Tax cuts and unemployment benefits

July 13, 2010

I reposted this from Huffpost on Facebook yesterday, but I’m not done ranting about it yet.

If you don’t feel like reading it, the short version is this: John Kyl (R-AZ), along with much of the Republican leadership in Congress, is angry that Democrats aren’t rushing to extend the Bush administration tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, cuts which are set to expire soon.  At the same time, acting (and I can’t overemphasize how much of a smokescreen this is) like the deficit is the worst thing since, well worse than anything that’s ever happened in human history, those same Congressional Republicans refuse to extend unemployment benefits because doing so would add to the deficit.

It’s hard to begin answering this position because it doesn’t even rise to the level of nonsense.  Well, OK, it does, but only given a very specific worldview.  In that worldview, what wealthy people want is all that matters.  Even if they’re endangering their own wealth, maybe even their own lives, it doesn’t matter.  If rich people want lower taxes, they get lower taxes.  If they don’t care how many working class people are losing their homes, going hungry, dying because they can’t get medical care (other than visiting the emergency room, which often occurs too late to help them), sending their kids to crumbling schools, and so on, nobody is going to fight them.

I don’t get it.  As I said on Facebook when I posted this link yesterday, why are we giving tax breaks to people who need them least while withholding unemployment benefits from the people who need them most?

Yes, I know the conservative answers to that question.

The wealthy need tax breaks because tax breaks lead to job creation.  Except that the Bush tax breaks have been in place for 5+ years now, and employment levels have plummeted.  I can hear my Republican friends howling about how much that’s the fault of the Clinton administration (he hasn’t been President for 10 years now, y’all).  And because in the entire history of capitalism, there still isn’t one scintilla of evidence that “trickle down” has EVER worked.

Unemployment benefits discourage people from looking for work.  I’m a pacifist, but I really want to punch people who say this.  Only someone who never has to worry about their livelihood could believe it.  Much like the “welfare queen” trope of the Reagan era, Republicans have found a way to frame this issue, based on a handful of anecdotes, in order to make anybody who struggles to stay alive look pathological.  Lovely.

Unemployment benefits are too expensive.  Bullshit.  The extension current proposed in Congress would cost about $30 billion.  Not only is that a tiny fraction of the overall budget, but what do they think is going to happen with that money?  Do they not understand that just about every penny of it will get spent?  That is, reinjected right back into the economy, often right into the pockets of their owner class friends?  Whatever it gets spent on, it’s getting spent!  I don’t think too many unemployed folks are taking their $300/mo. benefit checks and stashing them in IRAs, right?

On the blog GinandTacos, the writer, Ed, says quite bluntly, and I agree, that conservatives who take this stance do so because, one, they hate poor people, and, two, the owner class benefits from a worker pool that’s desperate.  I couldn’t agree more.

Why it is that voters don’t show these monsters the same contempt they show voters is beyond me.  If I could figure it out, I’d be rich and fam… oh, wait…


Working and hungry: a challenge to conservative dogma

November 29, 2009

In this morning’s (Sunday) NYT, the following article runs–

Full of pathos appeals, coupled with some interesting statistics, the article tracks increasing use of food stamps across the country.  In and of itself, that’s not terribly surprising.  In a difficult economy, people need help buying food.

What I found surprising and worth mulling over are a couple of facts–

1.  Growth in food stamp use is about the same in the 600 counties where it’s historically been highest, and the 600 counties where it’s historically been lowest.  That is, use of foodstamps is increasing rapidly in places where it hasn’t before.  The article isn’t terribly precise about this next point, but suggests a couple of times that the second batch of counties tend to more conservative than the first, which means that reliance on government support is (again) penetrating into places where conservative dogma says it shouldn’t.

2.  It’s not just poor people who are using food stamps.  The article makes very clear that working people and families at many levels of the economic hierarchy need support–job losses, housing bust, medical expenses, etc, are all contributing to hunger.  At the very least, the data challenges the conservative wisdom that only lazy people rely on government support.  Of course, anybody who’s paid a lick of attention for the last 30 years has known that’s crap, a fabrication of the Reagan campaign in order to fan poor white people’s indignation, while at the same time keeping them from doing much to help themselves.

3.  Notable are a couple of interviews with self-identified conservatives who are accepting government support for (what sounds like) the first time, although depending on how you define “government support,” you could argue that they’ve been accepting it their entire lives.  It’s good to see at least one of the interviewees acknowledge that food stamps aren’t just for poor, lazy people.  One of them says something like, “These are people I could be having lunch with.”  The classism of that aside, at least she recognizes something of value.  Somebody makes the point that poor people are often just as resistant to government aid as others, which was helpful to see.  But the one that really gets me is the guy who, with one hand reaches out to grab the money, and with the other slaps people who take it.  Hypocrite.  And the guy from the Heritage Foundation who (shockingly) pulls out the example of the person who lives in an expensive home and drives a Mercedez, and generalizes from her to the entire world.

If one person abusing a system were enough to call for the destruction of the system, then the Bush administration would be responsible for having smoked the Constitution; Blackwater’s rapes and murders in Iraq would be enough to destroy the US military.  And on and on.  The double-standard here is so Orwellian that it’s hard to address (thank you, John Birch, for legitimizing this kind of political discourse).

At the end of the day, what this article demonstrates is that everything conservatives say about government aid is wrong.  The system isn’t fraught with people abusing it–that’s nothing but a lie.  The system doesn’t enable laziness–it feeds working people who can’t feed themselves because our pro-corporate, anti-worker economic policies have utterly failed them.  Self-righteousness shouldn’t dictate accepting hunger as a condition of living in the wealthiest nation in the world. And conservatives who scream bloody murder about government support at the same time they accept it need to think a little harder about what they’re screaming.  I won’t argue, as some others do, that they should refuse to accept help.  It’s not the government’s job to decide who’s worthy of care based on how they exercise their First Amendment rights.  It is, however, deeply troubling that some of these folks really seem not to understand the problem here–that if they win their arguments at Tea Parties, the very support they rely on for survival will go away.