Last weekend, lawmakers in the House and Senate scrambled to cobble together a budget bill as the nation hovered on the brink of yet another government shutdown. We averted it with just hours to spare, but by all accounts, the massive trillion-dollar, 1600-page behemoth that resulted is an ugly and unwieldy thing.
Corporatist Republicans inserted a provision that repeals a key part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank and makes taxpayer bailouts of banks and insurance companies much more likely to happen again in the future. (The provision was written by Citigroup, one of the largest banks in America.) A whopping $93 million was cut from a program that provides nutritional food assistance to low-income mothers and children, but Congress did miraculously find the funds to pay for four F-35 strike fighters that the Pentagon doesn’t want. Oh, and the budget also included a rider that allows high-dollar political donors to contribute even more money to national political parties (we’re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars more here).
But the bill also contained another abomination that really exposes the depth of GOP hypocrisy: a provision blocking implementation of Washington, D.C.’s voter-backed marijuana legalization law. It was inserted by Republicans, and the Democrats allowed it to remain in the bill — despite their own opposition to blocking the D.C. law — because they didn’t want to risk a knock-down, drag-out fight while the shutdown clock was ticking.
A little history: last month, voters in the District of Columbia approved, by a vote of 70 percent to 30 percent a measure that allowed residents and visitors to legally possess up to two ounces of marijuana and grow up to three pot plants in their homes. But according to Article I, Section 8 of the United States Constitution, that doesn’t matter: Congress has complete authority over the District, meaning that it can essentially veto any local laws it doesn’t like and impose its will on the people of D.C. without their consent. And there’s very little D.C. can do about it, not least because it doesn’t have any voting representatives in Congress. (License plates in Washington include the phrase “Taxation Without Representation” for good reason!)
Congress has often used this provision to bully D.C.’s 600,000 residents on everything from abortion (it doesn’t allow the District to spend its own money providing coverage to women) to HIV prevention (Congress blocked the city from implementing a needle-exchange program, even though they are scientifically proven to slow the spread of HIV/AIDS) to gun control (congressional Republicans have attacked D.C.’s gun control laws for years). And now they’re doing it again on marijuana.
This legislative bullying of the people of Washington, D.C. by the GOP stands in stark contrast to the party’s actions on the issue of marriage equality. Faced with a sea change in public opinion in favor of equal marriage rights and a tsunami of pro-equality court decisions sweeping across the country, Republican governors and attorneys general are trying desperately to preserve marriage discrimination — and they’re doing it by arguing that the “will of the people” must be preserved at all costs.
When a federal judge struck down Idaho’s marriage discrimination amendment in May, Governor Butch Otter (R) issued a defiant statement declaring that the people of his state have a “fundamental right” to govern themselves and pledging to “[uphold] the will of the people” and their 2006 vote to exclude same-sex couples from marriage.
Mary Fallin, the Republican governor of Oklahoma, said much the same thing in October when her state’s 2004 marriage discrimination amendment fell, assailing the decision of the federal courts as “undemocratic and a violation of states’ rights” and whining:
“Rather than allowing states to make their own policies that reflect the values of their residents, federal judges have inserted themselves into a state issue to pursue their own agendas.”
Right. So in the GOP’s world, when federal courts intervene to stop states from practicing marriage discrimination against a disfavored minority group, that constitutes an egregious, unacceptable big-government overreach and a violation of people’s fundamental right to self-governance. But thwarting the expressed will of the people of Washington, D.C. by blocking the implementation of their democratically-enacted marijuana legalization law? That, it seems, is A-OK.
Look out, Republicans — your hypocrisy is showing.