Republicans Are Planning an All-Out Assault on the Working Class If They Win Next Week

Draconian spending cuts, attacks on labor organizing, stoking war with China, and speeding up climate disaster — these are just some of the things Republicans are planning if they win big on Tuesday.

House minority leader Kevin McCarthy speaks during a news conference on the steps of the US Capitol on Republicans' "Commitment to America" program on September 29, 2022. (Tom Williams / CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

After a brief, optimistic window in the summertime, things are back to not looking great for the Democrats, just a few days out from the midterm elections. The polls have all gone in exactly the wrong direction for the party, and that’s with a significant non-response bias tilting against Republican voters. Meanwhile, the well-respected Cook Political Report has both blue districts that should be safe bets for the party and gubernatorial races moving in the Republicans’ favor.

All of it points to the result that was expected at the start of this year — namely a red victory that retakes the House and possibly even lops off the Democrats’ whisp of a Senate majority. Which raises the question: What exactly would a Republican Congress do?

An Attack on the Working Class . . .

Nothing good, is the short answer. Some of it is the standard stuff we’ve come to expect from the GOP, such as the debt limit brinkmanship Republicans have used for the last decade to extract concessions from Democrats. Once more, they’ll refuse to authorize lifting the debt ceiling to allow the United States to meet its debt obligations, putting Democrats in the position of either having to choose to agree to their demands for spending cuts, or letting the country default for the first time ever on its debt — something one Congressional study last year estimated could mean the loss of six million jobs and $15 trillion in household wealth.

Democrats could’ve actually headed these moves off while they still controlled Congress by either abolishing the debt limit entirely, or by raising the debt ceiling to such an impossibly high number that it would effectively be abolished. This is not a fringe idea: it’s been suggested by the Brookings Institution and the Democratic-led House budget committee, and a number of the party’s heavy hitters, including Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer and majority whip Jim Clyburn have backed the idea. But president Joe Biden ruled it out late last month, calling the idea “irresponsible,” and promising he would “not yield” to Republican demands. While that’s encouraging to hear from the president, it’s worth remembering that Biden says a lot of things, and that right-wing Democrat Joe Manchin is already talking about making a deal with Republicans on spending cuts.

By the way, the spending cuts that Biden will have to reject with a metaphorical gun to his head are predictably brutal, outlined in a prospective 2023 budget put out this summer by the Republican Study Committee’s Budget and Spending Task Force. They plan to “save” Medicare by raising the age that you finally qualify for it to sixty-seven ― at a time when US life expectancy is getting steadily lower ― opening it up ever more to corporate profiteering by making it “compete” (with one hand tied behind its back) with private insurers, means-testing its benefits, and repealing subsidies that let Medicare reimburse providers for some of the debt they rack up when they fail to collect out-of-pocket payments from beneficiaries, among other things.

They plan to “make Social Security solvent again” by doing similar things, including: raising the retirement age, only even higher, to seventy; barring seniors from discharging any debts they have from Social Security overpayment in bankruptcy; and “modernizing” the benefit formula to cut payments by what the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare once estimated would be 33 percent for higher earners and 13 percent for lower earners.

Other plans include beefing up work requirements for welfare based on disastrous neoliberal experiments at the state level, capping future unemployment insurance payments to stop the pandemic-era income support from happening again, and turning food stamps into a block grant that allows state governments to do what they want with them. This would all come alongside the usual GOP pushes for draconian spending limits and deregulation of Wall Street and the fossil fuel industry, as well as abolishing the estate tax and making Donald Trump’s tax cuts permanent, just some of the many provisions in the more than 150-page document.

Don’t worry though, not everything is going to shrink: Republicans are planning to make sure the bloated US military budget is going to keep getting bigger and bigger.

. . . and On Organizing Workers

But GOP ambitions go beyond just this. Having looked with alarm at the rising tide of labor militancy, which has been largely assisted by Biden’s more progressive National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), Republicans are plotting to stop it in its tracks.

“We’re going to hold the NLRB and [department of labor] accountable,” North Carolina representative Virginia Foxx, the House education and labor committee’s ranking member, told Politico in August, joking that “we will probably be holding two oversight hearings a day.”

The labor department was by far the biggest focus of Republicans on the committee, the outlet reported, having sent twenty-six of the fifty-seven letters they’d sent up to that point over Biden’s term to the agency, with the next highest being the eight sent to the NLRB. The GOP is reportedly planning to scrutinize the labor policy decisions already made over the past two years, potential conflicts of interest at the NLRB, memos written by its general counsel, and union-related regulations issued by the labor department, as well as Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh’s interventions in labor fights, for which Foxx has accused him of “serv[ing] as a mouthpiece for Big Labor.”

Though Biden’s labor record has its serious limits, it has been one of his administration’s bright spots, with the NLRB in particular actively intervening in labor battles involving Starbucks and Amazon workers. A rash of scrutiny and public hearings could well bring all this to a halt, or at least pare back the administration’s pro-worker progressivism, especially if a bad midterm result combines to induce a more cautious attitude by officials.

This is not just going to be worse for workers, but for the socialist project and democracy itself, given unions’ key role in maintaining the sense of working-class political and economic efficacy whose erosion lies behind rising disillusionment with the US political system. “If we are going to save the middle class in this country, we are going to have to grow the union movement,” Bernie Sanders told union members earlier this year, shortly before he told a crowd of striking workers in London that “we’re trying to combine trade unionists with the progressive movement to create an economic and political force of real power.” As bad as the Democrats are, the GOP’s determination to further hamstring the labor movement will likely prove a big political setback.

