I’m a big believer in bipartisanship. I come from an era when Democrats and Republicans worked together successfully on a variety of important issues. As a Democrat, I remember the Republican Party as the party of Lincoln, the party of Ronald Reagan, the free-trade party and the party that stood for lowering your taxes.
Today’s Republican Party, however, is going through a completely new phase. For now, let’s call it the We’re Not Them Party.
Ask the Republican leadership in Washington how they feel about some significant issue — any issue you can think of — and the response is, “We’re not them.” Let’s start with health care. For many years, the Republicans controlled both houses of Congress. During that time, they could have passed a meaningful reform of the Affordable Care Act and preserved coverage for pre-existing health conditions.
On an issue that is critical to the American public, they sit paralyzed, mute, and instead have pledged that they will oppose any plan offered by the Democrats. The latest proposal of some Democrats to create “Medicare for all” has been met with pledges that it will never happen and cries of “Socialism!” Last November’s congressional election proved that health care is a hot-button issue, but the Republicans’ only response is, “We will fight any proposal Nancy Pelosi makes.” To add insult to injury, President Trump has asked the federal courts to do away with the entire Affordable Care Act.
How about immigration? One of the leading proponents of a fair immigration system was President Reagan. In 1986 he signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act, which legalized 3 million undocumented immigrants. At the same time, he proposed strict border controls, but that was part of a package. Today’s Republicans are content to ignore the plight of 800,000 so-called Dreamers, even though resolving this issue could enhance the party’s less-than-stellar reputation among numerous minority communities. When it comes to reforming a broken immigration system, their response is that Democrats “favor open borders.”
American businesses that trade around the world desperately need to keep tariffs from becoming an undue burden on their customers. But the current Republican congressional leadership is afraid to speak out and challenge Trump’s mindless trade policies, which have hurt manufacturers, technology companies and farmers. Over the past six months, there have been a record number of farm bankruptcies in Iowa due to high tariffs on soybeans. The partisan response to this dilemma is, “The Democrats caused all the trade problems.”
If you haven’t noticed, the vast majority of America’s highways, bridges and tunnels are in terrible condition. We’ve been lucky that there hasn’t been a major catastrophe on our road system due to long-term neglect. The newly empowered Democratic majority in the House is planning a major infrastructure bill, and the Republican response is, “The country can’t afford a trillion-dollar program” — even though it was Republicans who gave corporations a massive tax break.
Now that the income tax deadline has come and gone, it’s obvious to New Yorkers — and residents of New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania — that the northeastern states took a serious beating with the loss of state and local tax deductions. House Speaker Pelosi has proposed that Congress correct this inequality during the current session, but Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has rejected the Democratic plan as “more socialism.”
And the latest sign of hypocrisy is the complaints of House Republicans that House Democrats are seeking to “destroy the president” with a raft of subpoenas in the wake of the Mueller report. It wasn’t that long ago that the Republican-controlled House had six separate committees investigating the Benghazi tragedy, and made former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton their target.
Perhaps after another election or two, the Republican Party will once again stand for principles that many Americans agree with, but for now it’s the party of the blame game.
Jerry Kremer was a state assemblyman for 23 years, and chaired the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee for 12 years. He now heads Empire Government Strategies, a business development and legislative strategy firm. Comments about this column? JKremer@liherald.com.