Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 27 November 2014

Democrats cash in on Republican fiscal intransigence

Last April, I hopped on a plane to Denver to visit my ailing 88-year-old uncle, who'd just lost his wife - an aunt of mine who'd taken the lead in chronicling my grandparents' life in Ireland before emigrating to Boston in the early-1900s.

A lifelong Republican with a quick wit and a lifelong master of good-natured lampooning of US liberals, my uncle surprised me by announcing: "I'm going to vote for Obama."

"This crowd of Republicans in Washington have done nothing but block the president for four years," he said. "It's been bad for the country."

Admittedly, a purely anecdotal account, but since Barack Obama easily vanquished Mitt Romney on November 6, signs of mounting grassroots Republican impatience with the party's intransigence on Capitol Hill have been bubbling up.

A gaggle of recently released polls indicates overwhelming public backing for Obama's call to boost revenues by raising taxes on the richest 2% as a way to tackle the ever-growing US deficit.

One Washington Post/Pew Research Center poll found that, by a whopping 53-27% spread, Americans will blame Republicans if a deal isn't reached to avoid falling off the fiscal cliff before the first of the year.

Just last week, the McClatchy-Marist poll found that Republican voters overwhelmingly oppose proposals that aim to slash funding of, or toughen eligibility requirements for, the government-run programs of social security (pension), Medicare (health coverage for the elderly) and Medicaid (health insurance for the disabled and poor).

Like everyone, Republican voters get old and infirm as their incomes decline in old age. They are as vulnerable as anyone to catastrophic illness or disability.

For tens of millions of Americans, social security, Medicare and Medicaid remain vital bulwarks against crippling poverty.

However, even when faced with polling data indicating major hostility to the moves - even among Republicans - ideologically driven party leaders in Congress refuse to abandon the Holy Grail of entitlement cuts that the party has pursued for decades.

Mitch McConnell has been the Republicans' 'not an inch' poster-boy in the Senate since Obama was elected in 2008. But, again, there are signs that his obstinacy may be hurting him.

At the end of the day, most pundits expect Republicans to buckle at the 11th hour, rather than risk being blamed for pitching the nation over the fiscal cliff and into a nasty new recession.

In the meantime, egged on by the Tea Party fiscal hawks who've had them running scared since 2010, Republican leaders will risk alienating more independents and moderate Republicans by spouting unyielding rhetoric in the weeks ahead.

For Democrats, there is only one thing that's certain: for the foreseeable future at least, Republican intransigence looks set to be the gift that keeps on giving.

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