The Low Bar | Commentary

Posted September 17, 2014 at 6:18pm

Imagine you are in a cab, screaming at the driver to stop speeding toward the edge of a cliff. The driver ignores you. You plead with him to slow down, to steer away from calamity. He ignores you. At the last possible minute, the driver slams on the brakes and stops the car just short of a fatal plunge. To your shock, the driver turns around, smiling, and asks you to thank him with a big tip. That’s exactly how Speaker John A. Boehner is driving this congress.

On Oct. 1, the United States government will remain open. By the embarrassingly low standard of this Republican Congress, that constitutes a rousing success. Yes, that is the sad state of affairs of this Republican Congress: Avoiding a catastrophic shutdown is a victory and simply keeping the essential functions of government operations running on autopilot is cause for celebration.

While House Leadership pats itself on the back for its major accomplishment of keeping the lights on, the middle class continues to struggle, and this Republican Congress continues to lift a finger only if they see that it will help their special interest backers. The list of stalled middle class priorities that Republicans have ignored is long, and time is short before Republicans skip town for most of the fall.

Hardworking middle class families need more than just a government that doesn’t self-destruct. But even as Boehner takes a victory lap for not letting his party shutdown the government, House Republicans have failed on issue after issue:

• They have done nothing to end tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas.

• They refuse to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, to ensure women receive equal pay for equal work.

• They continue to support wasteful subsidies to Big Oil.

• They have not made needed investments in our crumbling infrastructure — investments that could create jobs across the country.

• They voted against raising the minimum wage to $10.10, which would put more money in the pockets of hardworking families.

• They won’t lift a finger to extend emergency unemployment insurance, the lifeline for millions of Americans, which expired last December.

They refuse to let students refinance their student loans at lower rates.

They continue to say no to comprehensive immigration reform.

And the list goes on. All of these priorities would help middle class families and all have been abandoned or outright blocked by House Republicans. The only priority Republicans have managed to find time for is hiring a $500-per-hour lawyer to sue the president and issuing a record number of subpoenas in their partisan witch hunts.

House Democrats have a different idea: put the middle class first. Democrats’ Middle Class Jumpstart agenda will grow an economy that supports a thriving middle class by investing in job creation, expanding access to affordable education and ensuring women have the opportunity to succeed.

While Republicans continue to protect tax breaks for corporate special interests, Democrats would create jobs here at home by closing corporate tax loopholes for companies shipping jobs overseas. Democrats would also invest in building our infrastructure and create tax incentives for companies creating jobs in America.

While Republicans pile more debt on the backs of students to protect bank profits, Democrats are committed to affordable education. House Democrats would allow Americans to refinance their student loans at new, lower rates, potentially saving 25 million borrowers up to $2,000 over the lifetime of their loans.

While Republicans turn a blind eye to women still making just 78 cents on the dollar, House Democrats will work to guarantee equal pay for equal work. Democrats will pass the Paycheck Fairness Act — long blocked by House Republicans — to ensure women are paid the same as men for the same work.

These are the priorities and investments families need, and every day House Republicans ignore the middle class in favor of special interests and their tea party base is another wasted opportunity. Americans expect more from their government than narrowly avoiding another catastrophe — only under this failed Republican Congress could keeping the government open even be a question. While Republicans once again drive the country up to the edge of a cliff and then expect applause for not driving off, it is Democrats who are providing real leadership for the middle class.

Rep. Steve Israel is a Democrat from New York’s 3rd District.