The headlines are sensational:
Kansas bans welfare recipients for spending food stamps on cruise ships.
Kansas will make sure welfare queens can’t get their palms read on the Caribbean.
The new law awaiting Governor Sam Brownback’s signature also prohibits a long list of activities including shopping at jewelry stores, lingerie shops, video arcades, theme parks and even swimming pools.
Republican lawmakers in the Sunflower State want to make sure none of this waste would happen again.
If it even happened.
Think of it as the 21st century’s answer to Ronald Reagan’s welfare queen, who existed mainly in the minds of conservative critics.
Nobody has offered a current and/or concrete example of a person receiving TANF funds (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) using their EBT card (Electronic Benefits Transaction) aboard a cruise ship, but that hasn’t stopped the Kansas legislature from passing a law to prevent it.
A provision included in their restrictive legislation will prevent TANF recipients from withdrawing any more than $25 a day from an ATM machine.
Shannon Cotsoradis, president and CEO of Kansas Action for Children, says since most ATM machines don’t deal in $5 increments, the $25 is effectively $20, plus an 85 cents fee that TANF attaches, plus another couple dollars for the ATM fee, and the result is, “We’ve just made it harder to be poor, as if it weren’t hard enough,” she says.
The list of prohibited items reads like something out of the Legion of Decency, a now defunct Catholic organization that rated films according to their moral content.
And while no one is arguing these racier activities—like patronizing adult entertainment or casino gambling—should be permissible with government funds, banning them is more about stigmatizing the poor than creating any real hardship. The real problem is the $25 limit.
“This is not about a real problem, this is not a public policy decision,” says Liz Schott, of the Center on Policy and Budget Priorities. “This is all about politics and creating a wrong impression that public welfare recipients can’t spend their money wisely.”
The Kansas bill passed the House last week by voice vote and the Senate 30 to 10. Among the 10 opponents were the chamber’s eight Democrats plus two moderate Republicans.
Minority Leader Anthony Hensley told The Daily Beast the bill is “very mean-spirited, and it couldn’t have come at a worse time, Holy Week, leading into Easter. This is not something Jesus would have approved of in my opinion.”
Kansas is not alone in modifying its TANF program, and under the welfare reform law signed by President Clinton in 1996, states have the legal right to make adjustments.
States like Kansas with a Republican governor and a GOP-controlled legislature are in the forefront of the crackdown. In Missouri, a Republican state legislator has introduced legislation that would ban “cookies, chips, energy drinks, soft drinks, seafood or steak.”
What’s behind this wave of legislation, says Brookings scholar William Galston, is a familiar grievance felt by the middle class and the working class that programs of assistance are “either not going to the right people, or they’re not spending the money in a responsible way.”
These are voters who think the Democratic Party caters to the poor, and that politicians are buying their votes with programs like TANF (overlooking fact that the poor mostly don’t vote).
The misimpressions are on all sides, but that doesn’t make them any less powerful. Cotsoradis, with Kansas Action for Children, calls the cruise ship ban “my personal favorite” because it is so ludicrous when you consider a family of three in a high-paying, more urban county in Kansas receives $429 a month; a rural family gets $386 a month.
The way TANF works, recipients take their dollars out of an ATM, and with the $25 limit, “a cruise ship is probably out of the question,” she says.
They can use their card like a debit card in a supermarket, but there’s no way to track where they spend the dollars they withdraw from an ATM. “So we have legislated something that by and large we can’t enforce,” says Cotsoradis.
Some of the provisions are just mean, says Schott, with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
“It’s not even clear you can take your child on a hot day to a municipal pool,” Schott says.
How infractions like that are policed would be prone to arbitrary enforcement. Would somebody report their neighbor?
“There could be a lot of biases,” says Schott. What’s clear is the gulf between the law and the people whose behavior it is meant to regulate. “I don’t think it’s coming from a lot of fact,” says Schott.
Many if not most TANF recipients are “unbanked,” and without a checking account, how will they take out enough money to pay their rent?
“This is not based on any understanding of the daily reality of making ends meet on these inadequate benefits,” she says.
The only evidence anybody can cite of a remotely recent abuse is a widely broadcast Fox News interview two years ago when a brash young food stamp recipient boasted about buying lobster and sushi with his government assistance.
