Koch Brothers-Financed GOP Government Shutdown Hurts the Nation's Most Vulnerable

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Posted Oct. 9, 2013

Interview with Matthew Rothschild, senior editor and publisher of the Progressive magazine, conducted by Scott Harris


As the shutdown of the U.S. government, provoked by the Republican majority in the House of Representatives entered its second week, the impact of the closure of federally-funded programs was being felt across the country. While the nation’s corporate media focused attention on the disappointment of families having to cancel vacation plans in national parks or visits to war memorials, the closure of critical federal programs that assist and feed poor children and the elderly were by and large being ignored.

The closure of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) is threatening to interrupt this vital service in many states. Nearly 9 million low-income mothers, pregnant women, infants and small children living near or below the poverty line could be cut off from critical food assistance. The shutdown also delays payments to Meals on Wheels, jeopardizing the federal program that feeds hungry and vulnerable seniors. This comes on top of funding cuts for most federal programs resulting from Congress’s across the board sequestration budget reductions.

Plans by Tea Party Republicans to use a government shutdown as a bargaining chip to force the defunding or delay in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act health insurance reform law, has been in the works since President Obama took the oath of office for his second term in January. According to a New York Times report, a coalition of right-wing activists, financed by the billionaire Koch brothers and others, met in January to adopt a “Blueprint to Defunding Obamacare” that included specific plans to withhold funds for the entire federal government. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Matthew Rothschild, senior editor and publisher of the Progressive magazine, who talks about how the GOP’s government shutdown has disproportionately affected the nation’s poor.

MATTHEW ROTHSCHILD: Well, what it is is a ridiculous, childish tantrum by the far right-wing of the Republican party. But it's not coming the base, it's not coming from a large percentage of the American public. They don't want to shut the government down. They don't even want to get rid of Obamacare, actually. But it is a strategy that was sponsored by the Koch brothers who poured literally $200 million into this campaign, according to the New York Times.

So it was a top-down affair, not a bottom-up affair, and I think it's going to hurt the Republicans. It effectively boils down to Republican child abuse. I mean, they are not taking candy out of the mouths of babes, because they're taking breast milk and infant formula because they're (withholding payments) to the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, which supplies nutritious food and provides support for breast-feeding mothers for their kids. And those places are beginning to shut down very shortly. And Head Start is shutting down already in places all across the country. And Head Start provides decent childcare for the kids of poor mothers, and now they're left with the choice of either staying home with their kids or getting inadequate care in the meantime for their kids and their kids are going to suffer.

The tea party people, the Ted Cruzes, Michele Bachmanns, they don't care about poor people and they don't believe in any positive role for government. And so, this is kind of a fantasy of theirs they're playing out right and they're enjoying right now. But the vast majority of the American public isn't enjoying it; people are irritated by it, and then the people that government really serves are not only not enjoying it, they're suffering from it.

BETWEEN THE LINES: What do you think their objective is in all this? Obviously, from the start, they talked about trying to defund or delay the Obamacare program, which rolls right on, unaffected by this government shutdown, because it's funded separately. So apart from that, what is their objective at this point? Do you think they know?

MATTHEW ROTHSCHILD: Well, they're nihilists. They want to destroy government, or destroy the government's ability to operate. And from the Koch brothers' perspective, from a huge immoral corporation's perspective, that's great, because if you can paralyze government – you've already ruined unions, like most corporations have in this country – then there's no one to stand between you and exploiting your workers, destroying the environment. So that's the goal of the Koch brothers. And they have disdain for poor people. They blame poor people for being poor. They blame the children of poor people for being poor. And so they're getting their way that way. And on top of that is the "I Hate Barack Obama" ones who want to do anything to make Barack Obama's second term as president as miserable as possible, and they're on the way to doing that.

BETWEEN THE LINES: You know, one of the things on the horizon is the existing threat to refuse to increase the debt ceiling, which could trigger all sorts of economic calamity in this country and around the world according to many economists of various political stripes. What do you see coming up in terms of how the Republicans might play that particular cliff that we might go over?

MATTHEW ROTHSCHILD: Well, I think at some point in the next two weeks, John Boehner is going to retreat. And he's not going to retreat because the Republican party and the Koch brothers are concerned about the poor people and their kids not getting infant formula and nutritious food or the kids not getting to Head Start or people not getting to national parks. He's going to retreat because the rich people who are the base of the Republican party and who support Republican candidates are going to say, "You've driven the stock markets down a thousand points, I'm losing money. Don't take money out of my pocket." They'll listen to the rich people and the rich people will make them step back from the cliff here. I don't think they're going to drive over the cliff because when the rich people start to lose even a little bit of money, Congress responds.

BETWEEN THE LINES: You mentioned a moment ago that the Koch brothers had a hand in financing publicity and outreach and public propaganda about this government shutdown. Speak a little bit more about the role of money in politics in a crisis like this.

MATTHEW ROTHSCHILD: Well, it is unbelievable. I recommend people pick up a book called, "Dollarocracy" by my friends Robert McChesney and John Nichols. It's a new book that talks about how contaminating private money is in a public sphere, in elections and public policy discussions. Here, you have these right-wing billionaires, the Koch brothers who are in the oil and mining industry putting literally $200 million on the table to fund right-wing foundations, lobby groups and propaganda mills to come up with the best way to try to undermine the Affordable Care Act and bring the government to a halt and telling people what phrases to use, like "Obamacare is a trainwreck." They came up with that. John Boehner is just a parrot. He's parroting the lines that the Koch brothers came up with. That's how our government runs right now. It isn't run by the elected officials, but by the people who pay for the elected officials. And in the Republican party, that's the Koch brothers.

For more information on The Progressive magazine, visit progressive.org.

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