The shutdown is over, but it's not difficult to forget the show the tea party put on last weekend. Billed as the "Million Veterans March," roughly 300 people turned out to hear Sarah Palin and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) deliver brief remarks about "the Obama shutdown," followed by a ceremonial gathering of government barricades from various closed D.C. monuments and using them to vandalize the north gate of the White House.
Of course there were the usual ringers found every tea party rally: a guy in colonial garb, lots of pale white skin and, predictably, a Confederate battle flag. Because nothing says "Honor Our Veterans" like waving the battle flag under which a rebel army killed more than 140,000 U.S. soldiers in defense of a states' right to own slaves.
While we contemplate the incoherence of such a gesture, let's go back to the barricades thing.
As we observed during the government shutdown, the tea party was exploiting the mandatory closure of the World War II Memorial as a political prop. It was one of the most bizarre displays of through-the-looking-glass politics we've witnessed in recent memory. Yes, Congress refused to fund the government, so it was forced to shut down non-essential services, taking with it all of the various memorials administered by the National Park Service within the Department of the Interior. If you force the government to close, things that are run by the government will close, too.
But, weirdly, the House and Senate Republicans who allowed this to happen in the first place have employed a twisted, upside-down, I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I political trick to make it appear as if President Obama was responsible for closing the memorial, thus stymieing a busload of wheelchair-bound World War II veterans from visiting the monument. Of course, tea party acolytes might not realize that the House of Representatives is the governmental body responsible for passing appropriations. Not the president. And those appropriations include the operating budgets for the Department of the Interior, which includes the National Park Service, which, in turn, is responsible for the World War II Memorial.
In fact, the shutdown might've been the closest the tea party has come to entirely eliminating Interior. Palin and Cruz don't want you to remember that Interior is one of several cabinet level departments the tea party would eliminate. And if you eliminate Interior, you eliminate the National Park Service.
Rewind to the 2012 Republican primary campaign when it became de rigueur for candidates to rattle off a list of the cabinet level departments they'd eliminate. Ron Paul, Herman Cain and Governor Rick Perry each declared their intention to shut down the Interior Department -- and not privately during closed-door meetings with tea party donors, but on national television during various debates and cable news appearances.
Ron Paul, as part of his plan to cut $1 trillion from the budget, would've closed Commerce, Education, Energy, Interior and Housing and Urban Development.
When Rick Perry was asked by a radio show host which departments he'd terminate, the Texas governor replied, "Three right off the bat, you know, Commerce, Interior, and Energy are three that you think." Based on that list, Interior might've been the infamous "third agency" that Perry couldn't remember during a presidential debate, "It's three government agencies when I get there that are gone: Commerce, Education and the um, what's the third one there. Let's see... The third agency of government ... I would do away with the Education, the um, Commerce, and let's see. I can't think of the third one. I can't. Sorry. Oops."
Aside from entirely abolishing Interior, Republicans have notoriously cut its funding. Former IRS lawyer Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), one of the first congressional Republicans to exploit the closing of the World War II Memorial, joined Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) in proposing draconian, slash-and-burn spending cuts including a 78 percent reduction in the Interior Department's budget. A 78 percent cut. That's damn close to eliminating it.
Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX), who flanked Palin during her Sunday remarks, voted against $708 million in post-Hurricane Sandy funding "for repairs to national parks, wildlife refuges and facilities." Stockman, along with Bachmann and nearly the entire House GOP, voted for Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-WI) budget last March, which would've cut $380 million from the NPS budget -- every year.
And so it goes. The NPS is almost perpetually under attack from the on-again-off-again Republican effort to drown government in the bathtub. In 2011, the House Appropriations Committee, with its Republican majority, voted to cut the NPS by $51 million annually. Later in the year, Appropriations voted to cut another $11.5 million from the NPS's Historic Preservation Fund. In 2011 and 2012, the NPS struggled to handle increased tourism while confronting six percent budget cuts in each of those years. Meanwhile, the first time the GOP played brinksmanship with the debt ceiling in 2011, the result was a $153.4 million annual cut to the NPS via sequestration.
Indeed, with the rise of the tea party Tenthers, who believe the Interior Department is unconstitutional, the effort to destroy the NPS has gained serious Crazy Strength.
So when tea party celebrities and lawmakers stand on NPS land and exploit a NPS monument as a backdrop in their strategy to undermine the U.S. economy, it tends to ring hollow knowing how they not only voted to shut down the NPS along with the rest of the federal government, but also knowing how the GOP has been at war against funding for the NPS throughout the service's nearly 100-year history.
"That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain." As much as they cheer, wave the flag and recite patriotic bumper sticker slogans, the tea party is no friend to the monuments and parks, and they're certainly no friend to the government agency tasked with being the caretakers of those places.
And now that the shutdown has ended, don't expect the tea party to sponsor legislation for additional funding for NPS parks, memorials or battlefields.
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