It’s almost as if Republicans are actively striving to get a reputation for being mean to poor, hungry people. On Tuesday, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the administration of Gov. Tom Corbett plans to start restricting eligibility to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as the food stamp program). Specifically, the state is imposing an “asset test” — anyone under 60 years old with savings of more than $2,000 is no longer eligible for assistance.
The news isn’t quite as bad as some outlets are spinning it. Pennsylvania’s proposed asset test conforms to federal guidelines for SNAP and doesn’t include the value of a recipient’s home, retirement savings or car. But what’s troubling is that the nationwide trend has been headed in exactly the opposite direction. Only 11 states currently impose asset tests for SNAP eligibility. Just four years ago, in fact, Pennsylvania’s Democratic governor, Ed Rendell, abolished the state’s asset test.
And with good reason, as we can readily learn from two new freshly updated informational fact sheets on SNAP coincidentally published on Tuesday by the Center on Budget Policy and Priorities.
SNAP serves as the bedrock of the federal safety net. Ninety-two percent of SNAP’s $78 billion budget goes to benefits that can only be used to buy food. Seventy-five percent of SNAP participants are families with children. There are already plenty of restrictions in place that ensure that SNAP benefits primarily go to people who are legitimately poor. According to CBPP, “93 percent of SNAP benefits go to households with incomes below the poverty line, and 55 percent goes to households with incomes below half of the poverty line (about $9,155 for a family of three).”
SNAP gets high marks for low levels of waste and fraud, kicks into action quickly and efficiently when the economy craters, and is rated by the Congressional Budget Office as one of the two most effective forms of federal stimulus. Perhaps best of all, the number of recipients usually declines just as quickly when the economy rebounds. According to a recent study by the USDA, in the mid-2000s, “More than half of all new entrants to SNAP in the mid-2000s participated for less than one year and then left the program when their immediate need had passed.”
As the U.S. economy continues to recover, SNAP outlays will surely decline. So why hurry it along? Could it be because conservatives think there’s something fundamentally wrong with providing nutritional support? Or is it the racial angle — the intersection of poverty and race that encourages people like Newt Gingrich to call Obama “the food stamp president.”
The most charitable way to interpret Gingrich’s slur is as a critique of the president’s management of the economy: If he’d been a better president, fewer people would be eligible for assistance. But there’s also a deeper, darker level that connects the classic conservative antipathy to anything vaguely smelling of the nanny state. And the more one ponders that, the harder it is to fathom. The richest Americans skated through the Great Recession, while poor people lost their jobs and their homes and struggled to put food on the table. SNAP was there to help, to prevent the kind of pain and suffering that plagued American during the Great Depression, or that still afflicts citizens of less fortunate countries today. We should be thankful that Obama is the food stamp president; it’s a tribute to the progress inherent in becoming a civilized nation. We don’t let our citizens starve when Wall Street causes an international catastrophe. We should be proud of that.
By: Andrew Leonard, Salon, January 11, 2012
As his briefly front-running campaign sunk in the polls under relentless punishment from Mitt Romney’s “super PAC” allies in the days before the Iowa caucuses, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich caused a brief stir by matter-of-factly telling a TV interviewer that Romney is a “liar.”
“Why are you saying he’s a liar?” his apparently shocked interlocutor pressed. The notion that Mitt Romney routinely makes statements lacking a factual basis should not come as a surprise to anyone who has followed the campaign. On the left, Paul Krugman has marveled that no other candidate has ever “lied so freely, with so little compunction.” On the right, The American Conservative‘s Daniel Larison wondered about why he lies, concluding that the former Massachusetts governor is “so contemptuous of the people he tells lies to that he never thinks he will be found out.”
With Romney sweeping Iowa and New Hampshire and leading in the polls in South Carolina, this is a good time to catalogue some of Romney’s greatest hits thus far.
“100,000 new jobs.” Romney has repeatedly claimed that during his tenure at Bain Capital, “net-net, we created over 100,000 jobs.” His campaign defends the figure by tallying the current employment totals of some companies Bain aided. That’s a stretch in and of itself, but it’s also not a net figure. It lacks the balancing context of how many jobs were destroyed by Bain. As the Los Angeles Times reported in December, while Bain helped some companies grow, “Romney and his team also maximized returns by firing workers, seeking government subsidies, and flipping companies quickly for large profits. Sometimes Bain investors gained even when companies slid into bankruptcy.”
Indeed, the Wall Street Journal looked closely at Bain’s record under Romney and found that 22 percent “either filed for bankruptcy or closed their doors by the end of the eighth year after Bain first invested, sometimes with substantial job losses.” Which is not really terribly surprising: Bain’s raison d’etre is not job creation but wealth creation for its investors. As Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler noted in an article Monday calling Romney’s “100,000 jobs” figure “untenable,” Romney and Bain “never could have raised money from investors if the prospectus seeking $1-million investments from the super wealthy had said it would focus on creating jobs.”
