Between the Lines, Gregory Dennis: Serving a dog’s breakfast in D.C.

When Gina McCarthy was a little girl and would get unnecessarily wound up about something, her mother would tell her, “Never waste a good worry on something you can’t control.”
At a time when the Trumpsters have hijacked efforts to combat climate change, McCarthy offered that coping strategy to a large crowd of Vermont community leaders. She was the keynoter at Saturday’s 10th annual conference of the Vermont Energy and Climate Action Conference Network (VECAN).
McCarthy, a powerhouse who just happens to look like everyone’s favorite grandmother, is well positioned to hand out good advice. Having risen through the ranks of government to become head of the Environmental Protection Agency under Obama, she led creation of the Clean Power Plan. That far-reaching plan was aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions and slowing climate change. It was a keystone of the Paris climate agreement.
Which Trump has now said he will abandon.
I attended the VECAN conference looking for a healthy dose of optimism. Amid a long string of record warming, Vermont stands out as a leader in combatting global warming. I wanted to hear about expanding solar and wind power, cleaning up the transportation and heating sectors that account for most of our dangerous carbon emissions, and putting a realistic price on carbon pollution through the new ESSEX plan.
I heard plenty of that at Saturday’s conference. Some grim optimism that day, too, with the news of Gen. Michael Flynn’s guilty plea. He confessed that he lied to the FBI to cover up the Trump campaign’s likely illegal interactions with the Russian government.
But here’s how it goes these days for so many of us who love our country and hate what is happening to it.
At the same time hundreds of us gathered to celebrate and strategize how we can successfully adapt to climate change, Congress was moving to enact a tax bill that ignores global warming and gives trillions of dollars to rich people — while brazenly setting the stage for cuts to the economic safety net.
It is a time, as Joan Baez put it in a song, of little victories and big defeats.
The author and activist Naomi Klein coined the term “shock doctrine” to describe the tactics that the Right is using to steamroll moderate and liberal opposition. The shock doctrine, she wrote, is “the brutal tactic of using the public’s disorientation following a collective shock … to push through radical pro-corporate measures.”
And so after Trump lost by 3 million votes, he becomes president and we end up with tax “reform” that benefits the rich, raises taxes on the poor and middle class, and provides a passel of corporate loopholes that were literally passed in the dead of night.
How did we get here?
Republicans in Congress spent the Obama presidency decrying policies that they said would grow the federal deficit and wreck the economy. That didn’t happen, of course.
But today the new tax legislation will, according to Congress’s own nonpartisan experts, add at least $1 trillion to the deficit.
So where were the self-proclaimed deficit hawks on this issue? Rushing to vote against a budget buster?
Of course not. With the exception of one Republican, every GOP senator backed the tax bill. Even Maine’s Sen. Susan Collins, who had opposed the repeal of Obamacare, voted for the bill — despite the fact that it would repeal the individual mandate on health insurance and raise average premiums by 10 percent.
What a dog’s breakfast this is. Including the lie that it will generate so much economic growth as to pay for itself.
That so-called Laffer Curve economic theory has been thoroughly discredited. But it gets trotted out every time the best Congress money can buy wants to give more tax breaks to big corporations and the rich.
Beyond the specific flaws of the tax bill, what is most galling is the hypocrisy over the deficit.
There are plenty of good reasons to be concerned about deficit spending in the long run. But the GOP’s willingness to hammer against deficits under Obama — and to now explode the deficit to benefit the rich donors who fund campaigns — is a sickening sight.
To make matters worse, this spectacle has been cheered on by senators trotting out the same old prejudices against the less fortunate. Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch said it’s hard to fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program — which covers 9 million kids — “because we don’t have money anymore.”
And then he turned around and voted to blow a huge hole in the budget through tax cuts for the richest Americans.
Hatch compounded this outrage by saying he had “a rough time” helping “people who won’t help themselves, won’t lift a finger and expect the federal government to do everything.”
Foghorn Grassley, the Iowa Republican, justified one tax break for the rich by saying it “recognizes the people that are investing, as opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it’s on booze or women or movies.”
You can almost feel the sweat of contempt for ordinary Americans as it drips off these bought-and-paid-for senators.
Next up are two more items on the right-wing agenda:
Big increases to the military budget. Despite the fact that the U.S. already outpaces most other countries combined in “defense” spending.
Cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. President Trump, House Speaker Paul Ryan and other right-wingers have made it clear they’re going after these safety-net programs. They didn’t even bother to get the tax bill passed before they teed up “entitlement reform.”
I’d like to offer some much needed optimism at this point.
But it’s a sad state of affairs when the nation’s best hope seems to rest in the removal of a mentally unstable president who calls climate change a hoax. And who appears to have conspired with the Russians to get elected.
American voters will have the opportunity to weigh in on all this madness in next November’s elections. But in the meantime, it’s going to be a long 11 months.
Gregory Dennis’s column appears here every other Thursday and is archived on his blog at www.gregdennis.wordpress.com. Email: [email protected], Twitter: @greengregdennis.

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