House Republicans have declared indiscriminate war on just about anything that President Obama supports, and that includes his focused and necessary program to clean up the Great Lakes, a region that is home to millions of voters of both parties. The wheels have come off the national Republican Party and they may be about to come off the U.S. government, as well.
House Republicans are fairly bragging about their intentions to cripple programs favored by Obama, without regard to their benefits or usefulness. If anyone needed further evidence that the party was in the grip of zealots – single-minded ideologues, driven as much by rage as by policy – this is it.
Senate Republicans are no better. They are threatening – promising, really – to shut down the government after Sept. 30, when a new fiscal year begins, if even a penny is spent to fund the Affordable Care Act. Whatever anyone’s objections, the act was passed by Congress, signed by the president and vetted by the U.S. Supreme Court.
In the House, Republicans want to eviscerate the 2014 budget for restoring the Great Lakes, proposing to cut its funding by a staggering 80 percent. The lakes are an environmental and economic engine for the areas around them, providing drinking water, fishing, boating and other recreational opportunities. They are an international ecosystem that has been abused for decades – a dumping ground for toxic chemicals, sewage and litter. Cleaning them is a moral and economic necessity that is already under way.
The cut would amount to $225 million, and would constitute “a major, major setback to the Buffalo River remediation project,” said Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo. It would do more than that, according to Joel Brammeier, co-chairman of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition and president and CEO of the Alliance for the Great Lakes. “Cuts of this magnitude would bring Great Lakes programs to a halt,” he said.
That attack on a program critical to Buffalo and all Great Lakes communities is illustrative of what House Republicans are preparing to unleash on the nation. As detailed in Wednesday’s New York Times, they would also:
• Cut the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget by 34 percent. The agency was proposed by and created under a Republican president, Richard M. Nixon.
• Slash funding for the National Endowments for the Arts by half.
• Cut the Fish and Wildlife Service by 27 percent.
• Reduce education grants for poor students by 16 percent.
• Cut the Labor Department by 13 percent.
In addition, House Republicans are again threatening to sabotage the nation’s credit rating and its reputation for reliability, pledging not to raise the debt ceiling without major cuts in spending. “It’s as simple as that,” said House Speaker John A. Boehner, who not only doesn’t control his chamber, but appears to have thrown in with the radicals who rule the party.
It is important to confront the federal budget deficit. It has come down substantially because of the tax deal forged after Obama’s re-election, coupled with economic growth, but more is needed. It is not impossible to do that responsibly.
It is also important to revisit the Affordable Care Act, but it is necessary, as well, to acknowledge what it has done to cover the uninsured and end the practice of denying coverage for pre-existing conditions or yanking coverage when a subscriber gets too sick. It needs to be made better, not buried.
Republicans want nothing to do with responsibility. Their goal is to undermine Obama without regard to the needs of the nation. In that, they are no longer functioning as an American political party, but as a gang of radicals.
Even Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence, opposes the move against the Great Lakes cleanup, though it will be instructive to see if his interest is merely about counting votes for his 2014 re-election or if he is willing to draw a distinction between conservatism and his party’s growing radicalism.
In the meantime, he and Higgins and other Great Lakes representatives need to work hard to undo these cuts, though, as Higgins observed, “Even if we get half of it back, it’s a major, major cut.”
It’s not just the programs being damaged, it’s also Americans’ faith in the ability of government to work.