The GOP controls the House and Senate and last week passed a federal budget slashing virtually every social program from pre-school to senior safety nets.
Democrats, responded by accurately calling it “a recipe for national decline,” as it goes after health care, anti-poverty programs, schools and student loans and Social Security, all while raising taxes on the middle-class, breaking promises to veterans and boosting military spending.
Meanwhile, in red states where Republicans control the Legislature and executive branches, the rampage has exceeded even this Congress’ wildest dreams. In Kansas, the GOP rewrote laws for their welfare programs, turning assistance from a safety net into a barbed-wire fence, treating recipients—mostly single parents and children—like paroled convicts. In 11 red states, 37 new rules have been adopted this year creating more barriers to abortion—from requiring parental consent, to mandatory waiting periods, to falsely telling women that some procedures can be reversed.
It doesn’t stop there. As a June 30th deadline approaches for states to expand Medicaid— state-run health care for the poor—by using Obamacare’s federal subsidies, 21 red states are still refusing to do so. According to Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation’s statistics, 960,000 adults and 2.52 million children are being deliberately denied access to care. In a handful of other red states, the right-wing war on labor grinds on by repealing prevailing wage laws for construction jobs, which academics found cuts union wages by 10 percent and non-union construction pay by two-to-four percent.
What would Republicans try to do if they controlled Congress and the White House after the 2016 election? It’s not a far-fetched question. The presidency has swung between the two major parties after each two-term president since 1992. The GOP’s just-passed 2016 budget in Congress may be heading for President Obama’s veto pen, but it signals what they’d do—justified by hyped fears about retiring the federal debt. In red states, social conservatives are going after abortion rights, opposing LGBT equality, and punishing welfare recipients. Meanwhile, business conservatives are following the template from the pro-corporate American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and going after unions, opposing living wages, denying climate change and more.
What follows are 12 striking examples of what GOP rule in Washington could bring.
1. Cut health insurance to 27 million people. This would be the result from repealing Obamacare and its related Medicaid expansion, as the House-Senate’s just-passed 2016 budget agreement seeks. In its first five years, Obamacare expanded coverage to 16.5 million uninsured, and expanded Medicaid in 29 states and Washington, D.C. It did that by paying start-up costs for several years and 93 percent after that. The Republicans want none of that. They do not see health care as a right, public obligation or responsibility, but a service for those who can afford it and a profit center for the private sector.
2. Impoverish health care for the poor. The GOP attack on public health care does not stop with Obamacare. Medicaid is the state-run health plan for 70 million low-income people. That includes single parents, people with disabilities, every third child in the U.S, and the elderly. It pays more for long-term care and for nursing homes than any source, according to congressional analyses. The GOP budget wants to repeal the Medicaid expansion under Obamacare, cut another $500 billion from Medicaid over the next decade, and turn it into a block grant to the states. No matter how you parse it, these changes—which would play out differently in different states—would shrink options for society’s most vulnerable, worsening pressures for people already in crisis.
3. Privatize and gut senior healthcare. The GOP’s war on safety nets continues with
Medicare, the federal health plan for Americans older than 67. The GOP would turn it into a voucher program, where beneficiaries get an annual fixed payment to buy private insurance—whose costs cannot be accurately known up front, according to Congressional Budget Office studies. That means more out-of-pocket costs for seniors on fixed incomes. Because Obamacare contained a provision that lowered prescription drug costs, those too would go up. The GOP—like the Obama White House—would cut $430 billion from Medicare over the next decade, which would undermine the health care options.
4. Put Social Security on the chopping block. Despite efforts by progressive groups and growing numbers of elected Democrats to recognize a looming retirement security crisis and call for expanded payments (paid by lifting a payroll tax cap), the GOP keeps falsely saying that Social Security is driving the federal debt. They are calling for a commission to “study” its problems and propose solutions, which means future cuts. Their intentions could not be clearer. A small part of Social Security, covering people with disabilities, will run out of money next year or face benefit cuts. Instead of using money from the retirement trust as in the past, the GOP’s budget agreement says not “a penny” can be used this way. They are pretending there is a major fiscal crisis when there is not, when the government has been acting as a bank for taxpayers and holding their money. As is the case with the health care, Republicans want to dismantle or privatize the program.
