Monday, September 27, 2010

EDITORIAL >> Low point for democracy

Mark it down. The fourth week of September 2010 delineated the lowest point of statesmanship in American history, when the narrow objectives of political parties replaced the public good altogether.

Partisanship has defined Washington for a quarter-century and it has often been brutal, but never has it been so transparent and so persistent. Facing an electorate that is supposed to be weary of economic stagnation, endless war and stalemate, Democrats are desperate for achievement before the election. Republicans are equally determined to stop them from claiming the smallest accomplishment. The Republicans are able to achieve lockstep and the hapless Democrats, as always, are not.

Needless to say, the Republicans win that battle because while the Democrats have a majority in both houses of Congress it is not a working majority. The rules of the Senate give the advantage to the minority party as long as it is united and determined.

Democrats pushed four initiatives of President Obama to the fore this week. All were popular with the people, if you trust the polls, and while they would not solve any of the nation’s grievous problems each would help in modest ways.

Only one of them, a sharply scaled-down bill to help small businesses, will become law before the election. None of the others is likely to become law in the short lame-duck session afterward when Democrats will have one last chance before Republicans march into the Senate and House of Representatives in greater number.

Only one Republican, Rep. Walter B. Jones, an old conservative iconoclast from North Carolina, broke ranks. He joined a majority of Democrats to pass Obama’s bill to give tax incentives to small businesses and help them get loans in the frozen credit market.

BOOzman’s party loyalty

We wish the maverick had been our own John Boozman, the Arkansas delegate from northwest Arkansas, instead of Congressman Jones. If Boozman is going to be the next U. S. senator, which seems likely, it would be comforting to know that he could occasionally stand his ground against his party leaders and vote for what he knows is best for the people in his state, in this case the small business owners and the people they would hire if they could access the credit markets. His record of party loyalty is 100 percent perfect.

All year. Boozman and the other Republican candidates have claimed they were concerned about small businesses, the engine of job growth. Boozman said they were the reason he was opposed to extending the Bush tax cuts for the middle class unless the richest 2 percent of Americans got even bigger tax cuts.

The small business owners in that 2 percent need the extra income to hire people, he said. Never mind that few small business owners are in the class that pays the top marginal tax rate that existed in 2001.

WHO gets tax cuts?

The primary Arkansas beneficiaries of the extra tax cut for the richest were listed Friday in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, which published Forbes’ list of the richest billionaires in America.
But here was a modest little bill that was aimed solely at helping small businesses that are in a bind in this glacially growing economy. Boozman voted against it. He hasn’t explained his vote, but the party’s explanation was that it would create a loan fund when businesses did not need loans because there was no demand. But if businesses don’t need the guaranteed loans, the government won’t be out anything.

Not so long ago, many Republicans agreed with the president’s approach to the tax cuts, which was to extend them permanently for 98 percent of Americans — 99 percent of Arkansans — but let the top marginal rate, basically on millionaires, return to its 2001 level on Jan. 1 as President Bush intended, thereby shaving $700 billion off the projected national debt over the next decade.

Sen. John McCain opposed the tax cuts from the first because they would feed the deficit, but that heterodoxy is no longer permitted any Republican.

Boozman announced that he was standing with his party so that millionaires would continue to create jobs after Jan. 1. Exactly what jobs have they created since 2001, the worst jobs era since the 1930s? Enough terrified Democrats — two in the Arkansas delegation — stood with the Republicans this week to block the tax-cut extension.

Obama wants Congress to lighten the impact of the U. S. Supreme Court decision that opened the door for corporations and unions to spend vast fortunes secretly to buy elections. His bill would simply require them to identify themselves when they are buying elections like all other election contributors must do and bar a few of them — those using federal bailout money, government contractors and foreign corporations — from doing it.

The bill was mutilated to satisfy Republicans — it would postpone the effectiveness of the law so that Republican candidates could take advantage of the money for this election — but they still united against it. Every Republican in the Senate united to deny the Democrats the 60 votes needed to bring the bill to a vote.

Finally, the Republicans in the Senate were in lockstep to stop a defense spending bill that would end the notorious “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy of kicking people out of the armed forces if they make it known to anyone that they are homosexuals.

The secretary of defense, top military brass and most Americans, whatever they think of homosexuality, agree that the country’s understaffed forces cannot afford to eliminate skilled soldiers because of their genetic disposition.

Senators Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor, as they have so often, broke with their own party and sided with the Republicans. So have the state’s other Democrats in Congress on issue after issue. Wouldn’t it be great if there were just a modicum of that independence on the other side?