democrats still hold.

The new Republican majority have proved singularly hypocritical on health care. When Democratic Representative Joseph Crowley from New York proposed this week that all congressmen be required to disclose whether or not they avail themselves of government health insurance, the entire Republican majority voted against it. They didn’t want to be seen to enjoy benefits they’re trying to deny to the rest of the country.

The Republicans have demanded that the cost of any new law be offset by cutting other government spending. But they made an exception for “Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care”. The Congressional Budget Office said on Thursday that the repeal would ratchet up the deficit by $230 billion over a decade, and leave 32 million Americans uninsured.