The GOP’s metamorphosis from what Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal once called the stupid party into a party that is both stupid and useless is almost complete.
Between Wednesday’s votes in favor of bills that put federal spending on autopilot through December 11 and arm and train Syrian rebels, the Republicans are no longer even pretending to offer a serious alternative to a status quo deeply at odds with their supposed political philosophy. That’s not just bad for the GOP’s political fortunes—it’s bad for the country. Why have two parties when they’re effectively the same outfit?
Republicans have long talked a good game about wanting to cut the size, scope, and spending of government without ever really delivering the goods (see, for instance, the George W. Bush years). But these days, they can’t even be bothered to fake it. Gone is any of the budget-cutting brio that animated not only Tea Party enthusiasts a few years back but incoming House leadership just a couple of months ago.
They can’t be bothered to fight for even the smallest of trims. After Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was unexpectedly bounced in his June primary, his replacement Kevin McCarthy announced that he was ready to let the wasteful and corrupt Export-Import Bank (or Ex-Im) expire at the end of September. That was not only refreshing to hear, it seemed to signal that the GOP might actually start drawing out differences on economic policy between it and the Democratic Party. Maybe, just maybe, the party of Lincoln was finally getting serious about that total reboot they’d promised after the 2012 elections.
Created by Franklin Roosevelt during the Depression, Ex-Im offers $150 billion of taxpayer-backed loans and other financing to foreign countries to buy American products. It has long been attacked by free traders as a blatant form of corporate welfare that subsidizes the purchase of airplanes made by Boeing, farm equipment by John Deere, heavy machinery by Caterpillar, and various products made by such struggling firms as General Electric. On the very weekend it was announced that McCarthy would replace Cantor in the House leadership, he was asked whether he would let Ex-Im expire. “Yes,” McCarthy told Fox News, “because it’s something the private sector can be able to do.”
Well, that was then. Ex-Im funding will now be temporarily extended, and then the GOP will figure out a way to reauthorize it for another few years. After the midterms, look for stories talking up “bold” and “important” reforms that will do nothing to redirect the hyper-concentrated flow of Ex-Im funds to a single state (Washington, which pulls in over 40 percent of all disbursements).
Then there’s the resolution to arm and train “moderate” Syrian rebels, so they can fight a two-front war against both the hideous Assad regime and the barbaric Islamic State. This was a an amendment to the continuing resolution and it passed easily by a vote of 273 to 156, with Republicans voting two-to-one in favor. It now goes to the Senate, where there will be a single vote on the whole megillah: regular government spending, plus the training dollars for our new rebel friends. It is expected to pass easily in the Senate.
The GOP, which claims to be the party that pledges maniacal fealty to the Constitution, can’t be bothered to push for a declaration of war, but it’s happy to shovel more borrowed money toward a dodgy group of Syrians. “I frankly think the president’s request is a sound one,” Speaker of the House John Boehner told The Washington Times. The only real disagreement among Republicans is whether to put American soldiers on the ground to fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria, which appears to be what Sen. John McCain is pushing for.
As the differences between the two parties are blunted, it’s no wonder that Republican chances for retaking the Senate are evaporating faster than those anticipated federal surpluses in the early Aughts. “Democrats now have a 51 percent chance of holding the Senate,” reports The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza, who notes that just a few months ago, the odds were better than 80 percent that the Republicans would pick up six seats to gain a majority in both houses of Congress.
The Republicans’ utter lack of temerity is somewhat understandable. Their leaders have long refused to commit to any real change, even when Tea Party fever was at its highest (the few times Republicans pushed for spending trims—such as when the GOP called for cutting food stamps while growing farm subsidies—have been less than inspiring). Much like Mitt Romney, who, spent five long years steadfastly refusing to name any major federal program he would cut, the current crop of party leaders is terrified of laying out any specific plans. Romney played defense all the way, as did Boehner upon becoming Speaker of the House.
Just a couple of weeks before ascending to the big-boy chair in the House of Representatives in 2011, Boehner was asked to “name a program right now that we could do without.” His answer: “I don’t think I have one off the top of my head.”
Years later, at a time when President Obama has managed to turn off even his longtime fans in the press, the GOP still doesn’t really have any answers or reforms or changes that it’s willing to share with the voting public.
In a two-party system, we’re effectively down to one party that wants to keep spending essentially the same and to start a new war without having to go on the record as voting for it or against it. No wonder that just 25 percent of Americans identify as Republican, according to Gallup, and the GOP probably won’t win the Senate despite appalling poll numbers for Obama’s Democrats. Because when you go from being stupid to being useless, voters are smart to stick with the status quo, no matter how miserable it might be.