FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Strategy Behind the Budget Battles

by ALLAN J. LICHTMAN

Republican responses to budget challenges nationally and in Wisconsin come together as part of a long-standing strategy to destroy institutions that allegedly sustain the American left. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Republicans in the state legislature have targeted teachers’ unions.

Republicans budget-cutters in Congress have targeted Planned Parenthood, the Public Broadcasting Corporation, and the Legal Services Corporation, among other groups. Their budget inflicts little or no pain on Republican-leaning organizations such as the agribusinesses that garner most farm payments or the oil companies that receive billions in special tax subsidies.

The GOP first elaborated this strategy in a 1999 memo on priorities for the new millennium that I discovered in the papers of former Republican Representative Dick Armey of Texas. A copy of the memo can be found in the photo essay of my book, White Protestant Nation: The Rise of the American Conservative Movement.

The memo outlined strategies for “defunding the left” by eliminating “sources of hard currency for the Democratic Party” following President Ronald Reagan’s “model for cutting off the flow of hard currency to the Soviet Union.” To weaken the unions, Republicans would promote free trade and repeal the Davis Bacon Act that required prevailing wages on federally funded or assisted projects. The party would strive to restrict the use of compulsory union dues for political purposes. It would push for liability limitations on lawsuits to stanch the flow of funds to liberal groups and political candidates from trial lawyers. The GOP would weaken the National Education Association and teachers’ unions by promoting “school choice.” It would work to abolish the Legal Services Corporation and the Public Broadcasting System and kill incentives for tax-deductible donations to “liberal foundations” by repealing estate taxes.

In Wisconsin, the Republicans are continuing the anti-union component of the memo’s strategy. With union membership in the private workforce diminished to about 7 percent, public sector unions have become vital sources of funds, votes, and volunteers for Democrats. About 36 percent of public employees are currently union members, including most teachers.

In the name of austerity, Governor Walker and his allies have selectively sought to strip the states’ liberal teachers’ unions of collective bargaining rights. They have proposed no such death sentence for more conservative police and firefighters’ unions. In 2010, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, teachers’ unions in Wisconsin contributed $389,000 to state-level campaigns, nearly all of it to Democrats.

The strategy to undermine teachers’ unions also has spread beyond Michigan to other Republican-controlled states such as Indiana and Ohio. However, a recent USA Today/Gallup Poll showing that 61% would oppose a law in their state similar to the proposal in Wisconsin, whereas only 33% would favor such a law may deter other Republicans from following Walker’s lead.

In the House of Representatives, Republicans are likewise weakening what they view as left-leaning institutions. The proposed House budget ends funding for public broadcasting, which Republicans say provides a forum for liberal views. The budget eliminates funding to Planned Parenthood, a mainstay of the liberal pro-choice movement. Federal law already prohibits funding for abortion. The proposed cuts will instead eradicate contraceptive services, cancer and HIV screening, and health counseling. The budget slashes funding by 17 percent for the Legal Services Corporation, which represents poor people and it eliminates funding for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, considered a source of leftwing views on global warming.

As in Wisconsin, these Republican initiatives in Washington have little to do with deficit reduction. Even if the Senate and President Obama accepted all $61 billion in proposed Republican cutbacks, the $1.6 billion deficit would shrink by less than 4 percent. As the President’s Bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform made clear, real deficit reduction means seriously addressing entitlement programs, the defense budget, all farm payments, and the federal tax code.

In attempting to weaken the foundations of American liberalism, Republicans may have reached too far. Since their successful demonstrations in the battle for Florida after the 2000 election, conservatives have dominated the streets. Now, for the first time in recent memory, liberal protesters have taken to the streets in large numbers, portending perhaps the rise of the grassroots leftwing base that Obama promised, but failed to deliver thus far.

ALLAN J. LICHTMAN, a professor of history at American University, is the author of White Protestant Nation.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

March 23, 2017
Chip Gibbons
Crusader-in-Chief: the Strange Rehabilitation of George W. Bush
Michael J. Sainato
Cybersecurity Firm That Attributed DNC Hacks to Russia May Have Fabricated Russia Hacking in Ukraine
Chuck Collins
Underwater Nation: As the Rich Thrive, the Rest of Us Sink
CJ Hopkins
The United States of Cognitive Dissonance
Howard Lisnoff
BDS, Women’s Rights, Human Rights and the Failings of Security States
Mike Whitney
Will Washington Risk WW3 to Block an Emerging EU-Russia Superstate
John Wight
Martin McGuinness: Man of War who Fought for Peace in Ireland
Linn Washington Jr.
Ryancare Wreckage
Eileen Appelbaum
What We Learned From Just Two Pages of Trump’s Tax Returns
Mark Weisbrot
Ecuador’s Elections: Why National Sovereignty Matters
Thomas Knapp
It’s Time to End America’s Longest War
Chris Zinda
Aggregate Journalism at Salon
David Welsh
Bay Area Rallies Against Trump’s Muslim Ban II
March 22, 2017
Paul Street
Russiagate and the Democratic Party are for Chumps
Russell Mokhiber
Single-Payer, the Progressive Caucus and the Cuban Revolution
Gavin Lewis
McCarthyite Anti-Semitism Smears and Racism at the Guardian/Observer
Kathy Kelly
Reality and the U.S.-Made Famine in Yemen
Kim C. Domenico
Ending Our Secret Alliance with Victimhood: Toward an Adult Politics
L. Ali Khan
Profiling Islamophobes
Calvin Priest
May Day: Seattle Educators Moving Closer to Strike
David Swanson
Jimmy Breslin on How to Impeach Trump
Dave Lindorff
There Won’t Be Another Jimmy Breslin
Jonathan Latham
The Meaning of Life
Robert Fisk
Martin McGuinness: From “Super-Terrorist” to Super Statesman
Steve Horn
Architect of Federal Fracking Loophole May Head Trump Environmental Council
Binoy Kampmark
Grief, Loss and Losing a Father
Jim Tull
Will the Poor Always Be With Us?
Jesse Jackson
Trump’s “March Massacre” Budget
Joe Emersberger
Rafael Correa and the Future of Ecuador: a Response to James McEnteer
March 21, 2017
Reshmi Dutt-Ballerstadt
On Being the “Right Kind of Brown”
Kenneth Surin
God, Guns, Gays, Gummint: the Career of Rep. Bad Bob Goodlatte
David Rosen
Popular Insurgencies: Reshaping the Political Landscape
Ryan LaMothe
The Totalitarian Strain in American Democracy
Eric Sommer
The House Intelligence Committee: Evidence Not Required
Mike Hastie
My Lai Massacre, 49 Years Later
James McEnteer
An Era Ends in Ecuador: Forward or Back?
Evan Jones
Beyond the Pale
Stansfield Smith
First Two Months in Power: Hitler vs. Trump
Dulce Morales
A Movement for ‘Sanctuary Campuses’ Takes Shape
Pepe Escobar
Could Great Wall of Iron become New Silk Roadblock?
Olivia Alperstein
Trump Could Start a Nuclear War, Right Now
David Macaray
Norwegians Are the Happiest People on Earth
March 20, 2017
Michael Schwalbe
Tears of Solidarity
Patrick Cockburn
Brexit, Nationalism and the Damage Done
Peter Stone Brown
Chuck Berry: the First Poet of Rock and Roll
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail