11 of the Tea Party GOP's Most Ridiculous Policy Ideas (So Far)
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Only weeks have passed since the new Tea Party Republicans stormed into power promising to bring what they see as the hallmarks of good governance -- greater accountability, fiscal restraint and an ill-defined but unwavering devotion to the Constitution. The early results of their rising influence haven't been encouraging. The new Tea Party lawmakers have introduced a slew of truly wacky legislative proposals designed only to appeal to Glenn Beck and their far-right base.
Some of them are merely symbolic, others are blatantly unconstitutional but all are profoundly unserious in a country that faces more than its share of very real problems. Surveying this sad collection of proposals, one might imagine that we weren't occupying distant countries, didn't have an unemployment rate over 9 percent for 21 months and weren't looking toward a record number of foreclosures in 2011.
Here's a look at some of the silliest proposals to surface so far.
1. Georgia Bill Would Ban Drivers' Licenses
“Because of the Constitution!” – without further elaboration – is a hollow but popular argument for all manner of policies in the era of the Tea Parties, but Georgia state Rep. Bobby Franklin, R-Marietta, has a curious view of what our founding documents actually proscribe.
CBS' Atlanta affiliate reports that the lawmaker introduced a bill that would do away with drivers' licenses, arguing that they “are a throw back to oppressive times.”
In his bill, Franklin states, "free people have a common law and constitutional right to travel on the roads and highways that are provided by their government for that purpose. Licensing of drivers cannot be required of free people, because taking on the restrictions of a license requires the surrender of an inalienable right."
What makes this such an odd position – aside from the fact that Franklin appears to believe driving a motor vehicle is an “inalienable right” – is that licenses are issued by the states and not the federal government.
Franklin has served in the Georgia legislature since 1996, where he claims to be "the conscience of the Republican Caucus because he believes that civil government should return to its biblically and constitutionally defined role.”
2. Forcing Science Teachers to 'Question' Evolution
Evolution, like gravity, is merely a theory! Of course, it's also theory supported by loads and loads of hard scientific evidence.
But for Oklahoma lawmaker Sally Kern, there's an intense “scientific controversy” over whether Jesus in fact rode around on dinosaurs, and she's introduced a bill requiring teachers to explore that possibility. According to Think Progress, Kern's bill “would require the state and local authorities to 'assist teachers to find more effective ways to present the science curriculum where it addresses scientific controversies' ... but the only topics mentioned in the bill as contestable are 'biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.'”
The National Center for Science Education notes that the proposal is the fourth anti-evolution measure to be offered in 2011 and the second in Oklahoma.
[The Bill] differs only slightly from Senate Bill 320, which died in committee in February 2009; a member of the Senate Education Committee told theTulsa World (February 17, 2009) that it was one of the worst bills that he had even seen. In its critique (PDF) of SB 320, Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education argued, "Promoting the notion that there is some scientific controversy is just plain dishonest ... Evolutionary theory has advanced substantially since Darwin's time and, despite 150 years of direct research, no evidence in conflict with evolution has ever been found." With respect to the supposed "weaknesses" of evolution, OESE added, "they are phony fabrications, invented and promoted by people who don't like evolution."
3. Let's Use Tax Dollars to Finance Anti-Government Militias!
After Timothy McVeigh's deadly terror attack on a federal office building in Oklahoma City, the popularity of the “Patriot” Movement -- with its reactionary anti-government militias – declined. But now that we have a black president in the Oval Office who signed a health-care bill, the militias are once again on the rise.
Now one Montana lawmaker wants to bring the militias from the fringe into the mainstream. Think Progress reports that, “in a nod to extremism, Montana state Rep. Wendy Warburton (R) is introducing a bill to … creat[e] what she dubs 'home guards' to provide services in case major emergencies (sic).” The Billings Gazette noted that the bill “would allow the 'home guard' organizations to be formed in companies each with their own uniforms, flags and identities. Its language also would allow them to form into 'infantry companies.'"
The "home guard" would not be subject to federal oversight and a company would only be recognized if certified by the governor. Creating the paramilitary groups would cost the state about $45,000 per year for the first few years, and the state would be required to pay for damaged equipment used by the groups during active duty.
Montana's Human Rights Network says there's little doubt that the unregulated militias would be a magnet for “anti-government extremists.” Similar bills are being considered in Arizona and Oklahoma.