But apparently that was enough to resurrect and perpetuate that long-ago myth first spun by Reagan.
By: Eleanor Clift, The Daily Beast, April 7, 2015
Kansas governor Sam Brownback had a plan when he got elected in 2010, and it was a plan that could only be enacted in a place like Kansas: Pass huge tax cuts, then watch the state transform into a kind of economic heaven on earth. Brownback surely could never have doubted it would work, since he and those in his party have been saying for decades that tax cuts deliver economic growth, rising tax revenues, general happiness, and shinier, more manageable hair.
You’ve probably heard the story: growth in Kansas did not, in fact, explode, but what did happen is that revenues plummeted, leading to severe cutbacks in education and other state services. Brownback nevertheless managed to get re-elected, because it was a non-presidential year and because it’s Kansas. So now he’s had a chance to reflect, and here’s how he’s looking at things, according to a Topeka newspaper:
As Gov. Sam Brownback’s first term comes to a close, the Republican governor has one regret — no, scratch that — one thing he would do differently.
“I probably would have chosen words better at different times, because you go through a campaign where you’ve got to eat the words you inartfully said,” Brownback said during a recent interview with The Topeka Capital-Journal.
The former U.S. senator — with the help of a Republican-controlled Legislature — slashed taxes, privatized portions of state government and pursued a staunchly conservative policy agenda during the past four years. And then Brownback fought off a competitive challenge from Democratic Rep. Paul Davis.
Atop the list of words and phrases that have proven controversial and given his opponents the greatest opportunity for mockery: predicting the Kansas tax cuts would act as a “shot of adrenaline” to the state’s economy and referring to the plan as an “experiment.”
In other words…
It’s obvious that he regrets calling it an “experiment” for no reason other than that word showed up in a bunch of Democratic attack ads. But as for the idea that tax cuts would give the Kansas economy a “shot of adrenaline”? Of course that’s what he said, because that’s what he believed. If you don’t believe that, you can’t call yourself a Republican.
It isn’t that there’s no truth to it—all else being equal, tax cuts put more money in people’s hands, so they can spend more, which will have some positive impact on the overall economy. The problem is that 1) the effect is never as large as Republicans expect it to be; 2) not only did Brownback’s tax cuts go mostly to the wealthy, who are less likely to spend the money, he actually raised taxes on poor people (there’s an explanation here), and 3) the benefits were swamped by the harm created by the inevitable cratering of state revenue.
But if you’re Sam Brownback, how do you account for such an outcome? It can’t possibly be that the theory on which the entirety of contemporary Republican economic policy rests is false. What’s he going to say—”It turns out that tax cuts don’t do much good”? Not in this universe.
It’s not just him. The failure of Brownback’s experiment may provide an effective rhetorical tool liberals can use against conservatives in economic debates, but it won’t actually change any conservatives’ thinking. The reason is that their belief in tax cuts doesn’t rest on the practical effects. That’s an argument that’s meant to appeal to everyone, since it concerns something (growth) that just about everyone thinks is good. But the real source of the conservative support for tax cuts is moral, not practical. They believe that taxes are inherently immoral — the government stealing from you the fruits of your labor (or inheritance or wise investments, as the case may be) to enact its nefarious schemes. Taxes should therefore be as low as possible. Conservatives also tend to believe that progressive taxation is doubly immoral, since it takes more from the most virtuous among us.
So my guess is that Brownback sees his experiment as a practical failure but a moral success, and other conservatives would agree. Not that he’d say so in quite those terms, because he knows how it would sound. But the only lesson he’s learned from his failure is to change the words he uses.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, December 23, 2014
I think it’s safe to say that the single greatest source of frustration to progressives today is the relatively small price the Republican Party appears to be paying for the extremism that has gripped its ranks since (at least) 2009 (the second greatest source of frustration may be how Democrats have dealt with that phenomenon, but that’s a subject for another post). It seems that no matter what havoc the GOP has inflicted on the country before and during the administration of Barack Obama, the bulk of the blame will be assigned to the president and his party, rewarding the conservative wrecking crew for its irresponsibility.
