The New York Times spoke a mighty truth in a recent editorial when it called out Republican leaders in Washington, D.C., New Jersey, and Wisconsin on their hollow claims of being broke. The Times might have mentioned Florida, Michigan, Ohio, and, of course, dear old South Carolina while they were naming names.
"It's all obfuscating nonsense, of course, a scare tactic employed for political ends," The Times editorialized. "Though it may disappoint conservatives, there will be no federal or state bankruptcies."
The Times went on to accuse Republicans of manufacturing the current "debt crisis" with years of reckless and irresponsible governance. Part of the current situation was caused by excess spending, "[b]ut a substantial part was caused by deliberate decisions by state and federal lawmakers to drain government of resources by handing out huge tax cuts, mostly to the rich."
The daily added, "As governments begin to stagger from the self-induced hemorrhaging, Republican leaders like [House Speaker John] Boehner and [Wisconsin Gov. Scott] Walker cry poverty and use it as an excuse to break unions and kill programs they never liked in flush years ... Many Republican governors are employing the same tactics."
The Times said that congressional Republicans were hypocritical to try to force through "more than $61 billion in ruinous cuts over the next seven months, all under the pretext of 'fiscal responsibility.'" As an example of just what the paper was editorializing about, it's useful to recall that the first bill Gov. Scott Walker presented to the Wisconsin legislature upon being sworn in last January, and which the GOP-dominated assembly passed happily, was a $115 million tax cut for industry. In retrospect, we can see this Republican largess as something more insidious than just GOPers thanking their corporate sponsors.
In Wisconsin, the Republicans are trying to bust the public service unions, while in Washington they have their sights on bigger game. Using these scare tactics, congressional Republicans want to roll back 80 years of social programs intended to provide a social safety net beneath our capitalist economy. But more than a safety net, these programs are part of our social infrastructure: environmental protection laws, Head Start programs for underprivileged children, Pell grants to send young Americans to college, programs to hire and equip police officers, NPR and the National Endowment for the Arts, national parks, and scores of other programs.
One target offers a particularly vivid example of the GOP scorched-earth policy. The Republicans have hated Planned Parenthood for decades, branding it "America's largest abortion provider" even though it uses no federal funds to provide that medical procedure. Last month the GOP budget-cutters voted overwhelmingly to eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood, including its contraception, cancer screening, sex education, and prenatal care programs. Writing at Salon, Rebecca Traister described the GOP war on Planned Parenthood this way: "But this isn't simply about the question of abortion itself. What ... the House of Representatives did today was devalue women's lives, women's rights, and women's ability to participate fully in the democracy."
In their ideological war against government, the Republicans have declared war on women, the poor, children, the environment, and even the Internal Revenue Service, the federal agency responsible for funding the government.
What is happening in D.C. has been going on in South Carolina for a long, long time, but now it is happening with a righteous vengeance. This state has always been poor and undeveloped because the people who run it refuse to fund the kind of infrastructure and education system necessary for a modern, developed society. What was once a quirk of Southern culture has now become part of the Republican anti-government ideology. For the past decade Republican governors and the GOP-controlled General Assembly have been cutting taxes heedlessly, recklessly, insanely, until today we rank 49th in the nation in the level of taxation per capita, according to the Tax Foundation. And we have the schools and the roads to prove it.
So how did South Carolina get itself into the worst budget crisis in memory? David Slade of The Post and Courier recently wrote an excellent analysis of the situation. Our current $700 million shortfall can be traced to $815 million in tax cuts the state has handed out in property tax reform, the elimination of a sales tax on groceries, a tax cut for small businesses, and other cuts. Economists warned that this would happen, but our "leaders" paid no heed. Now we reap the wind as our state lays off teachers, closes parks, cuts medical services, and slowly goes out of business.
Take a good look at what is going on. This is the world the Republicans want for us.