The Bush era tax cuts are a matter of grave concern to the Republicans. They have made it clear that they will block all legislation until the tax cuts (from 39% to 36%) for the wealthiest 2% of Americans are secure. Since the Republicans are generally against taxes, it is no surprise that they are claiming that this is a matter of principle.
I do see the appeal of that principle. After all, taxes are (at best) a necessary evil and I, like everyone else, would prefer to pay less taxes rather than more. However, I do have some concerns about the fact that the Republicans’ principled stand means blocking all legislation until they get their way. Naturally, I will not argue that the Republicans seem to be engaged in what some might regard as threatening with a “nuclear option” or indulging in some sort of hostage taking or blackmail. Rather, I will take them at their word: they are acting on principle and this principle seems to be that tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans are more important than any other legislation.
To properly assess the principle and its application, the “other legislation” must be considered. One is the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” While this measure is supported by the military leadership, most Americans and most service members, Republicans have often taken moral stands against this in specific and against homosexuality in general. While it might be argued that the repeal is the right thing to do, it does seem that being willing to block it is consistent with Republican values.
A second piece of legislation is the Dream Act. This act is aimed at enabling people who came here illegally as minors to be put on a track towards citizenship that involves college education or military service. On the face of it, this act seems to be a clever bit of headhunting: rather than sending people of good character who will complete college or serve in our military to other countries, America gets to keep them. The conditions and requirements of this act seem eminently reasonable and it would seem to be of benefit not just to the people who would fall under the act but also the country.
In general, the Republicans have been fairly tough on immigration (at least when it is a political issue). As such, blocking this act would seem to be consistent with their espoused principles.
A third piece of legislation is a bill to provide medical benefits and compensation for the 9/11 first responders. On the face of it, this would seem to be the sort of bill that the Republicans would proudly support. After all, they have been cashing in on 9/11 politically since 9/11. Republicans have praised the first responders as heroes and one would think that wounded heroes would be worthy of care.
However, Republicans have stepped up to filibuster this bill and intend to block it until the tax cuts for the wealthy are safe. The main arguments being advanced are financial. First, it has been argued that previous funding for folks involved with 9/11 have been misspent. The second argument is a question of funding for this bill.
Both these points are reasonable. Before federal dollars are spent on something, previous relevant financial irregularities need to be addressed and steps should be taken to prevent them from occurring in the future. By this principle, pork spending, the funding of the Iraq war, and so on all need to be properly investigated and steps taken to ensure that past problems (like the missing billions in Iraq) are fixed and proper safeguards are put in place. Naturally, I expect the Republicans to stick to this principle consistently.
It is also sensible to have funding for spending. This, of course, needs to be applied consistently. If it is applied to this bill, it must apply to all bills that involve spending. Of course, this bill could be funded by returning the tax rate on the wealthy Americans to the pre-Bush era rate. But, the Republicans’ principle seems to be that the wealthy are more important than the 9/11 responders. This makes the Republicans’ principle quite clear in this matter.