A War on the Poor
reposted from the new york times …
John Kasich, the Republican governor of Ohio, has done some surprising things lately. First, he did an end run around his state’s Legislature — controlled by his own party — to proceed with the federally funded expansion of Medicaid that is an important piece of Obamacare. Then, defending his action, he let loose on his political allies, declaring, “I’m concerned about the fact there seems to be a war on the poor. That, if you’re poor, somehow you’re shiftless and lazy.”
Obviously Mr. Kasich isn’t the first to make this observation. But the fact that it’s coming from a Republican in good standing (although maybe not anymore), indeed someone who used to be known as a conservative firebrand, is telling. Republican hostility toward the poor and unfortunate has now reached such a fever pitch that the party doesn’t really stand for anything else — and only willfully blind observers can fail to see that reality.
The big question is why.
But, first, let’s talk a bit more about what’s eating the right. I still sometimes see pundits claiming that the Tea Party movement is basically driven by concerns about budget deficits. That’s delusional. Read the founding rant by Rick Santelli of CNBC: There’s nary a mention of deficits. Instead, it’s a tirade against the possibility that the government might help “losers” avoid foreclosure. Or read transcripts from Rush Limbaugh or other right-wing talk radio hosts. There’s not much about fiscal responsibility, but there’s a lot about how the government is rewarding the lazy and undeserving.
Republicans in leadership positions try to modulate their language a bit, but it’s a matter more of tone than substance. They’re still clearly passionate about making sure that the poor and unlucky get as little help as possible, that — as Representative Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, put it — the safety net is becoming “a hammock that lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency.” And Mr. Ryan’s budget proposals involve savage cuts in safety-net programs such as food stamps and Medicaid.
All of this hostility to the poor has culminated in the truly astonishing refusal of many states to participate in the Medicaid expansion. Bear in mind that the federal government would pay for this expansion, and that the money thus spent would benefit hospitals and the local economy as well as the direct recipients. But a majority of Republican-controlled state governments are, it turns out, willing to pay a large economic and fiscal price in order to ensure that aid doesn’t reach the poor.
The thing is, it wasn’t always this way. Go back for a moment to 1936, when Alf Landon received the Republican nomination for president. In many ways, Landon’s acceptance speech previewed themes taken up by modern conservatives. He lamented the incompleteness of economic recovery and the persistence of high unemployment, and he attributed the economy’s lingering weakness to excessive government intervention and the uncertainty he claimed it created. But he also said this: “Out of this Depression has come, not only the problem of recovery but also the equally grave problem of caring for the unemployed until recovery is attained. Their relief at all times is a matter of plain duty. We of our Party pledge that this obligation will never be neglected.”
Can you imagine a modern Republican nominee saying such a thing? Not in a party committed to the view that unemployed workers have it too easy, that they’re so coddled by unemployment insurance and food stamps that they have no incentive to go out there and get a job.
So what’s this all about? One reason, the sociologist Daniel Little suggested in a recent essay, is market ideology: If the market is always right, then people who end up poor must deserve to be poor. I’d add that some leading Republicans are, in their minds, acting out adolescent libertarian fantasies. “It’s as if we’re living in an Ayn Rand novel right now,” declared Paul Ryan in 2009.
But there’s also, as Mr. Little says, the stain that won’t go away: race.
In a much-cited recent memo, Democracy Corps, a Democratic-leaning public opinion research organization, reported on the results of focus groups held with members of various Republican factions. They found the Republican base “very conscious of being white in a country that is increasingly minority” — and seeing the social safety net both as something that helps Those People, not people like themselves, and binds the rising nonwhite population to the Democratic Party. And, yes, the Medicaid expansion many states are rejecting would disproportionately have helped poor blacks.
So there is indeed a war on the poor, coinciding with and deepening the pain from a troubled economy. And that war is now the central, defining issue of American politics.
there is also an excellent piece by elizabeth drew over at rolling stone that is absolutely worth the read on this subject …
The Republicans’ War on the Poor
The GOP is pushing to decimate food-stamp programs, punishing the most vulnerable just out of sheer spite
The way the program to provide the poor with the bare minimum of daily nutrition has been handled is a metaphor for how the far right in the House is systematically trying to take down the federal government. The Tea Party radicals and those who either fear or cultivate them are now subjecting the food-stamp program to the same kind of assault they have unleashed on other settled policies and understandings that have been in place for decades. Breaking all manner of precedents on a series of highly partisan votes, with the Republicans barely prevailing, the House in September slashed the food-stamp program by a whopping $39 billion and imposed harsh new requirements for getting on, or staying on, the program. The point was to deny the benefit to millions.
The Sharp, Sudden Decline of America’s Middle Class
Hardly any other federal undertaking – with the exception of the Affordable Care Act – has attracted more hostility from the far right than the food-stamp program. As recently as the mid-Sixties, actual hunger and starvation existed in this country on a significant scale, particularly in the Deep South and Appalachia. In 1967, Robert F. Kennedy took a widely covered trip to the Mississippi Delta, where he was quite evidently shocked at the sight of listless babies with distended bellies who were unresponsive to his touching them or trying to get them to laugh. That same year, a group of doctors took a foundation-sponsored trip to Mississippi and reported, “In child after child we saw: evidence of vitamin and mineral deficiencies; serious untreated skin infestation and ulcerations; eye and ear diseases, also unattended bone diseases secondary to poor food intake; the prevalence of bacterial and parasitic diseases. . . .”
