Now that the battle lines for next year’s general election have been drawn it certainly appears that the Republican Party has ceded the leadership role to the Tea Party and its wealthy right-wing backers, including the infamous Koch brothers. The Tea Party’s prescription for our ailing economy is lower taxes, fewer federal regulations, and a weak federal government. If that sounds familiar, it should. From 2001 to 2009, the George W. Bush administration drastically cut taxes and crippled our regulatory system, while literally starving public services. The budget deficit ballooned in part because President Bush also launched two wars, which have been largely fought on credit.
While most Americans are hurting financially, it’s no coincidence that a small number of Americans are doing must better. Those at the pinnacle of the income pyramid are doing best of all – the top 1% now control 42% of the country’s financial wealth. But the vast majority of Americans are worse off – both economically and socially – and that’s a sad state of affairs.
More than 70% say the country, according to the polls, is on the wrong track. Yet the GOP clings to the proposition that we need more of the policies that brought us to this point. We have ignored solutions to problems and we are now paying a steep price for those mistakes and omissions. Tough fuel standards would have lowered global oil prices and reduced our dependence on imported oil. The nation could have begun to repair and restore our highways, bridges, mass-transit systems, sewers, and other infrastructure, preparing us to be more competitive in the 21st century. In 2001 we still had time and funding flexibility to keep our lead in renewable-energy technologies like wind and solar, instead of losing jobs, innovation, and supply chains to Europe and Asia. Proper regulations on offshore oil drilling could have prevented the Macondo blowout in the Gulf of Mexico; enforcement of the Clean Water Act could have saved hundreds of mountains in Appalachia from being blown to smithereens by coal-mining companies.
But we didn’t do any of that. And now the philosophy that led to the most devastating decade since the Great Depression is back again, this time in the name of deficit reduction and improving the economy. No serious observer – not economists, not the bond markets, not even the U.S. Chamber of Commerce – really believes that the Tea Party approach will either reduce the deficit or improve the economy. Instead, that approach will make the next decade even tougher for most Americans, who are now being asked to double down on failure.
The American people must wake up, get involved in the political arena, support candidates who truly love our country and are dedicated to serving the public good, and demand bi-partisan action in Congress. Until that happens, we will continue to see partisan grid-lock and more bickering in Congress.
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