In January, Republicans gained control of the U.S. House of Representatives, albeit by a slim majority and with extremist members flexing their muscles. House Republicans know their chances of getting their legislation through the U.S. Senate and the Biden White House are vanishingly small. But we now know what they will do, if and when they have their druthers.
Although the debt ceiling was raised three times while Donald Trump was president, House Republicans may well refuse to do so in 2023. Shrugging off the consensus among economists that default would have catastrophic consequences for virtually all Americans, Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.) declared the only result would be that the federal government would “have to cut discretionary spending so we stop spending more than we’re taking in.” Without providing details, Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) claimed $130 billion can be saved by cutting appropriations to “woke & weaponized bureaucrats.”
Intent on starving the federal government, House Republicans voted in January to cancel the $80 billion appropriation made last year to the Internal Revenue Service, the staff of which has shrunk significantly over the past few decades. The Republicans claimed 87,000 new agents, many of them armed, would “weaponize” the IRS, but according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, if their bill became law, and audits of wealthy Americans remain few and far between, the federal deficit would increase by $114 billion.
House Republicans propose replacing individual and corporate income taxes with a national sales tax. To equal the revenue now taken in by the federal government, the sales tax would have to be about 30 percent. A bonanza for the wealthiest Americans, whose share of federal taxes would fall from 84.4 percent to 65.1 percent, the sales tax would fall disproportionately on the middle class.
The Republican Study Committee, a group of 160 members of Congress, recommends raising the age of eligibility for Medicare to 67 and Social Security to 70, changing the way benefits are calculated and allowing Americans to choose private sector plans. Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) advocates sunsetting all federal programs — including Medicare and Social Security — and forcing Congress to decide whether to re-authorize them every five years, a plan President Biden hammered in his State of the Union Address. The president — and House Republicans — no doubt know how strongly Americans support these programs.
And House Republicans have established a committee to investigate the “weaponization of government.” Motivated by partisan political gain, the Justice Department and other federal agencies, they maintain, have violated civil liberties, silenced and punished conservatives while ignoring the misdeeds of Democrats and their allies. The committee’s targets include Hunter Biden and Dr. Anthony Fauci. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) has demanded an investigation of the Capitol Police officer who shot and killed Ashli Babbitt as she was breaking into the House chamber (where dozens of members and staff were sheltering near the glass doors of the Speaker’s lobby) to stop Congress from certifying the results of the 2020 election. Insisting that the officer, who has been cleared of wrongdoing, “murdered” Ms. Babbitt, Greene wants the committee to reopen the case and examine violations of the rights of “many people that came into the Capitol on Jan. 6.”
Former president Trump agrees, characterizing the 28-year veteran police officer as a “thug,” a “misfit,” and a “coward.”
Trying, no doubt, to outflank Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, a potential rival for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, Trump also has urged Congress to weigh in on the “culture wars.” Trump wants to end federal spending for any public school that teaches “critical race theory, gender ideology, or other inappropriate racial, sexual or political content onto our children.” He advocates government funding preferences for school districts that abolish tenure for all teachers; a certification program for instructors who “embrace patriotic values”; and the election of public school principals by parents.
In January, House Republicans passed a bill requiring health providers to preserve the life of babies born alive during or after an attempted abortion, and mandating up to five years in prison for anyone who fails to comply. Killing a live baby, it is worth noting, is already regarded as a homicide in the United States. Although over 60 percent of Americans believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases, Republicans support a federal ban on abortion; restrictions on medication abortions; and the appointment of abortion opponents to the Department of Justice, the FDA, and the federal judiciary.
Americans believe that the most important issues facing the country are the economy and inflation; immigration; gun violence and crime; government spending and taxes; political divisions and extremism. A whopping 73 percent (including 46 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents) do not think House GOP leaders are paying enough attention to these issues.
Captives of the MAGA extremists, Republicans seem unable or unwilling to respond to what their fellow Americans actually want and need.
Glenn C. Altschuler is the Thomas and Dorothy Litwin Professor of American Studies at Cornell University. He is the co-author (with Stuart Blumin) of “Rude Republic: Americans and Their Politics in the Nineteenth Century.”