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Ghost of Senate Future

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Blanche Lincoln's service in the Senate is almost over and John Boozman's is just about to begin. The difference will be profound and unpleasant.

We all got a glimpse last week of things to come. Representative Boozman was among 157 House Republicans who voted against a bill to feed needy schoolchildren, a bill that had already been approved by the Senate, where it was sponsored by Blanche Lincoln. Democrats in the House, including Reps. Vic Snyder and Mike Ross, passed the bill over Republican objections and sent it on to the president.

Boozman was also among the intransigent opposition to a bill that would continue the existing tax cuts for the middle class but not those for the super-rich. The bill passed the House, where Democrats have a majority, but was held hostage by Senate Republicans, who oppose tax relief for the middle class unless it's accompanied by more tax cuts for the very wealthy. Those cuts would worsen by $4 trillion the federal deficit that Republicans profess to be alarmed about. They argue that extending aid only to those who need it is "class warfare," a peculiarly cynical claim, rather like Hitler's saying that he was only defending Nazi Germany against Polish aggression.

And they appear to have carried the day, President Obama conceding on Monday, further proof that there's a class war raging, all right, and the moneyed class is winning. The gulf between the very rich and the rest of us has never been wider. Conservatives work to reduce Social Security's meager benefits — the only income many Americans have — and raise the retirement age, claiming the system is near bankruptcy. Ending the tax cuts for the rich would have covered Social Security's needs many times over and for many years to come. Impervious to Christmas spirit, Republicans even opposed an extension of unemployment benefits to people who lost their jobs in the recession through no fault of their own. This is total war.

On a few issues, Boozman's vote will be no worse than Lincoln's. The estate tax comes to mind. Only the richest one percent of Americans pay the estate tax, and they can easily afford it, but both Boozman and Lincoln have pandered to the Waltons and the Hiltons. Still, she has the bigger heart — faint praise, perhaps, but real — and she is not the mad partisan and ideologue that he is. Lincoln votes with the Democratic leadership half the time. Boozman votes with the Republican leadership 90 percent of the time. He'll be to Mitch McConnell as Clarence Thomas is to Antonin Scalia. Maybe a little more submissive.

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