Schweiger: The problem with the do-nothing Republican Party

US Sen. Mitch McConnell

By: Larry J. Schweiger
Pittsburgh Current Columnist

Post-Trump, the Republican Party has metamorphized into a Do-Nothing Party in Washington. They are richly rewarded for doing nothing. Toxic money in elections has locked down a once viable democracy preventing overdue actions on several fronts, notably the climate crisis, election reforms, gun control, health care, fair minimum wages, and tax reform. This pattern started in earnest under then-Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who boasted that he would be the “grim reaper” and kill all progressive house proposals on the Senate floor.

For the past four years, in addition to twice ignoring Trump’s impeachable offenses and acquitting a profoundly corrupt and dangerous President, McConnell and Republican Senators were busy shoving many unqualified appointees through the Senate Confirmation proceedings to lifetime appointments to the bench. Mitch McConnell and the Senate stacked the courts with Trump-appointed three Supreme Court Justices and scores of federal judges who will render decisions favorable to corporations for decades. Congressional Republicans also passed the so-called “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017,” a massive tax cut for the mega-wealthy and corporations that did nothing for jobs. As a result, nearly 100 Fortune 500 companies, including some of the biggest, had an effective federal tax rate of 0% or less in 2018, according to a report by the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy.

In the minority, McConnell and the Republican Senators will thwart Biden’s Building Back Better agenda by filibustering every important legislative proposal before the Senate. Democrats are coming up short on votes needed to reform the filibuster. Even while in the minority, Republicans can still control the Senate and our government through the filibuster rules.

Dark money funders, corporations, and special interests have been mainly funding Republicans for doing nothing legislatively. If the filibuster is left unchecked, the Senate will leave hundreds of important House-passed bills to die. Dark money sources have funded and advanced dirty political tricks, including perhaps the organizers of the January 6th, attempted coup. I hope investigations lead to the money behind the rally that fueled the attack on the U.S. Capitol.

It may be hard for some voters to believe that there are loads of campaign money available for lawmakers committed to doing absolutely nothing to pass critically needed laws to repair our crumbling infrastructure, to confront the climate crisis provoking mass migrations, fair election laws, affordable health care, and the ridiculous lack of gun safeguards.

Good government and fossil fuel, and other dark money in politics are inversely related. The fossil-fuel interests have conspired with other shady money players in lobbying, political funding, assistance to facilitate mean-spirited voter suppression, and big-data-high-tech gerrymandering. A flood of their money has been channeled through untraceable front groups. Operating with euphemistic names, Super PACs have misled naïve voters and divided America. 

Ethical restraints needed for a clean democratic government have been ignored for too long. Far too many libertarian billionaires living in a gilded world believe they owe nothing to anyone. They hate the government and have little concern for their community or the environment. They have a habit of considering themselves to have stood alone in acquiring great wealth. They are apt to imagine that their whole destiny was in their hands alone.

To politically thwart those who expose and challenge such greed, they create front groups to avoid the attention they have been getting in recent years. They have found ways to dodge possible legal challenges over expenditures of their “charitable” tax-deductible dollars. 

Rules constraining dark money have largely been removed by several Supreme Court decisions allowing mega-wealthy who often contribute the maximum legal donations to politicians and then do an end-run around weak campaign finance laws to siphon considerable sums through Super PACs. They use entities that don’t have to disclose their donors, thanks to Citizen’s United decision. Transnational corporations like the Koch Industries and ExxonMobil have also shifted much of their support to intermediate groups like DonorsTrust, a donor-directed foundation whose funders cannot be traced. Hiding behind a double wall of secrecy, Donors Trust then transfers the money to climate denial agencies and organizations that are willing to speak Koch’s or Exxon’s words and share corporate lies without attribution.

A USA TODAY analysis showed donations from ten super-rich individuals accounted for more than 20% of the money given to federal super PACs, highlighting how a small group of wealthy patrons contributed to the mid-term 2018 elections. Cash from the 0.001 percenters now overruns politics. As the checks and balances between money and voters break down, America ceases to be a vibrant democracy for more than 329 million people. Instead, it becomes an oligarchy serving about 3,000 mega-rich. Right-wing judicial activism is deliberately advancing elites, fostering minority government by and for the corporate class, and several recent decisions threaten the integrity of the American democracy. Corporations are not people; they are legal structures on paper, yet super PACs and their funders drive American democracy into the ground. Here are the vested interests who have a veritable chock hold on the American government:

  • The NRA does not want Congress to ban assault weapons or require complete background checks, so doing nothing is what we see after so many mass shootings and the widespread carnage on American city streets. The NRA funds do-nothing lawmakers;
  • Major oil, gas, and coal companies and power generators do not want any clean energy policies, so they heavily fund lawmakers who do-nothing about the climate crisis. Entrenched coal, oil, and frack-gas interests are the enemy of clean, renewable energy in addition to running misleading advertisements they fund the decades-long stonewalling;
  • Dark money funders do not want their political contributions disclosed, so they vehemently oppose “For the People” election reforms that, among other needed election reforms, the law would ban dark money in elections. They support no-nothing Republicans who will block pending election reforms and efforts to eliminate tax breaks for the super-rich;
  • Most corporations that paid little to no taxes under the Trump Tax Reform are thrilled with their profound and far-reaching tax breaks in the Trump tax cuts and oppose Biden’s Infrastructure bill that would restore previous tax rates. They will fund do-nothing lawmakers;
  • Many corporations with large carbon footprints do not want to end their climate polluting emissions and fund lawmakers who do nothing on the climate crisis.

No other ecological threat has suffered more from the evils of political inertia, as has the climate crisis. Since I first took an interest in the climate crisis in 1977, the scientific warnings have grown much louder, the evidence more definitive, and the consequences more menacing. A one-alarm fire has now become a five-alarm emergency. We now are facing the stark realization that we have less than a decade to make a sharp turn towards clean energy to end carbon emissions. Because carbon-polluting industries hold sway with filibuster power, McConnell and Republicans will do nothing to address one of humanity’s most significant effects on nature. They have long ignored scientists, lied to voters, and failed to end the carbon emissions that are now triggering the planet’s fastest rate of climate and related changes in 60 million years and causing ecological damage that is becoming disturbingly pervasive and catastrophically destructive.

For years, Republicans claimed that they wanted to end liberal justices from legislating from the bench but remain silent when the conservative Supreme Court has acted as a super-legislative body unleashing a massive and destabilizing flood of fossil fuel money.

People who care for the viability of the biosphere and desire a viable democracy need to understand the Senate Republicans’ role in several bad decisions that tilt toward moneyed interests while thwarting progress on several fronts. Our democracy is corrupted by dark money. Should it be laid waste in the days ahead, it will be by the do-nothing lawmakers who sold their souls to special interests. Along with the Supreme Court, they have unleashed greedy people of low morality and flawed character, who care more for expanding their wealth than for victims of mass shootings, our democracy for the planet’s health.

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