Saturday, October 11, 2014

Closing arguments: We need a better balance, not the GOP tilt to the right

Reflecting on the 2012 Presidential election, the turning point was GOP candidate Mitt Romney disdaining the 47% as dependent upon government and feeling entitled for the government to care for them.  At the same time Congressman Bob Beauprez, now running for Colorado governor, was recorded dissing the 47% who did not pay taxes, and he defended the same attitude again in 2014.


Why did 47% hit such a nerve?   So many were hurting from the Great Recession and did not make enough income to pay taxes.  They resented the GOP’s lack of empathy and understanding of the plight of nearly half the country.

Two years later, unemployment has decreased to pre-crash levels and the stock market is robust.  Colorado has the fastest growth in the nation, unemployment below the national level, and is rated among the top four states in the nation to make a living.  However, to make a case for change, GOP attack ads make sure Democrats’ success does not go unpunished, and  Democrats fail to toot their horns enough.

Clearly there are still those who have not felt the recovery trickle down to them, but voters should not be asking whom to blame. They should be asking themselves who is more likely to let them share in recovery going forward.  Since 2008, the only improvement to the struggling middle-class family pocketbooks has been Obamacare, which made their health care affordable  and added 14 years to the life of Medicare.

Congressional Republican obstruction, enforced by government shutdowns, was overcome only by compromises on tax structure and budgets.  Compromise is usually a good thing, but these compromises mostly benefited the top income levels, and income gap has gotten worse.  It would have been worse by another 15% except for the social safety nets, per a recent Stanford University study.  The U.S. has one of the most unequal income distributions in the developed world even after taxes and social welfare policies are taken into account.
The great ideological debate is whether and how much of a role does government have. The GOP is conflicted.  It is determined for the government to tell women whether to control or which control to use for their reproduction, or who can get married, but they oppose the government maintaining current  social services.  Would be libertarians should  also read the preamble to the Constitution again and search key words “insure domestic tranquility” and “promote the general welfare“ to seek legitimacy and responsibility for those roles.

The Great Society, the original safety net, was a response to social unrest fueled by anger with racial and economic inequality in the late 1960s.  The GOP is trying to dismantle it, piece by piece, by weakening food stamps, Medicaid, health care, and fighting raising the minimum wage.  Reform is  always needed to meet  changing times and fix bad practices, but weakening  would only increase the gap between the richer and the middle class and poor.  Income equality is not the answer either, because fuel for ambition needs goals to reach and rewards for efforts.  Long term deficits are indeed a problem, and what we pay for is what we get, but above all we need is better balance, not a greater tilt to the right as the GOP proposes.

A version of this appeared in the October 16, 17 2014  and  (Bob Beauprez's 47% moment; 2014)

Over a year ago, I hit the GOP for what they proposed to do regarding the approval of the farm bill: The statistics in it are work repeating.  It addresses the food stamp/ school lunch program importance and limitations and refutes much of the GOPs arguments to reduce the food stamp program.  Many critics from media and religious leaders called this 2013 proposal cruel. It gives an indication of what the GOP would do if they could regarding the safety net.

Also, what it means to live on food stamps and hunger in Grand County was reported in an October  Sky Hi Daily News article October 2, 2014.   It was no picnic.  In a Granby Rotary club presentation of their experiences, one of the participants in the attempt to live on a food stamp and food pantry budget reported that the average recipient is on food stamps for an average of 10 months and usually does so because of loss of a job or divorce or health problems.   

Excerpts from my July 1, 2013 column:
Shame on the conservative members of the House of Representatives for trying to insert into a House farm bill a very cruel provision, to cut the food stamp program by nearly 30%.. Defeat means the cuts will not occur for now.  Democrats and even some Republicans could not support the bill. It died  and rightly so.
All of these cuts would have come when more than 25% of working families in Colorado do not have enough food to meet their basic needs, according to the Census Bureau’s  American Community Survey 2011.
 The House bill would have cut  spending in farm and nutrition programs by nearly $40 billion over the next 10 years nationwide. $20.5 billion  of that total would have come from cuts to the $75 billion food stamp program known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, SNAP.
Politifact, a respected fact checker of the Tampa Bay Times examined Democrats’ claims  cuts in the House farm bill would leave 2 million people without food stamps and remove 210,000 children from the school breakfast and lunch program. The fact checker concluded that “Ultimately, both numbers go back to the Congressional Budget Office, which is generally seen as impartial. …  We rate the statement Mostly True”
In the debate over the farm bill spanning the past two years,  members of the House who wanted the kill SNAP  dusted off  the same time worn  complaint used to object  to food stamps in years past, that  welfare queens abused the program so can the program..   Times have changed and those old views are  fossils.
 “So make these welfare slackers get a job”, a conservative friend of mine grouched.” Get  yourself  current” , I retorted. Families receiving food stamps  now hold jobs three time more than those who rely solely on welfare benefits according to  a July 2010 report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorites. That is a significant reversal from 1989 when  only 20% of food stamp recipients held jobs.
Most recipients who can work are working, but their income is so low, they cannot afford enough food and their rent, too.  Cigarettes and alcohol have long been ineligible for food stamp purchase.
So who gets food stamps now? In 2013  most are kids and elderly. Per the US Department of Agriculture which administers the programs,  three-quarters of food stamp recipients are families with children. Nearly half (47 percent) were under age 18 and another 8 percent were age 60 or older. Even in the recession, the numbers of food stamp recipients have not increased.
In the 2012 presidential campaign, some members of the GOP  called for even cutting nutrition and school lunch programs and some of those funds were part of the farm bill cuts.  Who would they hurt?. Of the nutrition programs for the poor (8.7 million recipients), 4.3 million are women with children, 2.2 million with infants. National school lunch programs: 30.5 million kids benefit, per the Department of Agriculture.   

 What is the solution other than federal government programs for those who are concerned. Food banks provided by charitable and church organizations make up some of the difference often on the local level, serving even those  who also  receive food stamps. Think what the size  the need would be if food stamp programs were cut by 30%.


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