In the years after these devastating revelations, two farm-state senators of different philosophies on many issues – South Dakota Democrat George McGovern and Kansas Republican Bob Dole – joined together to strengthen the program and extend it to more people in need. Over in the House, Thomas Foley, a Democratic congressman from Spokane, Washington – a major wheat growing area – and later House speaker, was the real legislative hero of the program.
Even before he became chairman of the Agricultural Committee in 1975, Foley had the insight that the way to politically protect food stamps – both in his fairly conservative committee and on the House floor – was to combine the program with agricultural subsidies in the farm bill that came up for renewal every five years or so. The idea was classic if benignly intended log-rolling: Members from urban areas, where unemployment and the need for food stamps is relatively high, would grudgingly vote for the farm bill, while representatives from parts of the country with agricultural interests would grudgingly vote for food stamps. There was a certain substantive as well as political logic in linking nutrition support to farm surpluses – it helped unload excess commodities, while at the same time it could help feed the poor. Grocers also supported the food stamps as a way of selling more goods. (One of the program’s greatest fans today is Walmart, which has the distinction of having customers and employees on food stamps.)
In 1979, 12 years after the original report calling attention to the appalling hunger in the Deep South and Appalachia, the Field Foundation sent another medical team to roughly the same areas, and it found that despite no sizable improvement in the condition of poverty, there had been a dramatic reduction in hunger and malnutrition as a result of food stamps and other nutrition assistance. The data shows that while a significant number of nonelderly households left the program as their income improved, the group whose participation had increased the most was the working poor.
“Food stamps are largely responsible for the near-elimination of the severe hunger and malnutrition that was widespread in many poverty-stricken areas,” says Bob Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and a bearded, Old Testament-like figure who ran the program during the last two years of the Carter administration and is passionate about it. “Were it not for this program, we would see a lot more chronically hungry people and more illness related to malnutrition and under-nutrition.”
Food stamps are far from an extravagant benefit. The average allocation is $1.40 per person per meal. (Try it some time.) A few years ago, the program was renamed SNAP, for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, to give it a more positive facade, but that headed off not a whit of anger at the notion that hordes of freeloaders were getting benefits they didn’t deserve or were electing to become dependent on food stamps rather than get a job.
In 1996, when Congress revised the separate welfare law, it also placed severe new restrictions on food stamps. Able-bodied adults who weren’t raising children were limited to receiving food stamps for only three months out of three years if they weren’t working at least 20 hours a week or participating in a job-training program. This grim rule applied no matter how hard they tried to find a job and even if they hadn’t been able to get a slot in a training program. An exception could be made if they lived in an area of high unemployment and if their governor requested and received a federal waiver. The average income of these people is about $2,500 a year, or 22 percent of the poverty level.
How the GOP Became the Party of the Rich
The job-training program that’s part of the food-stamp law is modest, nowhere near the needed capacity, and other job-training programs the government offers are full, with waiting lists in many areas. But Republicans have resisted significant increases in training programs – if this hurts the economy or large numbers of individuals, so be it. First things first: Undermine Obama’s presidency.
In 2009, desperately trying to revive the economy from the crash and understanding that money for food stamps is money quickly spent, Obama proposed that the stimulus bill raise food-stamp benefits for all recipients. These increases were scheduled to die at the end of October. Thus the support level for it had been dropping significantly, despite the fact that the economy hasn’t recovered to the extent that had been expected.
Republican Extremism and the Lessons of History
The House’s deep slash to the food-stamp program, combined with outlandish restrictions, arose from various impulses. There was, obviously, the long-standing animus within the Republican Party toward poor people, and that’s been substantially intensified as a result of the transformation of the party, whose center of gravity has moved south and west. Moreover, a minority of the party in the House, backed by powerful and wealthy outside interest groups, has seized the reins by throwing terror into the ranks that if they don’t conform to the Tea Party’s agenda, they could face defeat in a primary challenge from the right in the next election. Bob Dole’s and George McGovern’s time is long gone. Neither the Senate, nor the House, nor American politics are anything like they were in their time. The Republican Party in the Senate contains no Jacob Javits, the late New York senator who fought to protect food stamps. Among the Democrats, there’s no Edward Kennedy to champion the causes of the poor, to even enjoy doing battle for them. One of the few unabashed liberals, Tom Harkin of Iowa, is retiring after five terms. Harkin was born into modest means, which he has never forgotten – he needed no lectures about bootstraps.
Adding to the ferocity of the attack on food stamps this year is that Tea Party members had promised that when they got to Washington, they would dramatically cut the size of government, but had little to show for it. Paul Ryan’s much-touted budget was actually quite cautious in cutting entitlements in the near term. Medicare and Social Security were too popular, even among the Tea Party’s own followers, for Republicans to stick their necks out on those issues. Medicaid is a component of the health-care-reform law, and therefore was being dealt with in another context. That left food stamps.
read entire article here …
and go sign this petition, a coalition led by a bernie sanders to stop any more cuts to social security and medicaid