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“Paul Ryan’s Glossy New Poverty Plan”: Not Much Doubt What The Effect On Poor People Will Be

Every year or so Paul Ryan comes up with a glossy new plan to deal with poverty or spending on social programs. The plans never go anywhere, but they’re not really intended to: They’re designed to make the Republican Party (and Mr. Ryan himself) appear more thoughtful than it actually is on these subjects.

The one he released today is somewhat better than previous efforts, in that it doesn’t propose massive cuts in overall spending (unlike his House budgets), and would even increase the Earned Income Tax Credit, one of the government’s most successful anti-poverty programs. Democrats have also embraced a larger credit, although unlike Mr. Ryan, they would pay for it by raising taxes on the rich rather than slashing federal nutrition programs that Mr. Ryan thinks are a waste of money.

But the lack of seriousness in the plan is demonstrated by its supposedly big idea: It would combine 11 of the most important federal poverty programs into something called an “opportunity grant” that would be given to the states to spend as they see fit. The eliminated programs would include food stamps, what remains of the welfare system (known as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families), Section 8 housing vouchers, and low-income heating assistance, among others.

This technique should sound familiar. Members of Mr. Ryan’s party have spent years promoting the idea that states can do things better than Washington. As Rick Santorum repeated endlessly in 2012, “Cap it, cut it, freeze it, and block-grant it to the states.” Mr. Ryan’s running mate that year, Mitt Romney, would have turned all of Medicaid into a block grant system dumped onto the steps of 50 state capitols.

Putting programs like food stamps into a block grant means they could not be expanded on a national basis during economic emergencies, when unemployment or poverty soars. If a state were to have a budget crisis, perhaps due to tax cuts, social spending would be the first to go.

The broader problem is the sharp division between the states, which exposes the gap between Mr. Ryan’s attempt at high-mindedness and the petty grievances of the Republican majority. The proponents of these consolidation ideas know that while blue states would shoulder their responsibilities and protect their poorest residents, many red states would not. If Washington were not in the anti-poverty business, Republicans would have an opportunity to reduce spending on social programs in about half the country.

The attitude of red states toward social spending has been made brutally clear by their reaction to the Affordable Care Act. In 36 states, lawmakers refused to set up health care exchanges, putting the insurance subsidies for poor people at risk if a recent court decision is upheld. And only 27 states, including the District of Columbia, have agreed to expand their Medicaid programs. The effect on lowering the number of uninsured people in states with expanded programs is clear, but lawmakers elsewhere don’t care.

In Florida, the Republicans who rule the state have not created exchanges or expanded Medicaid, and have offered nothing to the 760,000 state residents with no insurance. The state has even banned volunteers who were helping poor people sign up for the federal exchange. The president of the Florida Senate, Don Gaetz, summed up the prevailing attitude perfectly this week: “As long as I serve in the Senate, I will never support the state of Florida serving as the instrument by which individuals and businesses are forced into a federal mandate to purchase a health insurance product they may not want.”

Mr. Ryan would never say so, but the real effect of his plan is to turn over a series of highly successful federal poverty programs into the hands of Don Gaetz and other anti-government ideologues. There’s not much doubt what the effect on poor people would be.

 

By: David Firestone, Taking Note, The Editorial Page Editors Blog; The New York Times, July 24, 2014

July 26, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Paul Ryan, Poverty | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Setting The Bar For Sleazoid Antics”: Florida Legislature Approves Ethics Reform — No Joke!

Promise not to laugh?

An ethics bill was passed last week in Tallahassee.

It’s no joke. The Florida Legislature unanimously approved a law designed to clean up its own sketchy act, and that of elected officials all over the state.

Gov. Rick Scott says he’s “reviewing” the bill. To veto it would be an act of profound cluelessness, but remember who we’re talking about.

The ethics legislation is significant because the concept of enforcing ethical behavior is so foreign to Florida politics. Decades of well-publicized misdeeds and flagrant conflicts of interest have failed to make a moral dent.

A few years ago, lawmakers went through the motions of establishing something called a Commission on Ethics. Most Floridians were unaware of its existence, for good reason. It was a total sham.

The panel could place monetary fines on elected officials for ethical violations, but it wasn’t empowered to collect those fines, which on paper have surpassed $1 million over the last 10 years. Nobody had to pay, so nobody took the commission seriously.

This year things changed. Senate president Don Gaetz announced that ethics reform was a top priority. His bill flew through the Senate on the very first day of the Legislative session.

The House sent it back, after some tweaking by Speaker Will Weatherford, and the new version was adopted without a dissenting vote by the full Legislature.

If Scott signs the bill into law, the Commission on Ethics will actually be able to collect the fines it imposes on wayward officeholders — even garnish their wages, if necessary.

Among other provisions, lawmakers would be banned from voting on any bills that might enhance their own personal finances. While in office, they wouldn’t be allowed to accept any government job. Once out of office, they’d be prohibited from lobbying state agencies for two years.

Such restrictions seem rather basic, even tame, until you consider that we’re basically starting from scratch. In Florida, the bar for sleazoid antics has been set very high.

The impetus for reform isn’t mysterious. As Republicans, Gaetz and Weatherford have seen their party stained by scandals.

Gaetz is from Okaloosa County, home to former House Speaker Ray Sansom. In 2010 Sansom resigned from the Legislature because of ethics complaints and an ongoing corruption probe.

Just two months ago, former GOP chairman Jim Greer pleaded guilty to five felonies, including grand theft and money laundering, in a case involving extravagant misuse of campaign funds and the party’s American Express cards.

Greer’s plea avoided an embarrassing trial that would have sent top Republican politicians to the witness stand. Having dodged that bullet, party leaders then had to watch their lieutenant governor, Jennifer Carroll, abruptly resign after being linked to an Internet gambling cafe operation.

That company, Allied Veterans of the World, allegedly pocketed millions of dollars in charity funds that were supposed to be earmarked to help military veterans. It also donated gobs of money to the election campaigns of many Florida legislators, Republicans and Democrats.

Such headlines tend to produce a climate of fresh ethical awareness.

An interesting component of the new bill is the two-year ban on lobbying after leaving office. Traditionally, politicians who don’t want regular jobs become lobbyists when they return to private life.

House Speaker Weatherford’s predecessor, Dean Cannon, incorporated his own lobby firm a month before exiting the Legislature, and he hit the ground running. All perfectly legal, at the time.

Lots of other ex-House speakers and retired Senate bigshots are also lobbyists, schmoozing former colleagues on behalf of high-paying corporate and municipal clients. This revolving door ratifies the average voter’s cynical view of state government as a game fixed by insiders.

Although two years isn’t very long to wait between serving in public office and privately cashing in, any wait is better than what we’ve got now.

Ethics reform will be only as good as its enforcement, and history tells us not to have high hopes. This legislation is not without wiggle room and loopholes, including a provision for blind trusts that would allow officeholders to conceal the details of their wealth.

However, the bill at least puts some strong words on paper, and opens a pathway for prosecutors.

To help clarify the details and reduce the chances for future indictment, every elected official would be required to take annual ethics training.

You’re laughing again, right?

Sure, there’s something absurd about having to train a politician to be ethical. But, hey, if they can teach a cat to play the piano….

 

By: Carl Hiaason, The National Memo, April 30, 2013

May 1, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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