4. Let's Pay China's Central Bank and Default on Grandma and Grandpa
The fun isn't limited to state houses. At the federal level, we will soon face a very silly pissing match over whether or not to raise the debt ceiling – the limit on how much public debt the government can take on. Nobody really believes that the GOP will heed the calls from its most extreme members to block the increase.
But newly minted Senator Pat Toomey is nevertheless making preparations for that possibility, offering legislation that's not likely to appeal to the older Tea Party types who helped him to victory. Talking Points Memo reports that Toomey is preparing a bill that would “force the U.S. government to reroute huge amounts of money to China and other creditors in the event that Congress fails to raise its debt ceiling.”
If passed, Toomey's plan would require the government to cut large checks to foreign countries, and major financial institutions, before paying off its obligations to Social Security beneficiaries and other citizens owed money by the Treasury -- that is, if the U.S. hits its debt ceiling.
The best part, according to TPM, is that “according to the Treasury Department, his plan wouldn't actually avoid a default, or its catastrophic consequences.”
5. Texas 'Birther' Offers Bill Criminalizing Health-Care Reform
We've heard a lot about “criminalizing politics” – Tom Delay's defenders continue to insist it was this dastardly trend, rather than his wanton violations of the criminal code, which was responsible for the disgraced former Speaker's conviction.
Now another Texas lawmaker's taking the idea to the extreme. State Rep. Leo Berman, R-Tyler, really, really doesn't like the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passed by Congress last year. In fact, he likes it so little that he's offered up a bill that would make it a felony – punishable by up to five years in prison – for a federal official to implement the law duly passed by the United States Congress last year.
6. Slew of Birther Bills
That wasn't Berman's first legislative foray into the fever swamps of far-right politics. Just weeks after the midterms, he introduced a “Birther bill” requiring presidential (and vice presidential) candidates to provide a “long-form” birth certificate in order to appear on the ballot. Berman explained to the Lubbock Avalanche Journalthatthe bill is needed "because we have a president whom the American people don't know whether he was born in Kenya or some other place."
Slate's Dave Weigel reports that it's just one among a number of similar proposals that have been offered in states as diverse as Nebraska, Connecticut and Arizona. Weigel adds that some of the bills – notably Arizona's – go beyond even Texas' proposed requirements, so much so that not every American citizen could meet its eligibility standards.
7. Arizona's Let's Re-Litigate the Civil War Act
If you have a decent grasp of our nation's history, you probably know that we settled the question of whether states could simply ignore federal laws when it suited them in April of 1865, when Robert E. Lee surrendered his Confederate army to Ulysses S. Grant.
That's not the Tea Partiers' version of history, however. The “Tenthers” believe the states have the right, under the Constitution, to simply reject federal laws, and a host of politicians have offered legislation to “nullify” the Dems' health-care reforms.
In Idaho, Think Progress reported that lawmakers “are drawing inspiration for an unconstitutional nullification bill from an unusual source — a co-founder of a neo-Confederate hate group” named Thomas Woods.
Woods is, to say the least, a questionable source of counsel for a sitting state governor and state senator. One of the founders of the neo-Confederate League of the South, Woods once published an article declaring the Confederacy to be “Christendom’s Last Stand.” In it, he endorses the view that the Civil War was a battle between “atheists, socialists, communists, red republicans, jacobins on the one side and the friends of order and regulated freedom on the other,” and he concludes that “[t]he real watershed from which we can trace many of the destructive trends that continue to ravage our civilization today, was the defeat of the Confederate States of America in 1865.”
As I noted recently, Idaho's Republican Attorney General weighed in on the bill Woods inspired, clarifying that “there is no right to pick and choose which federal laws a State will follow,” which would explain why “no court has ever upheld a State effort to nullify a federal law.”
Twelve states have considered similar measures, mostly relating to health-care reform. But Arizona has gone a step further. State senator Russel Pearce, the far-right lawmaker credited with Arizona's draconian "papers, please" immigration law, has introduced a measure that legal scholar Jessica Pieklo calls a “secession bill.” The law would establish a panel that would review all federal legislation and could "vote by simple majority to nullify in its entirety a specific federal law or regulation that is outside the scope of the powers delegated by the people to the federal government."
Pieklo notes that it's the task of the judicial branch rather than the legislature to make those calls, and views the whole un-Constitutional mess “as a way to push the idea of secession without the messy business of actually having to secede, or without forcing the state to opt out ... of generous federal funding.”
