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Tuesday, September 20, 2005

A Raw Deal.

Republicans Plan to Exploit the Katrina Recovery Effort to Mask a Massive Conservative Overhaul of Government

At first, the only thing I could say about the Republican Party's approach to Katrina was that it was disastrous. Suddenly America is hit with a $200 billion bill for rebuilding New Orleans. Clearly, this forces our budget priorities to be redrawn. Now the Republican Party seems to be preparing to exploit the costs of tragedy to further highly conservative policy goals.

Hints about how the reconstruction money will be used and where the money could come from have begun to emerge. In the first few days after Katrina, Bush gave no-bid contracts exclusively to Republican donors such as Halliburton and Bechtel. Bush allowed contractors to pay below the prevailing wage in violation of the 1931 Davis-Beacon Act. The GOP quickly attacked any attempt at conservation and instead suggested more oil drilling was needed to meet any gas shortages. Karl Rove was put in charge of the Katrina Reconstruction Effort.

1. The GOP will gut Medicare/Medicaid to Finance Tax Cuts for the Mega-Rich

All these hints suggest a more sinister motive: remaking government without anyone noticing. Grover Norquist, head of the group Americans for Tax Reform and one of the leaders of the modern conservative movement, once famously said that conservatives should shrink government "down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub." The idea, long held by conservatives, is to spend so much on war, tax cuts and other programs that benefit GOP interests so that there is simply no room in the budget for any progressive social programs. Our current budget is 2.56 trillion dollars. 20% of that goes to interest on government debt. Another 20% goes to defense, which cannot be cut in the post 9/11 era, at least with Republicans in charge. 20% goes to Social Security payments, which are historically a political third rail, but could potentially get cut if the GOP can somehow justify doing so. Another 20% goes to Medicare and Medicaid; Medicare will be difficult to cut but Medicaid will likely get slashed. It's always easier to hurt the poor than to hurt the elderly. The last 20% goes to everything else, from paying for security for Bush, to supporting every federal government agency, to giving corporate welfare to GOP donors. These will get cut, but likely the only agencies who will suffer are those that help the non-donating poor, unlike the rich who finance and control the Republican Party.

We had a huge deficit before Katrina hit. Now it's even bigger. The most obvious thing to do is increase our revenue base in the face of a huge deficit. Just like if you had to do your personal budget and you simply couldn't cut costs anymore, you might have to get a second job. Only in America, it's easier than that: just raise taxes on the mega-rich. I've detailed before how Big Oil's profits are simply out of control. The Center for Economic and Policy Research estimates that $10 billion could be raised merely by taxing the windfall profits of these corporate evil-doers.

Of course, George W. Bush didn't get elected because he was the best steward of our economy. He got elected to help the mega-rich at all costs. So despite a huge budget problem, Bush has made one thing clear : No new taxes, period. Unlike his dad, I believe him too.

Now it all seems like a surreal fantasy at this point, but the Republicans' rationale for cutting taxes in 2000 was that the government surplus should be returned to the citizens. By keeping the tax cut in the face of a massive shortfall, the Republicans are making a new, underhanded policy decision: the profit interests of the filthy rich take precedence over the medical needs of poor people. This constitutes a morally bankrupt position for anyone to hold. In 2000 Bush did pledge to veto a tax increase at all costs, regardless of the situation. But that makes him an ideological madman, not a legitimate leader. You can never say never when it comes to dealing with problems in government. He could say that it was highly unlikely, but even the most hardened conservative must admit that a worst case scenario could develop that would require the mega-rich to give slightly more of their windfall profits back to the government. Bush choice the route of lunacy instead of the route of the thinking man, and the budget priorities have and will continue to reflect that.

2. Conservative Policy Goals Will Be Enacted Under Trojan Horse Labels of "Katrina Reconstruction"

We've already seen this happen when Bush allowed contractors to pay below the prevailing wage in violation of the 1931 Davis-Beacon Act. Vast right wing machinery such as the American Enterprise Institute are frothing at the mouth: "If there is a silver lining in this tragedy it is that it is creating an atmosphere to try new approaches to ending long-term poverty." On their website, AEI recommends slashing social programs to pay for the entire cost of recovery. Undoubtedly, the goal of rebuilding New Orleans on the cheap will lead to exploitation of workers and will likely make it difficult for the poor in exchange for making things like home ownership for the rich easier.

At this point, these kinds of ideas are really just floating around in Rove and Bush's head, but when you start seeing these kinds of laws, don't say I didn't tell you so. I intend to document these conservative trojan horse laws as they come through Congress.

III. Conclusion

The sad reality of the Katrina disaster is that, under normal conditions, our economy would be in much better shape to handle the costs. However, we've already spent over $100 billion on an illegal war in Iraq. Illegal war has already worked to eliminate the possibility of social progress; Katrina promises to become another conservative tool to further "drown" the government. To continue to help the mega-rich buy yachts while poor people must do without medical care constitutes a crime against the American people. Bush's actions in the coming months could potentially reshape our government for generations by squeezing the welfare state and undoing much of the progress made during FDR's New Deal.

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