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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

How Republican Budget Cuts Endanger Workers, Communities

Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich’s “The Hollowing Out of Government” at HuffPo Politics calls attention to what may have been a preventable tragedy that deserved more media coverage than it got, occurring as it did in the wake of the Boston bombings. Reich brings his unique experience as an economist and advocate for American workers to bear on his post on the tragedy in West, Texas, in which 15 workers were killed and more than 200 were injured in a chemical and fertilizer plant explosion. Noting that the plant had not been fully inspected by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) since 1985, Reich explains:

…OSHA and its state partners have a total of 2,200 inspectors charged with ensuring the safety of over more than 8 million workplaces employing 130 million workers. That comes to about one inspector for every 59,000 American workers.
There’s no way it can do its job with so few resources, but OSHA has been systematically hollowed out for the years under Republican administrations and congresses that have despised the agency since its inception.
In effect, much of our nation’s worker safety laws and rules have been quietly repealed because there aren’t enough inspectors to enforce them. That’s been the Republican strategy in general: When they can’t directly repeal laws they don’t like, they repeal them indirectly by hollowing them out — denying funds to fully implement them, and reducing funds to enforce them.

Reich explains how the Republicans have ‘hollowed out’ the enforcement capacity of the Internal Revenue Service, the Dodd-Frank financial reform law and the Affordable Care Act. With respect to Obamacare, for example:

Even before the sequester, the agency was running on the same budget it had before Obamacare was enacted. Now it’s lost billions more…A new insurance marketplace specifically for small business, for example, was supposed to be up and running in January. But officials now say it won’t be available until 2015 in the 33 states where the federal government will be running insurance markets known as exchanges.
This is a potentially large blow to Obamacare’s political support. A major selling point for the legislation had been providing affordable health insurance to small businesses and their employees.
Yes, and eroding political support is exactly what congressional Republicans want. They fear that Obamacare, once fully implemented, will be too popular to dismantle. So they’re out to delay it as long as possible while keeping up a drumbeat about its flaws.
Repealing laws by hollowing them out — failing to fund their enforcement or implementation — works because the public doesn’t know it’s happening. Enactment of a law attracts attention; de-funding it doesn’t.

It’s a pretty clever, though unconscionable strategy, designed to feed the Republican meme that government is incompetent. As Reich concludes, “If government can’t do what it’s supposed to do — keep workplaces safe, ensure that the rich pay taxes they owe, protect small investors, implement Obamacare — why give it any additional responsibility?” Reich adds, “The public doesn’t know the real reason why the government isn’t doing its job is it’s being hollowed out.”
No one should be surprised if it is revealed that the callous brutality of ‘hollowing out’ enabled the terrible tragedy in West, Texas on April 17th.

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