12 Examples of Stunning Hypocrisy from Tea Party Republicans In One Short Month
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It's only been a month since the new Tea Party lawmakers took office, but the entirely predictable results of their ascension are already coming in. The Republican Party's newest class of “mavericks” have again stormed into office intent on proving their theory that government is inherently evil by screwing up everything in sight.
Before we embark on our tour of the Tea Party politicians' early moves – and those of the party they were supposed to be “taking back” -- let's recall exactly what they promised: they were relentlessly focused on economic issues – and, we were told, would eschew the kind of social issues that had long marked Republican politics in the era of the Religious Right. They would bring greater transparency and accountability to government. They promised to be good fiscal stewards, respond to the wishes of the people and, above all else, they swore up and down to obey the letter of the Constitution.
Let's see how they did in the early going.
I Hate Government Health Care. Also: Where Is My Government Health Care?
The hypocrisy began before the new class of pols was sworn in. When it was reported that “a conservative Maryland physician elected to Congress on an anti-Obamacare platform surprised fellow freshmen at an orientation session by demanding to know why his government-subsidized health care plan takes a month to kick in,” it raised eyebrows.
When Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, the titular inspiration for the Tea Party movement, was asked if he thought it was hypocritical for members of Congress to accept government-subsidized and regulated health plans, he replied simply, “[c]ould be.”
Violating the Constitution on Day One
The Constitution is the answer to every policy debate for the conservative wing of the GOP – or at least their tenuous grasp of what it says. But they didn't take long to trash the document. As Ryan Grimm reported for the Huffington Post:
Two House Republicans have cast votes as members of the 112th Congress, but were not sworn in on Wednesday, a violation of the Constitution on the same day that the GOP had the document read from the podium.
As if that weren't enough, the two lawmakers, incumbent Pete Sessions, R-Texas, and newcomer Mike Fitzpatrick, R-Pennsylvania, couldn't make the swearing-in because “they were attending a fundraiser at the U.S. Capitol even though lawmakers are barred from using official resources for campaign or fundraising activities.” That's illegal, and they did it on day one!
And Their Own Rules
The new GOP majority in Congress was supposed to be different this time. Heavily influenced by the Tea Partiers' message, they promised greater transparency. “Leaders overreach because the rules allow them to,” said newly minted Speaker John Boehner in a speech to the American Enterprise Institute. “Legislators duck their responsibilities because the rules help them to. And when the rules don’t suit the majority’s purposes, they are just ignored.”
That was before he took the speaker's gavel, however. Later, as Politico reported, “the new majority is already showing these promises aren’t exactly set in stone.”
After calling for bills to go through a regular committee process, the bill that would repeal the health care law will not go through a single committee. Despite promising a more open amendment process for bills, amendments for the health care repeal will be all but shut down. After calling for a strict committee attendance list to be posted online, Republicans backpedaled and ditched that from the rules. They promised constitutional citations for every bill but have yet to add that language to early bills.
That was certainly fast. But as Boehner said, “when the rules don’t suit the majority’s purposes, they are just ignored.”
Cutting Your Grandparents' Medicare
In October, Politifact noted that “Republicans often complained the Democratic plan would cut Medicare” during the reform debate, and “they are now repeating those attacks in campaign ads against many Democratic candidates, targeting older voters who may be worried their Medicare benefits will be harmed.”
Rep. Jeb Hensarling, a Tea Party favorite from Texas, went so far as to suggest, in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, that “the left” wanted to “cut Medicare by $500 billion to finance a corner of ObamaCare.” Given that older voters tend to skew toward the GOP, this line of attack made sense for turning out the Republicans' base.
Yet just two short months after Hensarling wrote that op-ed, the National Journal reported, “House GOP members are considering a measure to convert the government-backed Medicare program into a voucher system,” which would represent a drastic benefit cut for seniors in years to come:
Republican Conference Chairman Jeb Hensarling of Texas said that he expects Republicans to support the provision, which would require Medicare to give seniors an allotment of money to buy private coverage starting in 2021. The eligibility age would also be raised, from 65 to 69.
