We are watching a Mad Hatter Tea Party Congress. Instead of the adult behavior House Speaker John Boehner promised last December after his party's victory, the American people are left with political games that make the new ultra-conservative elite pleased, but put middle class Americans and the country we love at serious risk.
Last fall, Boehner and his allies, Karl Rove, the Koch Brothers, and the Tea Party, had attacked Democratic incumbents relentlessly on jobs, Medicare, and raising the debt ceiling. But Boehner had been around for a while and knew that after they were sworn-in, campaign rhetoric would be put aside for the sake of governing. At least he thought he knew that.
Interviewed by Peter J. Boyle on the heels of the November election, Boehner said, "This [the debt ceiling] is going to be the first really big adult moment" for the new Republican majority. "You can underline 'adult'...But we'll have to find a away to educate members and help people understand the serious problems that would exist if we didn't do it."
Yet that adult behavior has been completely missing from the charade discussions on the debt ceiling. Instead Republican leaders, with an ear to the demands of their newest members, walked out of the room when curtailing costly tax loopholes for special interests were proposed. These tax subsidies for the enormously profitable oil industry, or tax breaks for food-price-raising corn ethanol, are unsustainable tax deals that divert trillions of dollars from the U.S. Treasury. Yet Speaker Boehner's number two, Eric Cantor, played a child's game -- he took his ball and went home when he didn't get his way.
House Republicans refuse to have an adult discussion on tax rates as well, although the Bush tax cuts (along with the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and the economic collapse that Wall Street's excessive risks created) drive the need to raise the debt ceiling and the yearly deficits. Asking the millionaires and billionaires who reaped incredible benefits from the economy over the past 10 years to pay the tax rate they paid under President Reagan is a reasonable thing to do. We could also carefully streamline our tax code to ensure hedge fund managers do not continue to pay a lower rate than their secretaries or the custodians who cleans their posh offices. These are reasonable solutions to our long term debt problems that involve common sense, fairness and shared sacrifice.
Instead, the Mad Hatter Tea Party Congress wants to take Medicare benefits away from those under age 55. This is breathtaking in so many ways. The Republicans who voted unanimously to gut Medicare, are the same ones who last cycle yelled loudly that Democratic efforts to save money (and strengthen Medicare for everyone) by reducing overpayments to private entities like Medicare Advantage would hurt seniors. Worried seniors abandoned the Democrats and voted the Republicans into the majority.
After cynically using fear tactics around Medicare and the debt ceiling to win the election, the Republicans are now playing a game of "chicken" with the President, using their majority to hold the economy hostage unless Democrats agree to turn Medicare into an inadequate voucher program. Any delay in the debt ceiling would result in a double dip recession that this country can ill afford. Republicans in Congress are willing to risk jobs and our country's reputation, to serve their harsh agenda.
I am proud to have served in Congress during a time of incredible challenges. The recovery and reinvestment act, health care reform and Wall Street reform were signature accomplishments that will be proven critical to our nation's recovery in the short term. But I am most proud that when confronted with a depression, Democrats displayed adult leadership even while facing threats from the well-funded Tea Party activists.
Now, it's time to stop the games. It's time to take the tea off the table. It's time for the adults to come back into the room. It's time to stop serving the special interests and start serving the rest of the people of this county.
Mary Jo Kilroy lives in Columbus, Ohio. She served in the 111th Congress, representing Ohio's 15th Congressional District.