We can be grateful for the March 23 vote on the omnibus spending bill. It has confirmed—for anyone still harboring doubts—that most Republicans in Congress have long ago abandoned any pretense to ideological principles, particularly those involving a federalist philosophy of a limited centralized authority.
The Republican Party of Abraham Lincoln died last week, or perhaps it was only confirmation of its earlier demise. The price tag on this philosophical corpse: $1.3 trillion—that’s 1,300 billion dollars. Whether or not one shares the articulated objectives of recent Republican platforms, what is clear is that they are readily cast aside, without complaint, for political expediency.
And regardless of one’s views on the right to life versus the right to choose, eliminating funding for Planned Parenthood has long occupied top billing on the chopping block of Republican Party platforms—yet there still have been no cuts. The annual half-billion will still be forthcoming, courtesy of the Republican majority in both the Senate and the House.
Signs of the Grand Old Party’s looming fatal collapse have not been lacking. After Donald Trump emerged out of a crowded field to defeat a damaged Democrat front-runner in one of the biggest surprises in America politics, Republicans raged against their victor. Republicans failed to turn inward for a critical—and critically needed—self-examination.
Trump assured his followers he would defy the party’s entrenched old guard, and repeatedly proclaimed, as a fundamental cornerstone of his philosophy, that a wall would go up along the country’s border with Mexico. Yet the Republican Congress proved unable to deliver a wall that had been repeatedly promised, although it now appears the president has implemented a strategy to bypass the restraints that the legislature had attempted to impose.
Nor was there even the pretense of reducing federal government spending or growth—just the opposite. Budget chief Mick Mulvaney has gamely attempted to put a positive, conservative spin on a bill that he cannot truly have any faith in.
Why was New York Sen. Chuck Schumer smirking after the vote? Because he believed he had pulled off a coup, that he had bested his antagonists? Not at all. He has come to understand that in Washington, there is no longer a two-party state.
We in the United States live in what is effectively, and functionally, a one-party political system. Ideological distinctions have evaporated. In an age of technocrats such as House Speaker Paul Ryan, principles are for the most part relegated to re-election speeches, and the political divide between Republican and Democratic legislators, as revealed in their actions (rather than their self-serving speeches), is of no greater an ideological spread than that of two competing brands of butter substitute.
The obsessive imperative to prevent a government shutdown, thus raising the U.S. debt ceiling, makes about as much sense as allowing individual families to increase their credit card debt limit each time that limit is approached, regardless of their income and likelihood of ever reducing their debt, or even managing to make their minimum payments to service that debt.
Joan Q. Public knows that when her credit card debt approaches her $20,000 limit, she cannot call Visa and command that, effective at her payment due date, her debt ceiling be raised to $30,000. Such limitation is based on sound economic principles, which Congress does not believe it needs to follow. But as with the proverbial ostrich burying its head in the sand, the feared consequences cannot be wished away, but only put off until legislators have left office.
The time is now for one or more new political parties, perhaps rooted in principles other than accumulating power and wealth or insulating legislators from the results of their actions, and inaction. Such new parties should have a real allegiance to the Bill of Rights and to the belief that political power is vested in the individual—all individuals—and that this power is delegated, is only on loan, to those who hold political office.
The time is now to recall the loan from those who presently hold it.
Marc Ruskin, a 27-year veteran of the FBI, is a regular contributor and the author of “The Pretender: My Life Undercover for the FBI.” He served on the legislative staff of U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan and as an assistant district attorney in Brooklyn, New York.