But as Greg Sargent notes today, there are two places where Republican extremism is bearing surprisingly bitter fruit:
A new batch of NBC/Marist polls released over the weekend showed Democratic Senator Kay Hagan hanging on to a four point lead in North Carolina, while independent Greg Orman now leads incumbent Republican Senator Pat Roberts in Kansas by 10 points. The North Carolina finding is in sync with the average, while the Kansas one isn’t, though the Kansas average does show Orman leading.
It would have been awfully bold to predict six months ago that Republicans would be trailing in North Carolina and Kansas. But what’s notable here is that both these states are home to two of the nation’s leading experiments in conservative state-level governance.
Greg goes on to observe that Thom Tillis’ leadership role in what he himself proudly called a “conservative revolution” in state government is clearly an issue in the NC Senate campaign. And there’s little doubt that a revolt of moderate Republicans against KS Governor Sam Brownback has spilled over into the Senate race there, lifting independent Greg Orman into an otherwise inexplicable lead.
Suffice it to say it’s unusual for state-level politics to infect federal contests to this extent; usually it happens the other way around. But it should be a message to Republican pols, and to the right-wing oligarchs playing such a conspicuous role in these two states (the Koch Brothers in their native Kansas, and the most conspicuous Koch Lite, Art Pope, in NC) that there are limits to what they can inflict on subject populations.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, October 6, 2014
“How Not To Get Your Country Back”: Americans Who Want Their Country Back Should Follow Their Elders’ Example
The Tea Party mantra, “I want my country back,” resonates with many. The racial undertones can be ugly (as well as pointless). But the longing for an economically secure America centered on a strong middle class is on point and widely shared.
Older and mostly white members of the far right tend to see themselves as model Americans who worked hard, saved up and played by the rules. They may have done all the above, but many also have no idea of how easy they had it.
After World War II, Americans with no college could walk into a factory and obtain a job paying middle-class wages. Global competition was a future threat. Today’s retirees are among the last Americans to enjoy the most golden of benefits, including a defined pension check, guaranteed for the rest of their lives.
More troubling than the tunnel vision, though, is the right’s program for restoring the country it purports to miss. The ideological obsession with slashing taxes, shrinking government and keeping labor as cheap as possible is downright destructive.
The America of yore did not build its middle class that way.
When President Dwight Eisenhower backed the construction of the interstate highway system in 1956, the top marginal rate for individual income taxes was 91 percent. Older taxpayers bore their burdens more or less stoically (and there wasn’t Medicare to pay their parents’ doctor bills). Building America was the public-spirited thing to do.
Fast-forward to the economic crash of 2008. The infrastructure was in shambles and unemployment high. Robust stimulus spending was the ticket out of both dilemmas. But even though the top marginal rate was only 35 percent, fringe conservatives controlling the Republican Party fought against government intervention every inch of the way — lest Congress raise taxes one dime.
Kansas has become the patient on which to conduct this experiment at its most extreme, and the results are disastrous. Gov. Sam Brownback pushed through wild tax cuts, mainly benefiting the well-to-do, while placing Kansas classrooms, libraries and other public services on a starvation diet.
And what do Kansans have to show for it? The tax cuts drained their state of $300 million in expected revenues for the recent fiscal year. (Where’s that explosion of economic activity that the theorists said would make up the difference?) Meanwhile, earnings are falling faster and jobs growing more slowly than the national average.
The bond rating agencies remain unimpressed. Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s have lowered Kansas’ credit rating, making it more expensive for the state to borrow.
Study after economic study shows the 21st-century spoils going to the educated. And here we have Kansas cannibalizing its schools just as competing states are restoring their education spending.
One wishes older conservatives opposed to raising the minimum wage, now $7.25 an hour, took an honest look at the wages government guaranteed them back when. The minimum wage in 1968 was the equivalent of $10.90 in today’s dollars.
A new study of the 20 major economies finds the U.S. minimum wage among the lowest relative to the country’s average wage. China, Brazil and Turkey did better.
The minimum wage helps less skilled workers but also influences the pay levels higher up the scale. Putting more money in the pockets of those likeliest to spend it fuels economic demand.
Tax policy does matter, and there is such a thing as government waste. But in the end, a middle class is nurtured on good schools, roads and other public services. They cost money.
Americans who want their middle-class country back should follow their elders’ example. A little gratitude would be nice, too.
