In an unusually fiery speech, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein accused Republicans of threatening to take away “essential rights” from workers, women and the middle class by undermining government under the guise of reducing the deficit.
The typically temperate six-term senator, speaking at a Democratic State Party convention luncheon Saturday, offered what amounted to be her first volley for the 2012 U.S. Senate campaign with a hard-hitting assault on Congressional Republicans.
She took a swipe at the Tea Party movement while she was at it — to the delight of more than a thousand party activists who attended the lunch.
“What I’ve seen in Washington — it’s the most difficult environment I’ve seen in American politics,” she said, “made harder still by the far right wing and the Tea Party who have entered into the arena of politics with an agenda to cut government so it cannot serve the people.”
The far right, she said has tried to “systematically disassemble the American dream” by seeking to roll back investments in infrastructure, health care reform and Medicare.
“They are more radical and hostile to working people and hostile to a Democratic president than the Gingrich Congress,” she said. “This is our fundamental challenge.”
It was the Bush presidency that brought economic upheaval to the nation by fighting two wars while providing tax cuts to the wealthy, Feinstein said.
“Americans have always fought wars with taxes — people pay to help,” she said. “The Bush administration put it all on the debt. That’s the debt President Obama and the U.S. Congress inherited.”
The continued economic stagnation, controversies over Obama’s health care reform, and the bank bailouts all led rise to the Tea Party movement and punishment at the polls for Obama in 2010. Republicans swept into office and took control of Congress, but Feinstein said she believes they have overreached whatever mandate they earned.
“They have no plans for jobs and an economic recovery,” she said. “They’ve come in with a radical ideological agenda to dismantle our social and economic safety net. Their solution is to shift the burden of debt reduction onto middle and low income families. And we have to stop them.”
One of the most blatant examples of using their new-found powers to pursue their ideological agenda rather than lift the country out of its economic doldrums, Feinstein said, was their attempt to halt funding for Planned Parenthood.
“This is an organization that literally saves women’s lives and they wanted to kill it,” she said. “As long as I’m in the Senate, that will never happen.”
She singled out U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, the chairman of the House budget committee hailed as the Republican guru on fiscal discipline, for doing the bidding for the wealthy. Ryan was the author of the U.S. House’s budget bill, which has been criticized for falling too heavily on the poor while maintaining tax cuts for the wealthy.
The Ryan budget, she said, essentially privatizes Medicare and turns it into a voucher program, increasing premiums and doubles the out of pocket costs for seniors. It slashes $127 billion in food stamps, includes large cuts on energy and infrastructure and defunds the Affordable Health Care Act.
“It shreds the social safety net at a time when the economy is still stressed,” she said. “Two thirds of Paul Ryan’s cuts would hit the low and middle income Americans very hard, and 72 percent of the cuts would go to fund tax cuts that would largely benefit the very rich. Ladies and gentlemen, it is wrong and it must be stopped.”