Nonprofits around the nation will be struggling during the next months—and perhaps for the next two years—to figure out what the midterm election results mean for them, their daily operations, their sustainability, their community impact, and their futures. We have written about what the freshman class of Republicans in the House of Representatives brings to their new positions in terms of nonprofit exposure and experience, and we have also noted that the Tea Party-juiced electees may not necessarily mesh exceptionally well with the establishment Republicans already in Congress. It is NPQ's commitment to dig into the emerging source documents of the new governing majority to disinter what they believe and might do with, for, or to the nonprofit sector.
Immediately following the election, John Boehner (R-OH), the presumptive successor to Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House, published five speeches he delivered between June and October of 2010 as the background context for the Republican Party's Pledge to America, the "governing agenda" Boehner says the Party will pursue (which we described here). Boehner’s collected speeches were published as Pillars of a New Majority(PDF). Presumptive House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor (R-VA), issued his own statement of intentions called Delivering on Our Commitment: A Majority to Limit Government and Create Jobs [PDF]. Along with the Pledge, Boehner’s and Cantor’s documents constitute some beginning insight into where Congress might go—or might stall—for the next two years.
Mining Boehner's speeches for policy clues is tough sledding. The first speech in the publication, delivered at the annual convention of the National Right to Life Committee, is a predictable statement of the Republicans' opposition to abortion rights, in which he described Planned Parenthood and EMILY's List as "radical groups."
In the other four speeches (two on jobs, one on national defense, and one on Congressional reform), the nonprofit sector is missing in action, but hints about his attitude are disturbing. For example, despite the yeoman work of nonprofits delivering on the programmatic side of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), Boehner says that "all this 'stimulus' spending has gotten us nowhere," failing to note that the majority of the stimulus wasn't in program spending, but in tax incentives and tax cuts—which may well have “gotten us nowhere” compared to putting dollars into safety net and infrastructure projects that generated jobs and provided services.
He condemns the Obama Administration's efforts as "19 months of government-as-community organizer…[that] hasn't worked." Boehner, in contrast, thinks it might have been better had White House staff had the experience of "run(ning) a small business and creat(ing) jobs in the private sector" – what he describes as "real-world, hands-on experience." He contends that the Administration was trying to keep people on extended unemployment insurance as an ersatz jobs program, which is not only not true but it misses the point of the importance of unemployment insurance spending when close to10 percent of the labor force is out of work.
Probably the most distressing part of the Boehner document is a throwaway line discussing legislation proposed by Geoff Davis (R-KY) that would require Congressional approval of any new regulation that would cost the economy $100 million or more. He says, "This initiative would serve as a much-needed restraining order against unelected busybodies and bureaucrats who overstep their boundaries and make it harder to create jobs." That off-handed dismissal of government employees as "unelected busybodies and bureaucrats" could easily be applied to unelected nonprofit employees. Our jobs require us to be "busybodies" on behalf of the communities and constituents we are fighting for, to make sure their rights are protected, to make sure they get access to programs and resources that they deserve, to make sure that their neighborhoods are not trampled by powerful special interests.
Soon-to-be Speaker Boehner is hardly the cardboard cutout that his Democratic critics have made him out to be. His emotional post-election public statement and this collection of speeches shows him to be someone who thinks about what he believes and acts upon those beliefs (for example, he has never requested an earmark for his district because he thinks earmarks are bad public policy, unlike many of his Republican colleagues who condemn earmarks on the floor and then maneuver to get their favorites included in the budget). But his compilation of speeches much like the Republicans' Pledge doesn’t address what nonprofits need, but instead the opposite, calling for draconian budget cuts.
The sector's nonprofit leadership organizations might want to get in front of Boehner relatively soon to explain the importance of their priorities for the federal budget – and for the federal budget's connection to state budget resources and priorities.
As John Boehner begins redecorating Nancy Pelosi's office as Speaker of the House, Eric Cantor (R-VA) will in all likelihood be moving into Boehner's quarters as Majority Leader. Like Boehner's Pillars of a New Majority, Cantor explains his somewhat distinctive plans in Delivering on Our Commitment: A Majority to Limit Government and Create Jobs. Cantor's publication like Boehner's completely misses the 1.8 million tax exempt organizations with as many as 15 million employees delivering services and voice to communities in need around the nation.
Although the election is over, Cantor's campaign-style rhetorical flourishes make the prospects for bipartisan progress in the next Congress look sparse. He pledges to have the House enact legislation repealing health insurance reform, which he says President Obama will veto (he forgets that the Senate might not go along with the House), raising the question, why bother to go through the effort?
On the issues of recovering from the recession, Cantor uses language to vilify the Administration's job policies in a way that indicates little basis for productive conversation. He rails about the "Administration's anti-employer agenda" and "the war on job creation that is currently being waged through government policy and regulation," as though President Obama, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, and Council of Economic Advisors chair Larry Summers are actively promoting 10 percent unemployment.
