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“Returning To The Days Of Recalcitrance”: Rubio Demands States’ Right To Ignore The Poor

For a senator who likes to hold himself out as the future of the Republican brand, Marco Rubio has come up with a remarkably retrograde contribution to the party’s chorus of phony empathy for the poor: Let the states do it.

All anti-poverty funds should be combined into one “flex fund,” he said in a speech on Wednesday, and then given to the states to spend as they see fit. He actually believes that states will “design and fund creative initiatives” to address inequality.

“Washington continues to rule over the world of anti-poverty policy-making, with beltway bureaucrats picking and choosing rigid nationwide programs and forcing America’s elected state legislatures to watch from the sidelines,” he said. “As someone who served nine years in the state house, two of them as Speaker, I know how frustrating this is.”

Do-nothing legislators in states like Mr. Rubio’s Florida feel frustrated precisely because most federal safety-net programs are designed to limit the ability of states to refuse to help their less fortunate residents. As Lyndon Johnson knew from personal experience in 1964, when he began the War on Poverty, states could not be trusted to properly address the poverty in their midst. Or, to put it another way, certain states could be trusted to yell and scream and fight to the end for their right to do as little as possible.

One of the great achievements of the War on Poverty programs was to extend the safety net to the South, where white legislators saw little reason to spend taxpayer dollars on the basic needs of poor citizens, most of whom were black. Southern lawmakers in Congress fought for the right of governors to veto grants made possible by the Economic Opportunity Act, one of the centerpieces of the War on Poverty, and Southern governors exercised those vetoes repeatedly. But Sargent Shriver, director of the Office of Economic Opportunity, overrode those vetoes, bypassing the governors and sending anti-poverty money directly to the local agencies and community groups that could do some good with it.

If you think those days of recalcitrance are over, take a look at the map of the states that have refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. The list of 25 includes every one of the states that seceded from the union, with the exception of Arkansas, which is doing only a partial expansion. (Virginia is likely to accept the expansion after its newly elected Democratic governor, Terry McAuliffe, takes office later this week.)

But long before “Obamacare” became a curse word among Republicans, most of those same states were already stingy with their spending on Medicaid, which lets states determine who is eligible for the program. The 16 states that restricted Medicaid to those making half or less of the federal poverty line included the usual cast of characters: Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia. The most generous states — giving Medicaid benefits to those at the poverty line or higher — were clustered in the Northeast and the upper Midwest, along with California.

That’s undoubtedly fine with Mr. Rubio and other Republicans who see nothing wrong with a country that is a patchwork of generosity and indifference.

“It’s wrong for Washington to tell Tallahassee what programs are right for the people of Florida,” Mr. Rubio said. “But it’s particularly wrong for it to say that what’s right for Tallahassee is the same thing that’s right for Topeka and Sacramento and Detroit and Manhattan and every other town, city and state in the country.”

That battle, though, was fought and lost by Southerners 50 years ago, just as they lost a far bloodier states’ rights battle a century earlier. The country long ago came to the conclusion that economic rights, just like voting rights and criminal rights, had to be uniform. As much as it might frustrate Mr. Rubio, people should not be made to suffer just because they were born in an uncaring state.


By: David Firestone, Editors Blog, The New York Times, January 9, 2014

January 10, 2014 - Posted by | Marco Rubio, Poverty | , , , , , , ,

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