We're Keeping Tabs Now: The GOP Lame Duck Scorecard
PJM will be watching every GOP congressman who tried to campaign on Tea Party/conservative bona fides, keeping a scorecard, and pressing them when any vote contradicts their promises. Look out for our "Nothing Washes Over" project in the future.
For now, as the new Republican House and somewhat redder Senate is sworn in this week, it is perhaps germane to look back at the lame duck session so recently concluded. For all the posturing of the Republican Party after the election, it's pretty clear they got their heads handed to them on a slew of issues. There were a couple of significant victories, however.
This was an absolute dog of a bill, all 12 of the appropriations bills that should have been passed in September ground into a nasty-looking sausage filled with about $8.3 billion in earmarks. The Republicans managed to hang together on this one and it went down in flames, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid withdrawing it without so much as a vote.
Unlike a lot of commentators, I won't refer to this as the extension of tax cuts. These have been the tax rates for 10 years, so had they expired it would have been the largest tax increase in American history. Call this one a draw. Yes, the rates will remain the same for the next two years, but President Barack Obama manged to get an extension of jobless benefits and several other "stimulus" provisions in there as well. Additionally, it only extends the rates for two years -- which is hardly the kind of certainty industry needs, to say nothing of American families.
A loss. Many Republicans argued, probably correctly, that the treaty gives far more to Russia than it does to us. Yes, it limits strategic warheads to just 1,550 each, but it does nothing for the tactical nukes intended for battlefield use -- of which Russia has far more than we do. Additionally, it allows for only 18 inspections a year. It's also a bit of an open secret that Russia's Soviet-era missile fleet is in poor repair. It's hard to understand why a strategic arms reduction treaty was needed at this juncture. Moreover, the Russians are notorious for breaking treaties, and short of war, which we are unlikely to start over this, there's very little we can do to force them to abide by a treaty.
Another loss. This particularly bad bill gives more authority to the United States Department of Agriculture to conduct inspections and levy fines on small producers. The United States already has the safest food supply in the world, and this bill does precisely nothing to make it safer; it just adds layer after layer of burdensome, expensive legislation to small farmers who are already staggering under the cost of doing business.
A loss, I suppose, but a sustainable one -- call it a draw. The DADT policy was stupid when it was enacted by President Bill Clinton, and it's been stupid ever since. The Republicans who voted for this can at least say they've ended a policy which never kept gays out of the military, just forced them to commit a federal crime in order to serve. If it turns out the new policy affects combat readiness then it can be revisited. In the meantime, from a political standpoint, neither side gained or lost much with this one.
A win, a big win. More like a nightmare, the DREAM act was a back door amnesty for illegal aliens. It would have allowed illegals who came here with their parents before they were 16 to apply for legal status after spending two years in the military -- or college. Few Republicans had any issue with the former condition, but many did with the latter. The big problem with the act was it would allow them to bring their families here legally as well. Meaning hundreds of thousands, or millions, of illegals would suddenly be legal.
A loss. School districts nationwide, often already facing huge budget cuts, are now stuck with more regulations which will drive up costs. As PJM reported late last month, it is a welfare expansion, adding $4.5 billion to the cost of school lunches, and the six cents per meal additional funding it adds will not cover the expenses of the school districts. It also gives the federal government the power to enroll children in the school free and reduced price lunch programs automatically using state Medicaid rolls, without so much as asking their parents if they want them in the programs at all.
Final tally: 4-2 Democrats, with two draws. There were actually several other wins for Obama, a couple of them regulatory -- including the nightmare of FCC control of the Internet -- but these are the big ones. Fortunately the Republicans are in better shape to oppose some of this for the next two years, and may be able to repair or at least mitigate some of the damage these bills will cause.
But they've got to do better than they did during the lame duck session. And we'll be seeing to that.