Like Boehner, he stridently attacks federal regulations, falling prey to (or intentionally using) inappropriate aggregation of data by citing the aggregate annual cost of regulations in the U.S. as $1.75 trillion in 2008. He said that those regulations cost small businesses with fewer than 20 employees "as much as $10,585 per employee.” One might easily have asked how much money those regulations saved the economy. One might have asked whether different regulations within that $1.75 trillion have different costs and benefits. One might ask how much some of those regulations actually boost the economy. One might ask whether the "230 economically significant regulations from 16 different federal agencies" differ in purpose, intent, scope, and impact. But it's easier in a diatribe masquerading as a policy document to avoid those distinctions in favor of simplistic misaggregation.
Cantor's broadside calls for "providing all Members with information about how government policies are hurting specific sectors of the economy creating a basis for Members to organize coalitions of job creators in their district [sic]." There is no suggestion that government policies might help specific sectors, provide needed incentives, or protect the public from excesses – and no suggestion that Cantor is asking his colleagues to work on policies, but rather to work on organizing coalitions, which sounds more like political organizing than deliberating about public policies.
Both Boehner and Cantor attribute many of the ideas that the new Republican majority plans to pursue to the feedback and votes the Republicans received at "America Speaking Out" town hall-type rallies held all over the nation in the summer and fall leading up to the election. The ideas posted on ASO get thumbs-up or thumbs-down votes from people looking at the website, which gives the impression that this is something of a democratic (small "d") process, but there is no specific element that says which winning ideas are being adopted by the Republicans and why. There is any number of unusual sentiments posted on this site (which Boehner says is run by Congressman Kevin McCarthy), such as these:
- Let us take a lesson from our past. Hoover ordered the deportation of ALL illegal aliens in order to make jobs available during the Depression. Truman deported over two million illegal aliens after WWII to create jobs and Eisenhower deported 13 million Mexican Nationals so WWII and Korean Veterans would have a better chance at jobs.
- Congress should work five days a week year round just like the rest of us. Only non-incumbents should be allowed to campaign.
- Here's one that's long overdue: Make English the official language of the United States.
- Just get out of the way! Businesses do fine on its (sic) own if you don't saddle them with taxes and regulations.
- Abolish the EPA. Turn these duties back over to the states.
- Possibly the best way to help improve public education today is to break the teachers unions. If that isn't possible, then bring them down a notch,
- Privatize the education system and promote competition between schools. Allow parents the option of which school their children will attend. Once schools compete, we can rid the school system of poor performing and ineffective teachers.
- Public education should be managed at local / state level. Abolish Federal Dept of Education.
- DEFUND, REPEAL, & REPLACE GOVERNMENT-RUN HEALTH CARE
- We should invade China and take our money back.
- Americans First – Our Representatives need to be Americans First, not partisan yes men focused on political advantage. They need to work together as Americans First. Unity is strength, (sic) partisanship weakens our UNITED States of America.
- Adopt a Balanced Budget Amendment to our Constitution. If Germany can do it then America can too. No Excuses! If we don't/can't then all our talk about the endless structural federal deficits are just so much Hot Air.
- Immediately abolish the standing policy that makes the child of illegal immigrants born in the US, a "legal" citizen! Make it retroactive. This law only serves as an incentive to bring familes north to have their children and thus qualify for many benefits they never earned, and for which most americans don't even get
Even for ideas that are more liberal (to the Republicans' credit, they publish some of those too); the ASO stuff is pretty thin gruel for policy making.
Cantor promises in Delivering to bring one proposal from the “YouCut program” to the House floor for a vote every week aiming at reducing discretionary and mandatory spending. Like ASO, the YouCut website (a creation of Cantor's) is geared to citizens' text-voting for proposals. On the YouCut website awaiting the public's yea or nay votes are the following proposals:
- eliminate funding for National Public Radio (no specific dollar amount of savings cited)
- terminate Exchanges with Historic Whaling and Trading Partners Program ($87.5 million over 10 years)
- terminate the Presidential Election Fund ($520 million over 10 years)
Among the previous budget cut proposals from YouCut endorsed by the "public" (with Cantor's estimates of potential budget savings) were:
- cut the new non-reformed welfare program ($25 billion)
- eliminate federal employee pay raise ($30 billion)
- reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac ($30 billion)
- sell excess federal property ($15 billion)
- prohibit hiring new IRS agents to enforce health care law($15 billion)
- (eliminate) taxpayer subsidized union activities ($1.2 billion)
- prohibit stimulus funding for promotional signage (tens of millions)
- prohibit sleeper car subsidies on Amtrak ($1.2 billion)
- require collection of unpaid taxes from federal employees ($1 billion)
Nonprofits as employers, nonprofits as job trainers, nonprofits as service deliverers, nonprofits as the instrument for the nation's social safety net are invisible or nonexistent in Cantor's post-election pronouncement. Combined with Boehner's Pillars and the Republican Party's pre-election Pledge to America, Cantor's broadside should give no comfort at all to the nonprofit sector. In 2008, nonprofit leaders tried to get the various presidential aspirants to mouth the words, “I (heart) nonprofits” in public settings. With the incoming Republican leadership in the House of Representatives, they might better be asked, “Do you know what a nonprofit is?”