By Ralph Nader
The Boston Tea Party in December 1773 threw the East India Company’s tea overboard. The Republican Tea Party in August 2011 threw America overboard.
Only in Congress, with its rules for minority rule, can a minority of the Republican Party in the House of Representatives impose its havoc on the American people there, then on the Senate side and on Obama
Leaving aside the psychiatric question of why a clutch of Republican Tea Partiers, many of them freshmen, terrify the veteran Republicans who outnumber them in the House, consider what they just pushed through the House against the American people.
For 150 million workers, Tea Partiers pushed through more cuts in the already starved federal programs that are aimed at diminishing the yearly 58,000 fatalities in workplace-related disease and trauma plus larger numbers injured and wounded.
There are 307 million eaters in America. More than 7,000 of them die from contaminated food and more than 300,000 are hospitalized each year. The Tea Partiers pushed cuts through the House to the already underfunded FDA food safety programs. They did this even though last year Congress strengthened the FDA’s authority and expanded its responsibilities, including closer inspection of hazardous foodstuffs increasingly coming from communist China.
There are 60 million investors in company stocks in America. The Tea Partiers stomped their feet and cut the House appropriations for law enforcement against Wall Street’s frauds by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. This cuts the number of federal cops on the Wall Street crime beat, especially on derivative scams.
All Americans breathe air and drink water. The Tea Partiers are cutting the budget of the federal agencies working to get the toxic pollution out of those two necessities for life on Earth. Don’t even mention global warming and climate change to Tea Partiers who are willing to die laughing at such a prospect.
There are millions of women and children with special health needs who depend on federal programs for assistance. The House Tea Party members want to slash the modest budgets for these programs.
There are 200 million drivers in America. The Tea Partiers intend to cut the already measly auto safety budget of the Transportation Department. The auto safety budget is less than a third of the budget they allowed for guarding the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.
They have also told others in Congress they are opposed to last year’s auto and bus safety bill giving long-overdue authority to safety regulators. The bill was supported by Democrats and Republicans but was blocked by one Senator Tom Coburn, a physician no less, in the last December days of the session. Minority rule again blocking 99 senators who signed off on unanimous consent to get this life-saving legislation through the Senate.
There are 30 million American workers, polls show, who would like to have a trade union represent them in negotiations with giants like Walmart. The Tea Partiers hate unions of workers and were instrumental in blocking the budget for the FAA in late July and early August on a union organizing mechanism and $16 million in subsidies for a few rural airports. For almost two weeks, the Tea Partiers punished tens of thousands of American workers who had to stop working on airport improvement and repair projects, and with the law’s expiration, the Tea Partiers let the U.S. government lose $30 million in a day in airline ticket taxes.
The Tea Partiers hate taxes, especially on the rich and corporations, even though they are the lowest rates in 20 years. They are extremists, mindlessly embracing Grover Norquist’s no-tax pledge. They are even against giving the IRS funds it needs to collect $15 for every $1 it spends collecting taxes on the ever-more privileged. The number of Treasury auditors focused on these giant global companies is miniscule.
The Tea Partiers don’t even care that 50 percent of Tea Partiers back home and 70 percent of Republicans polled thought additional tax revenues should be part of the deficit-reduction program passing through Congress.
You see, these House and Senate Tea Partiers are like mad dogs – at times even beyond control of their political and corporate masters. Fanatics neither think nor blink in their hostage politics. They’re scarring Wall Streeters with their brinkmanship. Brandishing a historic moniker that symbolized rebellion against the then monarchial power, the Congressional Tea Partiers are anything but rebels against power – whether against the wars of empire, corporate welfare, sovereignty shedding NAFTA and WTO, corporate crime, the flouted war powers of Congress, or a runaway Wall Street.
Back home last year, Tea Party rhetoric did echo the people’s concerns about these matters. It turned out to be just talk by those now in Congress. The Tea Party in Congress is more interested in wielding the axe against public works programs, education, housing, public health, drug safety and medical research. But they leave alone the hugely expensive, cost-over-run weapons systems – long after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Raising money from the fat cats for next year’s election, the Tea Partiers aren’t about to challenge tax favoritism – officially known as tax expenditures – that Reagan’s economist, Professor Martin Feldstein recently called the single largest source of wasteful and low-priority spending in the federal budget.
It is one thing for the Tea Party politicians in Congress – already well-to-do and consuming a pretty nice salary and a bevy of benefits – to lack empathy. But America needs to call them out on their downright ideologically-inebriated animosity toward the domestic necessities of the American people. Tea Party extremists in Congress may well sink the Republican Party but in the process take many Americans down with them.
They’re taking the debt-limit vote to the cliff set up the Standard and Poor’s (S&P) first-ever downgrade of the U.S. government’s credit rating, last Friday. Call it the Tea Party downgrade.
It is time to put a firm cap on the kettle.