8. Two-Tiered Citizenship or Just Symbolic Nonsense?
A group of hardline immigration foes in a handful of states are trying to get Congress to allow them to issue two kinds of birth certificates -- one for children of citizens and another for the kids of undocumented immigrants. The problem is that according to the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, they're all U.S. citizens, and all are guaranteed equal protection under the law.
What makes this proposal so obnoxious is that its authors are fully aware that it won't go anywhere, and will likely result in a lot of costly litigation if passed, but they don't care – they're doing it merely “to get Congress talking about how we interpret the 14th Amendment,” according to Talking Points Memo.
Of course, Congress is already “talking about it,” with equally frivolous bills to redefine the 14th Amendment being floated at the federal level.
9. Health-Care Mandates Are Unconstitutional, So Let's Force Everyone to Buy Guns
Speaking of symbolic legislation, Taegan Goddard reports, "five South Dakota lawmakers have introduced legislation that would require any adult 21 or older to buy a firearm 'sufficient to provide for their ordinary self-defense.'" The pols admit that the bill is an act of political theater designed to high-light their belief that the individual mandate in the health-care bill is unconstitutional.
But, as I noted a few weeks back, what they're proposing was in fact the law of the land in the early days of the republic. In 1792, none other than George Washington signed the Uniform Militia Act, a law requiring every white male citizen to purchase a whole basket of items – “a good musket or firelock, a sufficient bayonet and belt, two spare flints, and a knapsack, a pouch, with a box therein” – from private companies.
Conservatives have dismissed the relevance of that law to the current health-care debate because it was passed under the auspices of the Constitution's militia clauses, not, like the health-care bill, under the Commerce Clause. So the irony is this: either forcing citizens to buy a firearm is irrelevant to today's debate as it doesn't fall under the Commerce Clause, or, if the opposite is true, it discredits their entire argument against the insurance mandate.
10. The 'Don't Call Those Sluts Victims!' Act
One of the most glaring examples of a right-wing “solution” to a problem that doesn't exist comes to us from Georgia's Bobby Franklin – the same guy who thinks driver's licenses are unconstitutional.
Huffington Post's Amanda Terkel reports that Franklin “doesn't like the term rape 'victim.' In fact, he has introduced a bill mandating that state criminal codes refer to these people as, simply, 'accusers' -- until there's a conviction in the matter.” To be clear, Franklin thinks it's perfectly fine to refer to the victims of every other violent crime as such, but not rape victims.
And, as Terkel notes, “Rape and sexual assault are chronically underreported crimes.”
According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, "60% of rapes/sexual assaults are not reported to the police, according to a statistical average of the past 5 years. Those rapists, of course, never spend a day in prison. Factoring in unreported rapes, only about 6% of rapists ever serve a day in jail." Under Franklin's definition, all of these people who didn't report their crimes aren't actually victims -- because there is never a conviction.
11. The 'Make Sure Doctors Don't Ask Patients Too Many Questions' Act
I've written before about Jason Brodeur, a local Tea Party newcomer in Florida who has cooked up a bill that would make it a crime – potentially punishable with jail time – for a doctor to ask a patient about whether there are guns in his or her home. For a devoted constitutionalist, the bill appears pretty troublesome. After all, the government isn't allowed to limit an individual's right to free speech just because some wing-nut in the Florida statehouse has a gun fetish. Or, as the Orlando Sentinel put it, the proposed law "protects the Second Amendment from the First."
It's not a law that's on the table, and the proposal was made before the midterms, but as long as we're on the subject of crazy approaches to immigration, honorable mention goes to Georgia State Representative John Yates, who, when asked how he would approach immigration control at a candidate forum, said that "leaflets [should be] dropped all over Mexico [saying] that we will shoot to kill if anybody crosses and be serious about this." According to the local Fox News affiliate, “When asked if he could see why people would be upset with his comments Yates said, "No, I don't think they'd be upset with what I'd say."
“Stopping Hitler was worth the price," he added, because washing dishes for crappy wages in your local diner is just like invading Poland.
Governance by People Who Believe Government Is the Problem
There you have it – some of the most fatuous and muddle-headed proposals floating around on the far right today. It's not a comprehensive list, however – several other measures were excluded due to space limitations.
These are clearly designed to be popular with people who don tri-corner hats and fancy themselves modern revolutionaries. But it's striking just what a frivolous waste of time these measures really are. The majority of them will never make it into law; some face a guaranteed veto and still others would surely be overturned by the courts after cash-strapped states wasted a fortune litigating them.
With all this grandstanding, one might conclude that we didn't face any real problems for these pols to tackle.