As a corollary, when Romney’s record has been criticized, he has dismissed criticisms as an attempt to “put free enterprise on trial.” It’s not an attack on free enterprise. It’s an attack on Romney’s strained attempt to spin his successful record of wealth-creation into one of job-creation. It’s also a recognition that while a net good, the free market has its destructive side—and it’s a fair question to ask, whether voters consider experience in that sort of vulture capitalism as a good qualification for the presidency. Do they want government to be run more like that kind of business?
Obama’s jobs record. By Romney’s own logic (touting jobs created but ignoring jobs lost), his attacks on President Obama’s economic record are nonsensical. He told Time that Obama “has not created any new jobs,” and he told Fox News last week that Obama has “lost” 2 million jobs as president. This is indeed a net figure, but also a misleading one. When Obama took office, the economy was shedding jobs at a rate of nearly 1 million jobs per month, losing roughly 3 million during the first four months of 2009. But presidential policies don’t take effect as soon as the incoming chief takes his oath. Once Obama’s policies started to take effect, the trend turned. The country had added 3.2 million private sector jobs over the course of 22 straight months of private sector growth. By Romney’s definition, the president has created more than 3 million jobs—not enough, but also not none.
In fact the biggest drag on job growth is the 600,000 public sector jobs that have disappeared under the auspices of budget austerity. As my colleague Danielle Kurtzleben reported in September, “government jobs are being shed by the tens of thousands almost every month, hindering an already weak recovery.”
“Entitlement society.” Romney has argued that Obama “is replacing our merit-based, opportunity society with an entitlement society,” where “everyone is handed the same rewards, regardless of education, effort, and willingness to take risk.” As New York‘s Jonathan Chait has observed, “This accusation is approximately as accurate as claiming that the Republican Party wants to pass laws forbidding poor people from making more money.” The idea that President Obama (or any Democrat) advocates for equality of outcomes simply lacks a basis in fact.
It’s an important fabrication, because it marks a turning point in Romney’s attacks on Obama. Previously the president was characterized as ineffectual, but not a socialist. Forced to battle to win the GOP primaries, Romney has adopted the Tea Party’s extremist rhetoric. It won’t play with swing voters, even delivered in his polished drone.
Defense cuts. In an October speech on national security, Romney promised to “reverse President Obama’s massive defense cuts.” One problem: Pentagon spending has gone up under Obama, from $594 billion in 2008 to $666 billion. The 2011 request was for $739 billion. As Rick Perry would say, “Oops.”
No apologies. Romney has said that Obama “went around the world and apologized for America.” This is part of the conservative, dog-whistle meme that Obama is un-American (and possibly even a foreigner!). While the notion of an international apology tour is a staple of the conservative case against Obama, it is also fictitious. The Washington Post’s fact-checker concluded that “the claim that Obama repeatedly has apologized for the United States is not borne out by the facts, especially if his full quotes are viewed in context.” Don’t hold your breath waiting for an apology from Romney on this one.
“Mitt.” It’s a small one, but might be my favorite. During a debate in November, when moderator Wolf Blitzer introduced himself by saying that “Wolf” is really his first name, Romney greeted the audience by saying, “I’m Mitt Romney, and yes, Wolf, that’s also my first name.” In fact, Willard is his first name. It’s a lie notable for being so mundane: Why would someone fudge their name? It’s almost as if he can’t control himself.
Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, January 12, 2012
The 2012 presidential race is shaping up as a battle not just between candidates, but over which of the Seven Deadly Sins is most offensive to voters.
On the one side, we have envy, which GOP front-runner former Gov. Mitt Romney identified as a distasteful by-product of income inequality—or, Republicans argue, the “class warfare” provoked by Democrats. The United States “already has a leader who divides us by the bitter politics of envy,” Romney said after winning the New Hampshire primary. The line was obviously meant to undermine Obama’s 2008 pledge to bring people together, as well as to cast restless middle-class and poor people as possessing un-mannerly envy.
On the other side, however, we have greed, and that is a Deadly Sin that may haunt the eventual Republican nominee. The Occupy Wall Street movement may be dismissed (unfairly) by some as a bunch of Starbucks-sucking, whiny kids who won’t look for jobs, but it is undeniably true that a broad swath of Americans is getting more than a little resentful at the fact that the very wealthy have come through the recession quite profitably, while the low-and-middle income workers are still struggling. Many of those who managed to keep their jobs are working at lower pay and reduced benefits, further aggravating the situation.
According to a recent Pew Research Center poll, about two-thirds of the public now believes there are strong conflicts between the rich and poor. The percentage has grown by 19 points since 2009, suggesting that voters are growing far more aware of the economic division as the election approaches. The Pew report notes, even more notably:
…in the public’s evaluations of divisions within American society, conflicts between rich and poor now rank ahead of three other potential sources of group tension — between immigrants and the native born; between blacks and whites; and between young and old. Back in 2009, more survey respondents said there were strong conflicts between immigrants and the native born than said the same about the rich and the poor.
How much political capital can a candidate gain by dismissing the unemployed malcontents as immorally envious? It’s a risk, especially this year.
