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It’s all well and good to treat the House Republicans’ careening toward a government shutdown as a cabaret farce staged for our amusement.

However, the threat to ordinary Americans, especially those dependent on government programs, is no joke.

Even if the Republicans don’t provoke the shutdown currently likely to begin at 12:01 a.m. Sunday, the budget cuts House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) has said he would support to meet the demands of his caucus’ far-right wing would devastate government assistance to the most vulnerable Americans.

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As outlined by the Center for American Progress and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, two progressive think tanks working from official communications including the budget resolution released Sept. 20 by House Budget Committee Chair Jodey Arrington (R-Texas), they would involve these cuts in the social safety net:

  • A cut of $14.7 billion, or 77%, in Title I education grants to school districts with high levels of poverty, which fund services and supports for students from low-income or disadvantaged backgrounds. The CBPP calls this funding “a core federal support for K-12 education.”

The ancient Greek philosopher Diogenes went about with a lantern in search of an honest man. We don’t even need that much: Just a man with a hint of steadfastness in his makeup. Apparently we’ll have to keep looking.

  • Reduction of the fruit and vegetable benefit in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) by 56% to 70%, affecting about 5 million participants.
  • Unsustainable reductions in low-income assistance programs for housing and heating.
  • $1.9 trillion in Medicaid cuts over 10 years.

These cuts go well beyond those agreed upon in the debt-ceiling negotiations last May, which McCarthy accepted.

As a sop to the Republicans’ rich patrons, the House caucus would rescind all of the $88 billion in additional funding for the Internal Revenue Service that was enacted as part of last year’s Inflation Reduction Act.

This exceeds the $21-billion cut in the debt-ceiling negotiations. It’s the usual GOP penny-wise-and-plain-foolish approach to IRS funding, since it hamstrings the agency’s enforcement capabilities and taxpayer services such as phone advice.

Every dollar spent on enforcement yields multiples in recovered taxes. The IRS reported in July that it had recovered $38 million in delinquent taxes from more than 175 high-income taxpayers in previous months, using the enforcement funding provided by the Inflation Reduction Act. Obviously, that sticks in the craw of a party devoted to protecting its patrons from paying their obligations.

The absurd truth of all this “negotiating” is that it won’t help Speaker McCarthy, America’s most outstanding political invertebrate, get a funding proposal through his chamber that would be even remotely acceptable to the Senate. That includes Senate Republicans, who have signed on to a bipartisan spending scheme.

There are doubts that McCarthy can get any proposal through his caucus, which is in effect controlled by extremists who keep moving the goalposts by insisting on ever more draconian spending cuts. They show every sign of determination to shut the government down this weekend, even though it’s a political article of faith that the public always blames the GOP for shutdowns (as it should), leading to disaster at the ballot box.

The lack of character among congressional Republicans, not excepting those aligned with McCarthy, is truly amazing. These are people who have no compunctions about slandering working Americans while taking every opportunity themselves for slacking off.

Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.), one of McCarthy’s lieutenants, remarked during the debt-ceiling negotiations that Democrats were “willing to default on the debt so they can continue making welfare payments for people that are refusing to work.”

The serene nerviness of this slander was truly impressive, given that the House of Representatives had taken 12 of 20 workdays off in April and 10 of 22 workdays (not counting Memorial Day) off in May. Overall, the House has been scheduled to be in session only 117 days in 2023, fewer than half of the 240 days most of the rest of us are at work.

The House took off the entire month of August and didn’t return to session until Sept. 12, all while the possible shutdown was looming. The rest were officially designated “district work days,” to which we can only respond, “Oh, sure.”

Graves has resurfaced during the shutdown negotiations, telling the Washington Post that the Republicans’ “bottom line is we’re singularly focused right now on achieving our conservative objectives,” which include “huge savings.”

As the Post toted up the numbers, those savings involved “taking more than $150 billion per year out of the part of the budget that funds child care, education subsidies, medical research and hundreds of additional federal operations.”

If there’s a silver lining in the House GOP’s performative horseplay, it’s that it has cured the political press of treating the standoff as a symptom of congressional dysfunction. It’s not; as is being reported more accurately and sensibly in recent days, it’s a symptom of Republican dysfunction and, more than that, McCarthy’s dysfunction.

No one doubts that a workable budget plan can be enacted by the House. McCarthy’s problem is that it would involve House Democrats agreeing to get it over the finish line. But any action that requires him to reach agreement with the Democrats would provoke his own right wing to mount an ouster campaign. So McCarthy is as guilty as the rest of them.

The ancient Greek philosopher Diogenes went about with a lantern in search of an honest man. We don’t even need that much: Just a man with a hint of steadfastness in his makeup. Apparently we’ll have to keep looking.

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