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Political Animal

Holding Pattern

Let’s do the time warp again!

Politically, America seems to be stuck in a holding pattern, where Democrats are just trying to hang on to the few minute gains they’ve made in the present, and Republicans are determined to toss us back to some period between 1995 and 1956. Every person who has a job that relies on dollars from the federal government is yet again holding his or her breath until April 8, the date of the end of the continuing resolution and the next possible government shutdown. On top of that, the bombthrowers that make up the radicalized Tea-Partarian wing of the Republican party are getting antsier and antsier, and Speaker John Boehner, who has sucked up to them as much as he can, has only a little more left on his end of the rope before they drag him off the cliff.

Inasmuch as the GOP and Fox News think this time they can convince Americans that a shutdown would be the Democrats’ fault (and especially President Obama’s), polls still show that Republicans would be held to blame. No matter how many times Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes think they can use their multimillion megawatt horn to trumpet “They did it, they did it,” it’s been very clear for decades now: Democrats like government (and what it can do), and Republicans don’t. It’s kind of hard to go against 30 years of your own programming to suddenly blame the fiasco on the other guy.

Meanwhile, at the state government level, Republican-controlled capitals are turning into a Frankenstein’s laboratory of crazy ideas. Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, without ever having campaigned on the issue, decided to unilaterally railroad through a bill gutting public employee unions in the state. Despite lawmakers bolting for the state line to deny a quorum (a time-honored tradition going back to the days of Abe Lincoln, who once jumped out a window in the Illinois statehouse to achieve the same objective) and hundred-thousand member protests in the Wisconsin state capital, Walker showed his true colors by stripping what his party considered to be the “money” aspects out of the bill (thus avoiding the need for the quorum) and passing it anyway. Walker’s anti-union juggernaut succeeded in two things: It got halted in the courts because the Republicans may have violated the state’s open meeting laws in their rush to passage—and due to the GOP hijinks, the approval rating for the governor and his party dropped like a stone.

Now the irate Wisconsin electorate is well on its way to enough signatures to recall eight state lawmakers who voted for the bill, more than enough to overturn the balance of power in the state Senate. It didn’t help when one of the lawmakers, Sen. Randy Hopper, was discovered to be living out of his district with his 25-year-old mistress—and his jilted wife told reporters she plans on signing the recall petition as well. You’d think it’s a page lifted almost directly out of the Newt Gingrich playbook.

Across the lake in Michigan, Gov. Rick Snyder proposed a budget that would cut corporate income taxes by 86 percent over two years, while raising taxes on individuals by 31 percent. At the same time, the state’s GOP-controlled legislature approved a bill that would allow Snyder to appoint “emergency financial managers” with the power to terminate contracts with the state public employee unions—a move which, if tried, may violate the contract clause of Article One, Section 10 of the U.S. Constitution.

In New Hampshire, lawmakers are cutting taxes on cigarettes and freezing funding for schools. Florida Gov. Rick Scott has told the state legislature that he intends to completely eliminate the state’s corporate income tax—while at the same time laying off 6,700 state employees and cutting education funding by $4.8 billion. And in-your-face New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is holding property tax rebates for the state’s senior citizens hostage: If the state’s public employees refuse to agree to benefit cuts, the rebate checks don’t go out.

Shall we perhaps turn to abortion, a subject to which Republicans will return more regularly than John McCain to the green room at Meet the Press? Within the first month of the start of the legislature in five states, lawmakers have moved to eliminate or criminalize a procedure that has been legal since 1973, and the GOP Congress even attempted a breathtaking maneuver to “redefine rape.” The provision would have narrowed the language of the Hyde Amendment, which allows federal funding for abortions in the case of rape and incest, and altered it to become “forcible rape,” which doesn’t take into account instances of rape where drugs are used or force isn’t an issue.

It will be amazing if anything at all gets accomplished this year, much less getting the economy back on track. The president can’t do anything domestically without the agreement of Congress, and Congress can’t agree on anything, even among the Republicans themselves, except to put the word “jobs” in every press release. So, in the immortal words of Ronald Reagan, here we go again.

Abortion wars? It’s 1973! Bombing Libya? It’s 1986! Government shutdowns? It’s 1995! Let’s do the time warp again!

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