On Election Night 2014, as Republicans captured the Senate and tightened their grip on the House – setting up their roadblock capability that thwarted Obama-ism and helped gift America with the presidency of Donald Trump – a former lieutenant colonel who commanded Iowa’s National Guard truck convoys in Iraq and Kuwait jubilantly claimed victory as the first female military combat veteran ever elected to the Senate.
And as Iowa Republicans cheered that night, Joni Ernst enthusiastically revealed what we can now see must have been the Grand Old Party’s only 2014 in-depth masterplan for governance. Ernst had campaigned with a TV ad that emphasized her somewhat nontraditional qualification: “I grew up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm, so when I get to Washington, I'll know how to cut pork!” And she remained true to that spirit as she proclaimed to her faithful fans what she and her GOP colleagues had in store for their unsuspecting Capitol elders:
“We are heading to Washington – and we are going to make ‘em squeal!”
And lo, it came to pass. Plus a lot more.
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Shrill squeals can be heard echoing through the corridors of Congress these days. Democrats, after all, have no hope of winning on anything of significance. But we’re also hearing something new – the usual, one-sided Washington squeal has morphed into a actual bipartisan wail. It may be as close as we'll ever come to hearing actual Republican-Democratic harmony.
Increasing numbers of Republicans in the Senate and House are joining the loud chorus of Democrats voicing dissent on matters of policy – and also ethics, as in the Russiagate scandals that have beset Trump and his associates.
On policy, we hear them every time we see the Trump Two-Step: First conservatives propose a domestic policy change that guts funds for people in need while benefitting the top 1 percent of billionaires and multimillionaires. Then analysts discover it is also shafting the blue-collar middle class voters who were Trump’s margin of victory. So the policy goes back for rethink and rewrite. And so it goes.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office just announced Wednesday that the Trump-cajoled House Republicans’ plan for replacing President Barack Obama’s health care program will mean that by 2026, an estimated 23 million Americans will lose the health insurance coverage they now have. Also, the CBO concluded, Americans who have pre-existing major health care problems will face dire outcomes if they live in states that, under the new GOP plan, can waive requirements that everyone must purchase insurance. The insurance coverage costs of these patients with pre-existing conditions will likely then soar to huge, unaffordable premiums. That’s a dire result that Trump flatly assured voters would not happen. “Believe me!”
Meanwhile, Trump’s White House just revealed a new budget that will cut federal spending massively – by $3.6 trillion – over the next decade through deep reductions in programs that help the neediest Americans. Programs most drastically cut include Medicaid, food stamps (now known as SNAP) and health insurance for children in low-income families. Many Republicans were quick to object, saying Trump and his very conservative Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney had gone too far. Trump’s budget balances only if you believe that the rosy scenario of cutting taxes for the wealthiest, expecting their prosperity to trickle down to the masses, will somehow work this time. Even though it was tried and famously failed under Ronald Reagan.
Republicans, including some who are quite conservative, are fretting their GOP will be doomed once voters see that they are suffering under the policies of the Republicans they trusted and supported.
Meanwhile, increasing numbers of Republicans (both centrists and conservatives) are genuinely troubled by concerns about the Trump campaign’s contacts and relations with wealthy Russians linked to Vladimir Putin during a period when the Russian government attacked America by stealing and leaking emails to tip the 2016 election to Trump. Republicans now overwhelmingly have joined Democrats in supporting the efforts of the new special counsel, Robert Mueller.
But at this time when strong principled leadership is most needed, the most famous GOP voices outside the White House have barely been heard. Perhaps House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have merely developed a political laryngitis of convenience.
Hopefully, for the sake of the GOP and America, Ryan and McConnell haven’t lost anything that might have deprived them of the courage of their convictions. Or run afoul of that farm-fed spirit that made Joni Ernst all she is today.
The writer is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service.