Death wish

isn’t too extreme a phrase to describe the Republicans’ recent conduct.

What else could explain their behavior this summer? They started out with many electoral advantages. The Afghanistan quagmire, the currently unstoppable Gulf oil disaster and intractable unemployment buffet President Barack Obama.

Even Republican whining about the deficit seems to have caught on. And an influential subset of liberal Democrats is complaining about the president.

Apparently determined to kick away these blessings, the Republicans are—happily for the country—on an amazingly self-destructive course of trying to destroy what’s left of our safety net.

A couple of instances are well known. Rep. Joe Barton called President Obama’s wresting $20 billion in cleanup funds from BP a “shakedown.” This has drawn thousands of viewers on YouTube and is becoming a staple of Democratic campaigns. Then House Republican Minority Leader John Boehner said that the pending financial regulation legislation was like “killing an ant with a nuclear weapon.” His remark gave Obama a chance to cut him up in a speech last week in Racine, Wis.:

“He compared the financial crisis to an ant. This is the same financial crisis that led to the loss of nearly 8 million jobs. The same crisis that cost people their homes, their life savings. … Do you think that the financial crisis was an ant and we just needed a little ant swatter to fix this thing? Or do you think that we need to restructure how we regulate the financial system so you aren’t on the hook again and we don’t have this kind of crisis again?”

Ridicule is a deadly weapon, especially against Washingtonians perceived to be losing power—politicians such as the right-wing Boehner having to fight off younger and more activist members of his caucus. Joe Scarborough, the former Republican congressman from Florida, really knifed the Republican leader on his MSNBC “Morning Joe” show: “ I hear it on the Hill, it’s not reported, Republicans tell me this is a guy who is not the hardest worker in the world after 5 o’clock, 6 o’clock … you can see him at the bars. He’s not a hard worker.”

Health reform provides an even better example of Republican wrongheadedness.

Last Thursday marked the beginning of the health reform law’s new insurance programs aimed at covering those who have been denied insurance because they have pre-existing conditions. This $5 billion program is designed to be a bridge between now and 2014, when insurance companies will be required to cover everybody regardless of past medical conditions. You are eligible for this bridge program if you have been without insurance for six months because of a pre-existing condition.

It will be an immense improvement in the lives of thousands now denied insurance. A new federal website has a link for signing up for these policies, as well as for getting information about the reform law.

The Obama administration proposed that health insurers issue these policies through state pools. But actually the idea came from Republicans who objected to federal control. Yet when the program began last Thursday, 21 states, most of them run by Republicans, refused to take part, which means the federal government will have to step in and operate these programs within the state.

That was just another case of blind Republican opposition to any provision of the health reform bill. Many of these Republican states are going to court to have the main features of the entire health reform bill thrown out. This is in line with the just-say-no attitude of Republicans during the health insurance debate in Congress.

Throughout the debate, they said voters were behind them, but that may not be true. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll reported that Americans now have a favorable view of the plan, by 48 percent to 41 percent. That’s a change from the previous month, when 44 percent viewed health reform negatively while 41 percent had a positive view.

In the intervening time, the administration has been strongly publicizing the reform’s benefits, including the new pre-existing coverage benefits.

It is mailing out $250 checks to Medicare recipients who have hit the “doughnut hole” in drug cost coverage, the point where Medicare stops covering drugs but before catastrophic coverage kicks in.

In another benefit, young people under 26 years old can now remain on their parents’ health insurance policies.

And $5 billion in federal subsidies will go to employers or insurance companies to continue coverage for workers who retired early—willingly or unwillingly—and who are 55 and older but not yet eligible for Medicare. How many people do you know who have been forcibly retired by downsizing companies and have either been left without insurance or confronted with premiums too expensive to pay?

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is targeting Republican candidates who favor repeal of the law, which was a Republican promise after it passed. The Kaiser poll showed that just 6 percent of those surveyed favored repeal.

The Republicans are out of touch. With right-wing, tea-partying candidates winning primaries, they have convinced themselves they are riding a wave of blind anti-government sentiment, the tea party line. This is perfectly expressed by Rep. Barton accusing Obama of shaking down BP and Rep. Boehner comparing the economic collapse to an ant.

Thanks to them and their kind, the Democrats could have a surprisingly happy election day in November.

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