Sunday, November 03, 2013

In The Republican War Against The Poor, Not All Democrats Are On The Right Side


You probably saw the anti-union, food stamp-cutting governor of Ohio, John Kasich, publicly bitching the other day that his political party is engaged in a merciless war against the poor. “I’m concerned," said Kasich, "about the fact there seems to be a war on the poor. That, if you’re poor, somehow you’re shiftless and lazy.” He may well have had Republican House budget chairman and class warrior Paul Ryan in mind. The Paul Ryan who has been working single-mindedly to demolish the social safety net and famously quipped that it has become “a hammock that lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency.”

Friday, the first batch of cuts to food stamps kicked in. They translate to 20 fewer meals per month for every child and every vet who is struggling to survive on food stamps). And Congress is far from finished cutting back. They've barely started. As Catherine Rampell pointed out in Friday's NY Times, on top of the billions of dollars that were shaved from the food stamps program Friday, "the Republican-controlled House version of the farm bill proposes cutting $39 billion from the program over the next decade; the Democratic-controlled Senate would cut $4 billion over the same period."
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits were increased in 2009 as part of a suite of measures intended to support struggling workers and stimulate the economy in the wake of the financial crisis. The maximum monthly amount received per food stamp beneficiary rose by 13.6 percent at the time.

Food stamp caseloads have swollen in the last few years: In fiscal year 2007, before the recession began, there were about 26 million people receiving food stamps. As of this past July, the most recent month of data available, there were nearly 48 million, representing about a seventh of the American population. The increase has been attributed to more people losing their jobs and needing food assistance; government efforts to increase usage by families that did not know they were eligible; and to a lesser extent, policy changes in some states that relaxed eligibility requirements, according to Stacy Dean, vice president for food assistance policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a left-leaning research organization.

The 2009 increase in maximum monthly food stamp benefits was designed to be temporary. But as with other stimulus measures or social safety programs that received temporary increases during or after the recession-- like the payroll tax holiday, or extended unemployment benefits-- advocates have been fighting to push expiration off longer.

These arguments are made on the grounds of both compassion and the fragility of the recovery. Measures that grant more spending power to lower-income people generally have strong effects throughout the economy because the money is spent immediately and then re-spent. Moody’s Analytics has estimated that every additional dollar spent on food stamps generates about $1.74 in economic activity.
A key component in the Republican War Against the Poor, this is a move that "not only will cost them money they use to feed their families but is expected to slightly dampen economic growth as well." Why, you may be wondering, are Democrats going along with this charade? Sure they don't want to deprive poor children from eating as many meals, but the Senate Dems cuts-- "only" a tenth of what the Republicans want to slash-- are still devastating cuts.

This week Nancy Pelosi reiterated again that the Democrats in Congress will go along with the GOP war against the poor, but only if they get what they want as part of the deal. With progressives recognizing that Social Security benefits need to increase, Pelosi and other top Democratic leaders have gotten behind Obama's and Boehner's "Grand Bargain" that features Chained CPI, a scheme to cut the inflation-protection mechanisms in cost-of-living adjustments. Instead of letting the Republicans electrocute themselves on the Third Rail of American Politics, the Democrats are offering to help decouple monkeying with Social Security from the Third Rail. And all for a relatively worthless and very temporary tax increase. At this point Obama, somewhat desperate, is even thinking about going forward with his Grand Bargain without the tax increases. The answer from progressives is the same-- with or without tax increases, no cuts to Social Security or Medicare or Medicaid. The one reform to Social Security everyone should agree on is lifting the cap on the taxes for the very wealthy so they also pay their fair share, just like everyone else. Pelosi:
“Our position is that we're going to the table in order to reduce the deficit, grow the economy, create jobs, end the sequester-- revenue needs to be on the table… You can't just take a piece here [and] a piece there; it has to be comprehensive. And if you're not going to have revenue, who's going to pay? Granny on Medicare? That's not something we can accept.”

The comments arrive on the same day that a bipartisan group of negotiators from both chambers met officially for the first time in an effort to resolve the differences between the House and Senate 2014 budget bills.

The issue of tax revenue is certain to play a central role in those talks, as Democratic leaders have insisted that new revenue be included in such a deal, while Republicans have been adamant in their opposition.

Indeed, it took little time on Wednesday for the conference leaders, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), to clash over that thorny topic.

Murray, who heads the Senate Budget Committee, said Democrats are willing to accept entitlement cuts that are unpopular in their party, but only if Republicans will give on taxes.

“While we scour programs to find responsible savings, Republicans are also going to have to work with us to scour the bloated tax code-- and close some wasteful tax loopholes and special interest subsidies,” she said

. Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, countered with the warning that, “if this conference becomes an argument about taxes, we’re not going to get anywhere.”

Obama entered the debate on Wednesday after the Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed administration sources, said the president has recently told GOP senators that he might be willing to accept a narrow sequester deal that cuts entitlement programs but raises no new revenue.

Pelosi, for her part, is siding squarely with Murray and Senate Democrats on the issue.

“We Democrats are committed to reaching across the aisle to find common-sense solutions, but the Republicans must be willing to compromise, too, and drop their refusal to consider cutting wasteful tax loopholes and not bringing revenue to the table,” Pelosi said.

  “Our position is the Senate Democratic position,” she added.

Pelosi also amplified her earlier call that the negotiators finalize a budget deal before the Thanksgiving recess rather than extend the talks to the Dec. 13 deadline. Prolonging the talks, she warned, could undermine the holiday shopping season.

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At 7:31 AM, Anonymous me said...

And O'Bummer signed off on all of it.


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