President Barack Obama will give his State of the Union address Tuesday evening, the first of his second-term. American voters may have hoped that their elected officials had gotten the message that they should put partisanship aside and work together solve the myriad of problems facing the nation. Not so fast!
The president has his hands full. Unless Washington acts, in three weeks the country will be hit with the "sequester," mandatory cuts to the federal budget that will be devastating to the U.S. economy because several hundred thousand people will be furloughed or lose their jobs. Instead of working to avoid disaster, members of both parties are busy blaming the mess on their opponents.
Everyone in Washington thinks the deficits are a serious problem. But Republicans, having gone along with raising tax rates on the rich to temporarily avoid the "fiscal cliff," are demanding deep cuts in the federal budget, especially in entitlements and social programs, while rejecting raising any additional revenues. The president is proposing raising some more revenues by closing tax loopholes that favor the wealthiest, along with making targeted budget cuts. The GOP has rejected his "balanced approach."
While the country has been careening from fiscal crisis to fiscal crisis, Republicans, who are still licking their wounds from last November's national election defeats, are in a period of reflection and re-examination. And there is a struggle underway between Tea Party Republicans and the more moderate members. One outcome has been for the party to begin reaching out to Latinos, African Americans, Asians, and women, all demographics the party did poorly in last election.
Republicans had been the party of "self-deportation" and impregnable border fences. However, earlier this week House Majority Leader Eric Cantor actually did a flip on the Dream Act when he said the U.S. should, "provide an opportunity for legal residence and citizenship for those who were brought to this country as children and who know no other home." He also called for, "creating a workable guest worker program." Meanwhile, Republican spinmeisters have hailed Florida Senator Marco Rubio as the leading voice for Latinos and immigration, while saying the president has failed to lead on the issue. But Latinos want more than political talking points, they want action.
Immigration reform and gun control have been among the many hot topics consuming most of Congress's attention these past few weeks. But the strong Republican opposition to any truly meaningful steps on either issue is certain to assure only minimal changes will be enacted. Perhaps just background checks on gun purchases.
Meanwhile, Republican Senator Lindsay Graham has threatened to block two of President Obama's cabinet nominations until he receives satisfactory answers from the White House about what happened during the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, last September, which left four Americans dead. The appointees, Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense, and John Brennan for CIA Director, were subjected to tough, score-settling questions in their respective committee appearances. Hagel performed badly in the line of fire. Republican Senators John McCain and Rand Paul had previously made fools of themselves trying to beat up on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her testimony on Benghazi.
While most everyone expects the president's nominees to be confirmed, leading Republicans are coming out of the woodwork to talk trash. Former Vice President Dick Cheney criticized President Obama, to a gathering of Wyoming Republicans, saying, "Frankly, what he has appointed are second-rate people." These words from a second-rate political hack who misled the world to start a war in Iraq, who authorized illegal torture, and who was a major player in the greatest recession since the Great Depression. Remember, Cheney can't shoot straight.
The Republican Party is out of touch with mainstream America. They want to make deep cuts in federal spending, even though similar austerity efforts by England and other European nations have been an economic disaster. They are against banning assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips. They are opposed to a path to citizenship for America's eleven million illegal immigrants. They are on the wrong side of most social issues. They are the architects of tighter restrictions on voting that are meant to suppress African-Americans, Latinos and the elderly, who are largely Democratic voters.
The GOP can try to repackage their party by reaching out to all demographics. But, for many Americans, the GOP is just the same old party.