By: Froma Harrop, The National Memo, September 16, 2014
“When Moderates Fight Back”: Middle-Of-The-Road Republicans Are Now Attacking The GOP From The Outside
The missing component in the machinery of American politics has been moderate-to-liberal Republicanism, and the gears of government are grinding very loudly. You wonder if Kansas and Alaska have come up with a solution to this problem.
In Kansas, Democrat Chad Taylor shook up the Senate race by dropping out last week, giving an independent candidate, Greg Orman, a clean shot at the incumbent, Pat Roberts.
At least one poll showed Orman with a 10-point lead over the 78-year-old Roberts in a two-way race. Republicans are so afraid of Orman that Kansas’s Republican (and unabashedly ideological) secretary of state, Kris Kobach, used a technicality to keep Taylor’s name on the November ballot anyway. Taylor is challenging the decision.
In Alaska, Democrat Byron Mallott ended his candidacy for governor and chose instead to run for lieutenant governor on a ticket led by an independent candidate, Bill Walker. By combining forces, Walker and Mallott hope to oust Republican Gov. Sean Parnell.
Because of the revolution in Republican politics spearheaded by the tea party, these should not be treated as isolated episodes. They are both signs that moderates, particularly moderate Republicans, are fighting back.
The safe journalistic trope is that both of our major parties have become more “extreme.” This is simply not true. It’s the Republican Party that’s veered far off center. To deny the fact is to disrespect the hard work of conservatives in taking over the GOP.
By contrast, there are still plenty of moderates in the Democratic Party. They include Sens. Mark Pryor in Arkansas, Mark Begich in Alaska, Mary Landrieu in Louisiana and Kay Hagan in North Carolina. All of them are threatened in this fall’s elections by conservative or right-wing Republicans. Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia is another moderate on the ballot this year, but so far, he seems safe.
On the other hand, outright liberals have been losing primaries in the Republican Party since the late 1960s, particularly in Senate races. In the House, the few remaining liberal Republicans (one thinks of Maryland’s Connie Morella and Iowa’s Jim Leach) were defeated because Democrats in their districts finally decided that electing even Republicans they liked only empowered the party’s increasingly conservative congressional leadership.
As for the Republican establishment, it may have overcome many tea party challenges this year, but it is increasingly captive to the right wing.
This summer, conservative writers Rich Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru offered an insightful analysis of the tea party-establishment dynamic in an article in National Review appropriately titled “Establishment Tea.” Lowry and Ponnuru argued that the establishment candidates who triumphed did so largely on the tea party’s terms, though the authors put the matter somewhat more politely. “Candidates who make the case that they will fight for conservative ideas, and not just serve time,” they wrote, “can win tea-party support.”
What’s happening in Kansas is particularly revealing of the backlash against the right from moderate Republicans. Although Roberts is not a tea party candidate — indeed, he defeated a tea party challenger in last month’s primary — the Senate race could be influenced by the state’s contest for governor, one of the most important in the country.
Incumbent Republican Sam Brownback has championed an unapologetic tea party, tax-cutting agenda and has sought to purge moderate Republicans who opposed him from the state legislature. Many GOP moderates have responded by endorsing Brownback’s opponent, Democrat Paul Davis. A Brownback defeat would be a major blow to the right.
“The moderates have said, ‘I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore,’ ” said Dan Glickman, a moderate Democrat who represented the area around Wichita in Congress for 18 years. In an interview, Glickman argued that the rightward tilt is antithetical to the GOP’s history in Kansas, a state that sent both Bob Dole and Nancy Landon Kassebaum, in her day a leading GOP moderate, to the Senate.
“The Republican Party in Kansas was always a heartland, common-sense, moderate or moderately conservative party,” Glickman said, adding that at times, it has had a strongly progressive contingent as well.
Orman has been almost maddeningly disciplined in not revealing which party he would caucus with if he defeated Roberts. With national Republican operatives pouring into the state to save the three-term incumbent’s floundering campaign, the battle will get a lot tougher.
But already, Republicans are learning that the cost of driving moderates away could get very high. What middle-of-the-roaders could not accomplish inside the party, they may achieve by attacking from outside the gates.
BY: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 7, 2014