War With China

It wouldn’t be GOP policy without needlessly ratcheting up tensions with China, and the party looks to deliver there, too. House Republicans are planning “an expansive anti-China agenda,” Semafor reported last month, involving “at least a dozen China-related efforts.”

That reportedly includes a new select committee on China set up by current House minority leader and potentially future speaker Kevin McCarthy, which some of his colleagues see as a continuation of his 2020 China Task Force. That panel released a report that year outlining 430 policy recommendations, including securing supply chains, signing a bilateral free trade agreement with Taiwan, and a host of more stringent regulations on Chinese industry.

Those proposals somewhat anticipated both Biden’s semiconductor chip on-shoring legislation passed this year, and his recent move to decouple the two countries’ semiconductor sectors. A third of that task force’s legislative proposals reportedly passed one of the two chambers of Congress, largely in that year’s defense authorization bill, while the resulting legislation to block Huawei and other 5G network companies from the US financial system under certain conditions in some ways prefigured the FCC’s recent move to ban the sale of new Huawei equipment in the United States.

The point is that, if McCarthy’s task force had this much of an impact when the GOP was in the House minority at the end of 2020, it will be far more influential when it’s in the form of a select committee run by the House majority ― something Democratic House speaker Nancy Pelosi had refused to go along with in 2020. Meanwhile, two years later, anti-China policy has become a bipartisan obsession, likely lending these efforts greater heft.

Some of the GOP’s potential anti-China plans for 2023 carry on the work of decoupling the countries’ economies while engaging in low-grade trade warfare. Semafor reports that among the Republican’s focuses are export controls on Chinese industries, targeting foreign investment by US companies in China, re-shoring supply chains in the United States, scrutinizing Chinese state-owned companies’ purchase of US farmland, and pushing back on intellectual property theft (a long-simmering US grievance).

More provocatively, Republicans also plan to target human rights abuses in China, the Confucius Institute cultural programs, and the Chinese Communist Party’s influence in US universities. The focus on the US-Chinese space race at first seems benign, meanwhile, until you realize that what that means in 2022 is the accelerating efforts by both powers to militarize space, which has some terrifying implications.

Maybe most dangerously, Republicans will also cover US policy toward Taiwan, where weapons sales to the island state will reportedly be a “large focus,” with House intelligence and armed services committees member Mike Gallagher saying “there’s a whole series of things you can do when it comes to hard power and deterrence over Taiwan.” This is worrying, because Taiwan remains the most likely flashpoint for a possible United States–China war, and Washington’s steady erosion of the decades-long “One China” policy under Biden has already sparked a menacing response once from Beijing. Since then, the Democratic-controlled Congress has continued to push policy in regard to the island that even one Republican senator voting for it described as “highly provocative and bellicose.”

Somewhere in the middle are Republicans’ plans to investigate the origins of COVID-19, which McCarthy has singled out as a key goal. If it genuinely finds some new evidence or settles this question, then this could be productive. But there’s a likelihood any investigation will be politicized as one more geopolitical cudgel to use against China.

Odds and Ends

There’s a grab bag of other things mentioned in McCarthy’s “Commitment to America,” a napkin-sized rundown of GOP priorities for their presumed, coming majority.

That includes vague, coded statements about “protect[ing] the lives of unborn children and their mothers,” giving parents more power to enforce censorship at schools, and “ensuring that only women can compete in women’s sports,” all of which points to a more expanded version of the repressive, borderline-medieval social agenda Republicans have been enforcing at the state level. There’s also talk of familiar Republican priorities like voter restrictions, preventing gun law reform, law and order (including “crack[ing] down on prosecutors and district attorneys who refuse to prosecute crimes”), and “securing the border.”

It also includes a promise to “maximize production of reliable, cleaner, American-made energy and cut the permitting process time in half,” a cleverly phrased reference to the GOP’s plans for an ambitious and long-term disastrous pro–fossil fuel agenda. Those ambitions were first outlined as a response to inflation back in June, which hints at plans to ramp up US fossil fuel production, increase US liquefied natural gas exports, expand hydropower, and slash the permitting process time for infrastructure projects. With fuel price pressures set to continue thanks to a Ukraine war that has no end in sight, and Democrats having already once agreed to a massive fossil fuel production expansion and permitting overhaul, this will likely be another avenue of successful bipartisan collaboration.

Finally, Republicans are planning a spate of congressional investigations aimed partly at embarrassing the Democrats in time for 2024, and partly as political payback for the party’s treatment of their standard-bearer, Trump. The subjects they’re tackling are the bumpy US withdrawal from Afghanistan, Biden’s supposedly permissive border policies, a possible investigation of retiring top science advisor Anthony Fauci, and a look into alleged anti-Republican politicization of the justice department, especially as it relates to the August seizure of classified documents from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago. But the big one will be an investigation into Hunter Biden’s business dealings and whether they compromised the president, an effort that, whatever the findings, are likely to lead to an impeachment effort.

Though both parties are hostile to a working-class agenda, the Republicans’ plans to hobble worker organizing, stoke war, accelerate climate disaster, and tear apart what’s left of the US social safety net will, without serious resistance, herald major suffering and setbacks for working Americans. And all of it will be made more likely by the sizable Democratic factions likely to collaborate with them on key issues. But with a possible expansion of progressive numbers in Congress creating an avenue for blocking at least some of this, now is the time to plan for resistance.