5. Increase hunger for tens of million of poor. The GOP doesn’t want to confront the realities of poverty in America, which include tens of millions of children. The House Budget Committee Democrats’ analysis of the GOP budget explains that it would cut $300 billion to food stamps, “greatly reducing benefits or pushing many more people from the program.” In Kansas, the GOP went even further in revising state welfare law, which now contains lifetime benefit caps, harsh work requirements, $25-a-day limits on bank withdrawals, restrictions on where recipients can shop and buy food, background checks, ongoing drug tests, and more.
6. Cut public school programs and funds. The GOP does not believe education is an investment in America’s future. Spending on education would fall to its lowest level in 15 years, with 46,000 additional children losing access to Head Start, more layoffs of special education teachers and those who work with disadvantaged youths, the House Budget Committee Democrats said. Similarly, adult job training would be cut, as well as funding for medical and scientific research grants.
7. Make college out of reach and more expensive. As higher education keeps getting more expensive, student debt keeps growing. Yet the GOP budget worsens this problem. It cuts another $200 billion from higher education over the next decade, of which $85 billion is Pell grants—federal student loans—whose maximum will be frozen “forever,” according to House Democrats. Additionally, the GOP would start charging interest on loans while students are in college, adding thousands to borrowing costs. It also ends a $2,500 tax credit “that helps more than 10 million low- and moderate-income students,” House Democrats said. Taken together, the Republican’s philosophy toward education only can be characterized as a Darwinian, based on their belief that government should have no role in helping people achieve goals—even through education.
8. Raises taxes on middle- and working class. The GOP budget would increase taxes for millions because it ends an annual tax credit that helps millions pay for college, and it lets key provisions expire in the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit. The National Priorities Project, whose analysis of the GOP budget echoed House Democrats, said these moves would end up “raising taxes on millions of working families.”
9. Postpone needed infrastructure repairs. The Republicans also believe America’s roads and bridges can get by for another decade with minimal maintenance, and will cut transportation funding by 26 percent—$235 bilion—over the next decade.
10. Turn away from vets but boost the Pentagon. The GOP hounded the White House when a scandal broke out a Veterans Administration hospitals where vets could not see physicians promptly. Yet the GOP budget cuts discretionary funding for vets next year by $1.9 billion and envisions $20 billion in cuts over the next decade. That’s coming as vets from Iraq and Afghanistan are returning with horrible injuries requiring more—not less—health care and services. At the same time, the GOP budget uses loopholes to add $187 billion for next year’s overseas military operations “for unrelated defense needs,” the House Budget Committee Democrats said. This is more of the “love war but abandon the soldier” pattern that’s existed for years in Washington.
11. What’s not happening? Apart from going backwards on government programs, the GOP is ignoring many pressing issues. Their budget has nothing for immigration reform. Instead, Congress is siding with right-wing governors who sued to block White House executive orders suspending deportations—even as 2.3 million undocumented people live in those red states. There’s an ongoing effort to block federal climate change research at the CIA, Pentagon and most recently NASA. Meanwhile, all of the GOP’s presidential contenders are downplaying or denying that climate change is real, siding with the fossil fuel industry, which works to undermine renewable energy options.
12. A GOP lock on the Supreme Court? The GOP’s budget in Congress and recent developments in red states show what they would seek to do if they had a congressional majority and the presidency after 2016’s elections. It’s clear they would try to dismantle or privatize health care and retirement security safety nets, like Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security. They will do nothing to make higher education more accessible; instead they would raise student loan interest rates. Meanwhile, their rough treatment of the poor would keep the most vulnerable Americans trapped at the bottom—and they’d punish those who seek public assistance, starting with food stamps.
If all that and more wasn’t enough, they also would have the power to select and confirm the next Supreme Court justices—where the current Republican-appointed 5-4 majority has made decisions that are radical and regressive. From turning the federal elections into a nominating process controlled by the rich where voters only weigh in at the very end, to allowing red states to reject the Medicaid expansion under Obamacare and gutting The Voting Rights Act, to siding with corporate and state power in anti-democratic ways, a Republican lock on Washington could result in an even more right-wing Court as there are four justices approaching or older than 80.
It’s easy to scoff at the party-line budget votes in Congress, because the Obama White House would never sign anything like that into law. But that budget agreement is not just an ideological statement. It is a blueprint for a GOP dismantling of federal government, where life would become harder and harsher for multitudes. That’s worth remembering as the 2016 campaign rhetoric heats up, and Republicans promise to bring a new era of freedom and prosperity to America.