Austerity for Thee; Lavish, Corporate-Sponsored Parties for Me!
They were going to represent “the people,” but one has to remember that, in the conservative worldview, big corporations are people too!
To be fair, corporate sponsors generally kick in dollars for new governors' electoral balls, but as Think Progress noted, some of the new Tea Party-backed governors took it to the extreme, allowing “corporations with a vested interest in policy outcomes from a friendly government to pay for their inaugural bashes.”
Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL) spent $3 million in funds from Florida’s business interests that have “the most at stake in his administration,” including tobacco, real estate, gambling, and drug companies seeking specific regulatory advantages for their business. Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC) also received a big inaugural bash courtesy of private donations from Boeing, Duke Energy, and SCANA. Several other Republican governors are following suit. According to local reports, Govs. Rick Perry (TX), John Kasich (OH), Brian Sandoval (NV), Mary Fallin (OK), and Rick Snyder (MI), are the newest state executives to join the pay-to-play club.
They're Not Just on Capitol Hill
Maine's new governor, Tea Party-favorite Paul LePage, promised his transition team would look for “the best and the brightest” as it “seeks people to fill key roles in what’s expected to be a pro-business administration,” reported the Associated Press. In the end, that included not only several conservative think-tankers, but also his 22-year-old daughter Lauren, to whom he gave “a staff position within the upper echelon of his administration.”
According to the Bangore Daily News, “Lauren LePage said that although she did not study politics in college, she enjoyed her work on the gubernatorial campaign and saw this as a unique opportunity.” While salaries in the current governor's office start at $30,000 per year, the recent college grad will be pulling down $41,000 under her father, who was elected promising to clean up Augusta.
Scott Gessler was a Tea Party fave when he ran for the office of Colorado Secretary of State. “We need to trust our elected leaders,” he said on the trail. But soon after his election, Gessler gave voters reason to question whether he could be trusted when he announced that he would supplement his $68k annual salary by moonlighting with his old law firm on the side.
"To the extent he is working for his old firm and his old firm is dealing with the Secretary of State's office, it creates a real conflict," Elena Nuñez, program director for Colorado Common Cause, told the Denver Post. "In some cases it may just be the appearance of conflict."
What's more, Gessler refused to recuse the Secretary of State's office from cases involving his side job. “He said he would treat his old firm just like any other when it came to the decisions his office makes,” according to the Post.
Tennessee governor Bill Haslam may win some kind of prize for hypocrisy.
On January 16, the Associated Press reported that Haslam had “stressed the themes of transparency, responsiveness and humility at his first full Cabinet meeting.” But that statement came just 24 hours after he had signed an executive order eliminating “a requirement for the governor and top aides to disclose how much they earn.” The AP noted that “the move wipes off the books former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen’s first executive order of 2003, which required the top executive branch officials to make annual reports about their total earnings.” Haslam, it should be noted, had been “heavily criticized during the campaign for refusing to say how much he earned from family owned Pilot, a national truck stop chain with annual revenues of about $20 billion.”
I have always maintained that “limited government” is attractive as an abstract concept, but looks quite ugly in the real world. Evidence for that comes from Long Island, where a Tea Party-backed local pol has rapidly brought about financial disaster to Nassau County. Reuters explained the mess, which it called “a black eye for the Tea Party”:
At his January 2010 inauguration, Tea Party-backed Republican Edward Mangano marched up to the podium, pen in hand. Even before being officially declared Nassau County Executive, he signed a repeal of an unpopular home energy tax.
But Mangano didn't cut spending, nor did he figure out a way to make up the lost revenues, perhaps believing the conservative myth that cutting taxes leads to more tax dollars. The problem is that the belief is firmly grounded in magical thinking.
The fiscal consequences ...were anything but cool. The repeal set Mangano on an immediate collision course with the state-appointed fiscal overseer, the Nassau County Interim Financial Authority, or NIFA. It culminated in NIFA seizing control of the wealthy New York county's finances just weeks after the new County Supervisor was sworn in.
The tax had cost homeowners and average of around $7 per month – repealing it had truly been a triumph of ideology over common sense.
The Religious Right by Any Other Name ...