We all feel envious sometimes, and most of us are not proud of it (which is a good thing, since pride is another one of the Seven Deadly Sins). But that sort of envy comes from feeling ungraciously jealous when a friend gets a promotion or a new car or a charming boyfriend. Feeling resentful of Wall Street investors and bankers who made terrible economic decisions that affected the entire national economy—then continued to be extremely well compensated despite the failures—is not jealousy. It’s a reaction to what many Americans see as a basic question of fairness.
Americans are aspirational; this is why even those who will never in their lives amass $1 million still oppose the estate tax. And there is a strong sense in this country, among liberals and conservatives alike, that enterprise and creativity should be rewarded, financially and otherwise. What gets missed in the silly verbal jousting, in which President Obama has been declared a “socialist” and enemy of free enterprise, is that Wall Street itself wasn’t willing to submit to the uncertainty of capitalism. They wanted to privatize the profits. But they wanted to socialize the risk. And it was 401K holders and middle-class workers who bore the brunt of that bad risk.
There was a time when Americans could chuckle good-naturedly at the line in the movie Wall Street that “Greed is good,” and even agree with it, somewhat. But that was when envy was about who had the bigger car. The enviers now are the ones who have no health insurance and are losing their houses to foreclosure. And they vote.
As Mitt Romney and the GOP’s merry band of private-equity foes take their delicious war over “good” vs. “bad” capitalism to South Carolina, don’t expect Romney’s triumphalist New Hampshire victory speech to shut his rivals down. With the slugfest heading south, the real shocker is that Romney’s chipper “I like being able to fire people” line — which will now become permanent background noise in our world, like the hum of the air conditioning — is actually much worse in context than it was when taken out.
Aficionados of this Romney gaffe know by now that Romney was referring to being able to “fire” health insurance companies that aren’t providing adequate care and coverage. But the terrible fraud in his explanation hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves.
“I don’t want to live in a world where we have Obamacare telling us which insurance we have to have, which doctor we can have, which hospital we go to,” Romney said in a rare news conference Monday afternoon to clarify his remarks. “I believe in the setting as I described this morning, where people are able to choose their own doctor, choose their own insurance company. If they don’t like their insurance company or their provider, they can get rid of it.”
On Tuesday he added: “I was talking about, as you know, insurance companies. We’d all like to get rid of our insurance companies — don’t want Obama to tell us we can’t.”
Romney’s dishonesty here is breathtaking. I used to think Republicans had taken chutzpah to unsurpassable new heights when they refused on principle to lift the debt ceiling last summer – despite having passed the Paul Ryan budget, which added more than $5 trillion in debt over the next decade.
But Romney may have topped that. He’s saying that President Obama’s Affordable Care Act — which offers people precisely the choice among competing private insurers that Romney’s own health-care reform did in Massachusetts — is instead some cartoon version of socialized medicine.
It’s a blatant falsehood. The Big Republican Lie.
Now, if Rick Perry had said this, you might say that the man just doesn’t know whereof he speaks. When Rush Limbaugh makes such bogus claims, you put it down to the ravings of an entertainer and propagandist. But Romney is a smart man. He’s also supposed to be a serious man, not a huckster. He knows better. Yet he’s made these outrageous false claims repeatedly. So this is a conscious, premeditated Big Lie.
What should we make of all this?
Let’s review. A candidate makes an obviously insensitive, unattractive remark that makes him sound like a callous, coldhearted boss, but the remark has been taken out of context. That “fire” sound bite will nonetheless become a staple of rivals’ ads and part of the Democratic onslaught if Romney is the nominee. (Look for it to be paired with Mike Huckabee’s perfect quip from 2008 that Romney “looks like the guy who fired you.”)
A fairminded citizen might feel a pang of sympathy for a politician who has to watch every word, lest it be taken out of context and turned against him. That’s why we get such robotic candidates and officials, after all.
But such sympathy dries up when it turns out that Romney’s actual meaning involves the Big Republican Lie on health care. When, in fact, Obama’s law offers exactly the same choices, via exactly the same kind of insurance exchanges, that Romney brought to Massachusetts.
Here’s another wrinkle. Romney’s passage of that health-care law – the one he’s mischaracterizing when he’s not busy running away from it – was a landmark achievement. He was the only governor who passed a bipartisan universal health-care bill. Facts are facts.
So what are we supposed to think of this man?
Here’s what we know. Romney will very casually tell the Big Lie if he thinks it will help him win. He’ll also work to enact universal health coverage if he thinks it’s a sensible path for his constituents and serves his own political ambitions once in office. Does this make him shameless and untrustworthy? A problem-solver? Both? Is belief in his own claim on power the only core conviction we can count on from Mitt Romney? Is any other presidential contender — or president — any different?
Just some questions to mull as you microwave the popcorn and settle down to watch the 30-minute video on Romney’s time at Bain in the days ahead. In the meantime, if the dictionary defines “misfire” as “to fail to ignite when expected,” and “spitfire” means “a quick tempered or highly emotional person,” I’m betting that by the time South Carolina votes, we’ll be looking at a “Mittfire” — a candidate whose loose talk on firing means he hasn’t wrapped things up when he’d hoped and who’s hopping mad about it. There’s a twist or turn left in the Grand Old Party yet.
By: Matt Miller, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, January 11, 2012