What do Republicans want?

Last week, as the U.S. House of Representatives passed a $3.3 trillion bill to help stabilize the American economy, the Republican excuse for opposing it was that it was a Democratic “wishlist.” Other than wondering why they didn’t call it an Obama wishlist — they seem obsessed with 44 these days — I have a few questions for them.

First, I would ask if they really expected us to pass policies that we didn’t like?

Second, I would ask if there were any policies in the bill they supported?

And then most importantly, I would ask what was on their wishlist, because the record seems to indicate that all they want is to cut taxes for wealthy Americans and corporations and appoint conservative judges to the federal courts.

I, along with my Democratic colleagues, believe that government can and should be used to make life easier for the people we represent. We think government should try to make it easier to eat, easier to breathe, easier to vote, easier to get an education, easier to have a home, easier to get medical care, easier to protect workers’ rights through a union. The list goes on and on.

Republicans don’t.

In recent years, Republicans at both the federal and state levels have cut back environmental protections, put obstacles in place to make it harder for many to vote, tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act, undermined workers’ rights, cut funding for food stamps. You get the idea.

Of course, there’s one thing Republicans have tried to make easier: buying and brandishing guns. But beyond that, it’s hard to think of any part of American society for which Republicans have advanced ideas to make life better.

It’s perhaps too simplistic to charge that today’s Republican Party just doesn’t believe in government, despite its fealty to Grover Norquist’s ambition to shrink government to the size that it could be washed down the drain. After all, Republicans do want government to restrict women’s reproductive rights. But other than that, what do Republicans want, or expect, out of government?

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Of course, they want government to fund the military, often in amounts that not even the military believes are needed. The best evidence of Republican priorities is in their budgets. I’ve seen many of them firsthand on the House Budget Committee. They always look the same; deep cuts for virtually every program that helps people but increases in Pentagon funding. Not many Democrats support cuts in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, but Republicans do and have.

The best example of Republican legislative apathy is healthcare. Not one of them voted for the Affordable Care Act in 2010, which was no surprise, but they also did virtually nothing to engage with Democrats during the legislative process. They decried the bill as socialism and a government takeover but offered no constructive ideas or alternatives.

After the GOP took back control of the House in 2010, it spent eight years vowing to “repeal and replace” Obamacare, voting more than 70 times to kill or sabotage the law but never offering an alternative system. (I consistently challenged my Republican colleagues to come up with an alternative, but they never did, because there isn’t one, except some form of universal coverage.)

What else did the Republican-controlled Congress do during their majority? Oh, they voted dozens of times to weaken environmental protections, weaken unions and roll back women’s reproductive rights, but they never to make life easier for anyone (except the wealthiest Americans and corporations, of course.)

Fortunately, because Barack Obama was in the White House, none of their initiatives became law. But that doesn’t account for Republican apathy toward their constituents.

When Republicans finally controlled the entire government for two years, they enacted one significant law, the 2017 tax cuts, 83% of which went to the wealthiest 1% of Americans and large corporations.

The current crisis has finally moved Republicans to use the power of government to respond to national needs. They have compromised with Democrats on three pieces of legislation that actually do help the people they represent. Maybe this indicates a change of heart. If so, it would be the first indication that Congressional Republicans actually have hearts.

U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, founder of LEO, has represented Kentucky’s 3rd Congressional District since 2007 and is now chairman of the House Budget Committee.

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