The Warmongering, Corporation-Loving Republicans Taking Over the Senate
Following the November elections, the Republicans will now control both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Although many have their eyes trained at incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), equally important is the fact that gaining control of the Senate allows the GOP to elect new committee chairs. Although the new Congress is not yet in place, we can use seniority to reliably estimate who will be elected the chairs of the various committees in the Senate.
These committees have large sway over the sorts of hearings that the body holds and the legislation that makes it to the floor. Who controls them is incredibly important, and who is about to control them is incredibly troubling.
The Republican Who Claims Global Warming Is Good For Us Leading The Environment Committee
The New Republic's Rebecca Leber notes that Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) is next in line to lead the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee – the chief committee that deals with the environment and climate issues.
Inhofe has taken various positions on global warming, all arguing for some variation of not doing anything to stop it. In 2003, he said that global warming could actually improve humanity, saying that “that increases in global temperatures may have a beneficial effect on how we live our lives.” In 2012, he pivoted to citing the Bible for a reason we shouldn't act on the climate: “[T]he Genesis 8:22 that I use in there is that ‘as long as the earth remains there will be seed time and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, day and night.’ My point is, God’s still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous.”
But the reason for his inaction may be closer to the earth than the Heavens; for the 2014 cycle, the oil and gas industry are his top contributors, with him getting over $400,000, more than half of it from political action committees.
The Man Behind “Bomb Bomb Bomb Iran” Will Helm The Armed Services Committee
Senator John McCain (R-AZ) will chair the Armed Services Committee, giving him wide leeway over both the defense budget and related foreign policy issues. McCain made a name for himself as an unrepenant war hawk, backing the Iraq war and famously singing “Bomb Bomb Bomb Iran” to the tune of a Beach Boys song during the 2008 race.
Just weeks before the election, McCain told a crowd at the Pacific Council on International Policy that he wants to push for an increase of U.S. troop presence in Iraq and increased funding for rebels – as well as a no-fly zone in Syria taking aim at that country's government, which so far the Obama administration has ruled out.
McCain apparently is not bothered by the fact that ISIS brags in its official magazine that the war in Iraq he supported is what allowed them to take over large portions of that country to begin with.
The Tea Partier Who's Head Of Homeland Security And Governmental Affairs
The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee tackles a wide range of issues, including a number not directly related to security, such as general oversight of spending. The man slated to be its chair is Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI), who rode in on a tea party wave in 2010.
Johnson, who defeated progressive icon Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) that year, has all sorts of views that are completely disconnected from reality. During his race against Feingold, he claimed that sunspots – yes, sunspots – are the cause of extreme weather events, rather than global warming. He said reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act was unconstitutional. Although Johnson will be in charge of key spending oversight responsibilities, he has often played fast and loose with statistics; last month he overstated one Obamacare figure by 900 percent while trying to claim there were large premium hikes in Wisconsin due to the law.
The committee is also charged with overseeing the Post Office, which is especially troubling in Johnson's case. Earlier this year the mailing industry, one of Wisconsin's largest employers, was angered by Johnson's suggestion that the Post Office's activities were harming “the American taxpayer.” The industry protested that, of course, the Postal Service is self-funded through its own revenues, and doesn't take a penny of taxpayer dollars. Johnson was either purposefully obfuscating or was unaware of this fact – and he's about to take over the oversight role for the entire system.
The Health, Education, Labor, And Pensions Committee Chair Who Wants To Cut Them All
Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) is expected to be the head of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, And Pensions Committee (HELP). Alexander has been an avowed advocate for cuts in all four of these areas, joining the GOP in its repeated attempts to kill Obamacare.
Although he's a former Department of Education official, Alexander is an advocate for predatory for-profit colleges, who have also bankrolled his career, making them one set of schools funding that he isn't trying to cut. Alexander is also an advocate for a budget plan that would cut Social Security and Medicare benefits by more than a trillion dollars; this is despite the fact that Social Security currently keeps half of Tennessee seniors out of poverty.
He also has castigated the United Auto Workers in their organizing attempts in Chattanooga, boasting about his state's status as so-called “right to work.” Although the HELP committee has traditionally been a place to boost labor rights, Alexander opposes the Employee Free Choice Act, calling it the “No Choice Act.”
Chairs For How Long?
The incoming GOP chairs are frightening in their disregard for some of America's most treasured programs – Social Security, Medicare, the Post Office – and most important causes – climate change, peace – and it's easy to get pessimistic. But the 2016 landscape is relatively favorable to the Democrats, and there's a chance they could retake the body that year. Unfortunately, two years may be more than enough time for the Republicans to do major damage.