One of my all-time favorite comedians was Groucho Marx. He always had the right response to the question of the moment. He used to say, “No matter what you ask for, the answer is no.” That describes the crazy new Republican majority in the House of Representatives.
For decades, the federal government has been providing funds for Social Security, Medicare, Homeland Security and the Department of Defense. Most rational people will tell you that these are crucial parts of the government, but various members of the new majority have targeted these programs for extinction.
When asked why they would seek to end one of these key programs, the individual Republican members would answer, “Because I don’t like it.” The idea that many members of the new majority want to bring government to its knees should be a warning sign to every American.
The Republican effort to dismantle American government is nothing new to political observers. Hundreds of Republican candidates who have run for Congress have campaigned on the promise to make government smaller. They made it a point never to explain which programs they were after, because they knew specifics would kill them.
Eliminating programs goes along with the entire package of rules that were just adopted by the House of Representatives under the leadership of its new speaker, Kevin McCarthy. McCarthy has wanted to be speaker for over a decade. In 2015 he lost the job to John Boehner, and Boehner gave it to Paul Ryan. This year, for McCarthy, the speakership was now or never.
To avoid never, he agreed to a set of rules changes that at best could be described as insane. At the top of the list is a rule that will allow any one of the 435 House members to make a motion to take away the speakership from McCarthy.
Another rule allows members to single out any federal agency and vote to eliminate its budget. Because the House is empowered to craft the government’s spending plan, this rule could wipe out the entire budget of the Defense Department or the allocation for Medicare, with little or no debate in the House. The Democratic Senate will no doubt vote against such changes, but that would leave the country without a budget.
What spells more trouble is a requirement that any increase in the debt ceiling must be matched by reductions in federal spending, which could target Social Security and Medicare. What is the next ugly byproduct of McCarthy’s failure to give into the far-right mob?
Spending limits, counterbalanced by cuts in programs, would create the possibility that Congress would default on its requirement to pay the nation’s debt. A debt default could lead to a global meltdown and a downgrading of America’s credit rating. The Republican House majority threatened debt default under President Barack Obama, but in the end, the Republicans came to their senses and approved the borrowing to keep the government functioning.
Apparently, rules changes weren’t enough for the 20 or so fringe House members as McCarthy sold his soul. In addition to giving in to them on rules, he agreed to appoint them to key committees, including the powerful Rules Committee. In effect, the group of 20 will have more power than the other 202 members of the House majority.
It is important to explain the significance of the appointment of troublemakers to the Rules Committee. The committee has the authority to do virtually anything during the course of consideration of a measure, including deeming it passed. It can rewrite parts of a bill, or the entire measure. House members such as Lauren Boebert, of Colorado, can hold the committee hostage. It’s a recipe for disaster.
Some readers might call these observations partisan, but any student of government will tell you that all of these changes are a recipe for disaster. As an example of the thinking of this power cluster, Rep. Jim Jordan, of Ohio, was asked why he favored cuts in the Defense Department, and he answered that there are too may generals in the military, and we have to get rid of many of them.
When all of these so-called reformers announced their plans, I thought of the word “clowns,” and then the song “Send In the Clowns” popped up in my thinking. Clowns are funny, but not this group of them.
Jerry Kremer was an Assemblyman for 23 years, and chaired the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee for 12 years. He now heads Empire Government Strategies, a business development and legislative strategy firm. Comments about this column? firstname.lastname@example.org.