Voters delivered an understandable rebuke to Democrats -- 30 million people looking for work, wages declining, millions of homes under water. The economy is a mess; it hasn't be fixed. Democrats paid the price.
Republicans ran as wolves in sheep's clothing. Sobered by Tea Party challenges in their primaries, Republican candidates suddenly became populist tribunes. They indicted Democrats for running up deficits to bail out the banks without doing anything about jobs, even as incoming House Speaker John Boehner gathered the bank lobbyists together to offer Republicans as their protectors.
Now voters will see the sheep garb discarded and the wolf come out. Remember the talk about deficits? Forget about it -- the first Republican priority is to extend all the Bush tax cuts, adding a trillion to the deficit over 10 years to pay for the extra tax cuts provided those making over $250,000 a year. The second is to gut the estate tax that applies only to the wealthiest families in America. This is solemnly described as defending small businesses and small farms from tax increases in a recession. But we're talking corporate lawyers and affluent doctors here, not mom-and-pop stores.
Remember the posturing about the bank bailout? Forget about that, too. The bank bailout was a Republican program passed under George Bush and extended under Obama. The Obama administration at least pushed -- against unified Republican obstruction -- for curbs on Wall Street, including creation of a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that would provide some protections to consumers from abuse by banks, insurance companies, payday lenders and the like. Now Alabama Rep. Spencer Bachus, odds-on favorite to be the new chair of the House Financial Services Committee, has issued a letter challenging regulation of derivatives, the very things Warren Buffett called "financial weapons of mass destruction." Republicans are looking to weaken or repeal the consumer bureau.
And spending cuts? The most concrete Republican promise was a one-year moratorium on earmarks, symbolic at best, and insignificant in comparison to federal spending and deficits. Yet, even the symbol did not make it into the Republican "Pledge," the platform they released late in the campaign. It remains to be seen if it survives the Republican appropriators.
What Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor, the incoming majority leader does seem to promise is an assault on the most vulnerable in society. Where does he aim his hatchet? Not at subsidies for Big Oil. Not at the idiotic ban preventing Medicare from negotiating lower drug prices. Not at the giveaways to agribusiness. No, he lists a series of potential cuts, including repealing the Advanced Earned Income Tax Credit for low-wage workers and cutting a staggering $25 billion from support for poor mothers and children (what that entails is unclear). Extension of unemployment insurance also faces opposition, and the press reports that spending on Head Start and education and public health will be targeted for deep cuts.
The wolf is out. The poor, the unemployed, the children cannot accept these priorities in silence. At the time of his death, Dr. King was working on building a Poor People's Campaign. He thought it vital to bring the poor, across lines of region, religion and race, to Washington, along with people of conscience, to demand basic rights: the right to work, the right to a livable wage, the right to a decent education and the right to health care.
Washington must hear once more from voices beyond the Beltway. It is time to march.
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