Last March, the New York Times reported that Tea Party leaders were “deliberately avoid[ing] discussion of issues like gay marriage or abortion.”
Tea Party leaders argue that the country can ill afford the discussion about social issues when it is passing on enormous debts to future generations. But the focus is also strategic: leaders think they can attract independent voters if they stay away from divisive issues.
In September, Rep. Mike Pence, R-Indiana – a Tea Party favorite – said that “putting our fiscal house in order, creating policies that will open the doors of opportunity to families during this difficult economy and create jobs has to be the first priority and I believe will be the first priority if Republicans are given another opportunity to lead.”
That lasted a total of 17 days after taking office. Then, Mike Pence's very first act in the new Congress was to offer legislation that would limit abortion services by redefining rape to include only “forcible" rape. “We must not remain silent when great moral battles are being waged,” Pence said when he unveiled the bill. “Those who would have us ignore the battle being fought over life have forgotten the lessons of history. As in the days of a house divided, America's darkest moments have come when economic arguments trumped moral principles.”
Spitting on the Constitution
For a movement that pledges unwavering fealty to the Constitution, it's remarkable how many blatantly unconstitutional pieces of legislation these new firebrands are introducing.
The Iowa Tea Party is backing a “nullification” bill allowing the state to ignore federal laws, a direct violation of the Supremacy Clause. David Gray Adler, who directs the University of Idaho's McClure Center for Public Policy Research, told the Washington Post that “nullification proponents ignore the fact that one Supreme Court decision after another has gone against them.” The state's Republican Attorney General weighed in, stating the obvious: “There is no right to pick and choose which federal laws a State will follow,” which is why “no court has ever upheld a State effort to nullify a federal law.”
Jason Brodeur, a local Tea Party newcomer in Florida, also got into the act, offering a bill that would make it a crime – punishable by a hefty fine or even jail time – for a doctor to ask a patient whether there are guns in the patient's home. The constitutional problem seems obvious: it doesn't permit the government to limit a physician's free speech rights just because some lawmaker really, really likes guns. Or, as the Orlando Sentinel put it, the proposed law "protects the Second Amendment from the First."
Then there are various bills to strip citizenship from children born to undocumented immigrants. They're popular, but as the figurehead of the Tea Parties, Ron Paul, has long acknowledged, the only constitutional approach to the issue would be to lose or change the 14th Amendment. The provision has been tested in a series of Supreme Court cases, making it a “super-precedent.” Passing simple legislation to strip people of an established and tested right is unconstitutional.
Ethics, Ethics, Ethics
The new GOP caucus promised to restore the American people's confidence in their party after it had become tainted by its culture of corruption during the Bush years. During last year's campaign, Eric Cantor, R-Virginia, assured the public that the GOP would "institute a zero-tolerance policy" when it comes to lawmakers' transgressions.
Nice talk, but just a month after taking control of the lower house, a GOP freshman is already facing a serious ethics problem. As the Washington Monthly's Steve Benen reported, “not quite three weeks into the 112th Congress, a newly elected Republican congressman is facing a scandal so severe, the leadership is already preparing for his ouster.”
With Miami's David Rivera, it's not just one controversy, it's a series of head-shaking outrages that make one wonder what on earth voters in his district were thinking.
The most recent scandal is Rivera's inexplicable decision to try to cover up loans from his mother's gambling-related marketing company, a matter that's already under investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Indeed, it appears that the owners of a dog track made more than $500,000 in secret payments to a company Rivera owned.
The Republican congressman is also at the center of domestic violence allegations, has been accused of driving a truck off a road because it was carrying flyers from a rival campaign, hiding the finances surrounding foreclosure proceedings on a house he co-owned with Marco Rubio, and bizarre lies about nonexistent work he did for the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Benen added that despite “Cantor's promise of a 'zero-tolerance policy,' the House Majority Leader has refused to say a word about Rivera's multiple, ongoing scandals, or the criminal investigation.”
To be fair, Rivera is not a Tea Partier. But his corruption is so blatant, he deserves honorable mention here nonetheless. For more on Rivera's ethical and legal problems, see here.