If they win the 2022 midterms, what the GOP is offering is not conservatism. It’s crisis. More precisely, crises, in the plural. Debt ceiling crisis. Electoral crisis. And a blow to the government’s efforts to prepare for several more crises that we know will come.
That’s not to say there aren’t bills that Republican lawmakers would like to pass. They exist. The closest thing to an agenda that party lawmakers have released is the House Republican Studies Committee’s 122-page budget. The commission should function as a kind of internal think thank for the party’s deputies. In its composition, are more than half of them, including Steve Scalise, Elise Stefanik and Gary Palmer – all the leaders are part of the group, with the exception of Kevin McCarthy.
After spending some time reading the document, I would say that it lacks even the pretense of prioritizing some agendas, preferring instead the comfort of abundance. It lists numerous bills that Republican lawmakers would like to pass.
Legislation that would overturn the structure and powers of the government — such as the bill sponsored by Representative Byron Donalds, which seeks to abolish the Office of Financial Consumer Protection — receives exactly the same treatment as Representative Bob Good’s bill to compel schools. to publicize their correspondence with teachers unions about when they should reopen, or Representative Michael Cloud’s resolution disapproving of vaccinating 11-year-olds in Washington, D.C. There are plans to privatize much of Medicare, repeal much of Obamacare, and increase minimum age of Social Security, in addition to no less than eight bills attacking the idea of structural racism.
But even if Republicans win a majority in the House and Senate, they cannot pass these laws. They would be subject to the veto of President Joe Biden. What Republicans can do is provoke crises that they hope would give them the upper hand to force the Democratic leader to accept this agenda, or to force him out of office. And even on issues where a crisis would not mean victory for the Republican leadership, they may have to provoke it anyway, to prove their commitment to the cause or avoid the wrath of Donald Trump.
Starting with the debt ceiling. US Treasuries are the fundamental asset of the global financial system. They represent the safest of investments, the security that countries and funds buy when they need to be absolutely sure that their money is protected. Many other things in the financial system are priced on this American reliability assumption: Lenders start with the risk-free rate of return — that is, the interest rate on US Treasuries — and then add their premiums on top of it. If the US government defaulted on its debt, it would unleash financial chaos. (I think that’s one way to deal with inflation: destroy the global economy!)
Republicans have been perfectly clear, however: they see the debt limit as leverage in negotiations with Biden. “We’ll give you more money, but you have to change your current behavior,” Kevin McCarthy, the Republican minority leader and possible Speaker of the House, told Punchbowl News. “We’re not just going to keep raising your credit card limit, are we?”
McCarthy may seem restrained, but the mere fact that he opens the door to this tactic shows his weakness or recklessness. A hostage only gives an advantage if the criminal is willing to shoot. And there will be many voices demanding that Republicans pull the trigger, or at least prove their willingness to do so.
One of those voices will be that of Trump. “It’s crazy what’s happening with this debt ceiling,” the former president recently told a conservative radio host. “Mitch McConnell continues to let that happen. I mean, they should impeach Mitch McConnell if he allows it.”
The record of GOP leaders in resisting the demands of their hardline co-religionists, even when they think those demands are insane, is not inspiring, to say the least. McConnell and former Republican House Speaker John Boehner did not have enough power over their members to reject Ted Cruz’s ill-fated blockade of the Affordable Care Act in 2013, which they both thought was crazy. And Cruz’s influence with the Republican base and the Republican caucus in Congress in 2013 paled in comparison to the power Trump wields today.
This is not the only impending crisis. By now, much is known about the numerous attempts Trump and his supporters made to subvert the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. The country’s salvation was that there was little preparation behind this effort, and Republicans in key positions — to not to mention the Democrats – were hostile to the project. But as the New York Times reported in October, more than 370 Republicans running in the 2022 election said they doubt the results of the 2020 election, and “hundreds of those candidates are favorites to win the races.”
The 2022 election will likely bring to power hundreds of Republicans committed to ensuring that the 2024 presidential election works in their favor, regardless of the result. Almost nothing has been done to strengthen the system against cheating since January 6, 2021. What if party lawmakers refuse to certify results in major states, as most Republican lawmakers did in 2020? What if, when Trump calls Republican secretaries of state or governors or election council supervisors in 2024, demanding that they find the votes he would like to have or disqualify his opponent’s votes, they strive to obey him? The possibilities of crisis are many.
Not all crises start with a political confrontation. Some may come from a virus whose new mutation is more lethal than the old one. Some may come from a warming of the planet beyond that narrow range of possibilities that allowed human civilization. Some may come from the expansionist ambitions of dictators and autocrats. The last few years have brought vivid examples of all three. But, particularly in the past year, the GOP has gone from being insolent to hostile toward the preparations and responses that these potential crises require.
Last week, I criticized the Biden administration for not finding a path along the lines of its Democratic party to fund pandemic preparations. But that path was only necessary because the GOP was deeply opposed to efforts to prepare for the next pandemic.
The Republican Studies Committee’s budget is a clear example of the party’s view on Covid. It’s not that Republicans are in favor of the virus. But the party’s energy is very, very anti-Covid. It includes project after project attacking mandatory immunization, acts of centralization of power and vaccination of children. But in its 100-plus pages, I haven’t found any proposals to ensure we’re better prepared for the next viral threat.
And it’s not just Covid. Republicans have long been skeptical about efforts to prepare for climate change. The study committee’s budget is littered with plans to encourage fossil fuel extraction and prevent federal dollars from supporting the Paris Agreement. Furthermore, even if Republicans are, shall we say, divided in their affections for Vladimir Putin, at least in the early days of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine many supported efforts to help the former. McCarthy has hinted that Republicans will cut aid to Ukraine if they win in November, however, and he is far from alone in wanting the United States to back off from the conflict.
I will say this in favor of the Republicans: they did not hide their intentions or their tactics. They’ve made it clear what they intend to do if they win. Biden ran — and won — in 2020 promising a return to normalcy. Republicans are running in 2022 promising a return to calamity.