Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Republican class warfare

It's hard to believe that Republicans can get ordinary people to vote for them, isn't it? Well, that's one of the reasons why they emphasize those culture war issues.

It's why they sucked up to white racists in their "Southern strategy." It's why they encourage Christian dominionists and other true believers. It's why they love those single-issue "pro-life" voters (and why they were so careful not to actually do anything about abortion when they held all three branches of the federal government during the Bush years).

They've always thought to use those people to get what they really wanted. These days, true, the tail sometimes wags the dog. But mostly, that's just rhetoric. If you look at what Republicans actually do, it's overwhelmingly aimed at benefiting the rich.

What has been the result? From Newsweek:
Class warfare is a politically charged term these days, from the Wall Street protests to the Capitol Hill negotiations over curtailing the nation’s debt. But a new congressional analysis, obtained by Newsweek, may fuel populist outrage by showing the extent of government subsidies that go to the wealthiest people in America.

From unemployment payments to subsidies and tax breaks on luxury items like vacation homes and yachts, Americans earning more than $1 million collect more than $30 billion in government largesse each year, according to the report assembled by Sen. Tom Coburn, a Republican from Oklahoma, who is so often at odds with members of both parties that colleagues call him “Dr. No.” The Internal Revenue Service provided the data showing how much money was going to the much-referenced top 1 percent.

In all, millionaires receive hefty help from Uncle Sam. The $30 billion in handouts, to put it in perspective, amounts to twice as much as the government spends on NASA, and three times the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency. On the other hand, it would only cover the cost of fighting about three months in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Note that Tom Coburn is a terrible senator, anti-science and about as loony as they come. But to his credit, he is one of the very few Republicans who supports raising taxes to pay down the deficit - and not just on the poor and middle class, either. (Anyone whose "nemesis" is Grover Norquist can't be all bad, I suppose.)

Clearly, there is class warfare, and the rich - thanks to their hordes of Republican cannon-fodder foot-soldiers - have been winning, hands down. You'd think that, after the Bush administration, we wouldn't have much to worry about from Republicans for generations to come. It's hard to imagine why anyone would vote for them these days, isn't it? Incredibly, that's just not the case.

But let's look at the other side of things. Did we really lose the war on poverty, as Ronald Reagan claimed? I always thought that we just surrendered without much of a fight. In fact, we wanted to lose, so that we'd have an excuse to stop spending money on it.

(Oddly enough, that's exactly the opposite from our reaction to military spending, isn't it? We want to find wars to fight - any wars, even for no reason at all - so we have an excuse to spend more money on "defense."

(Note, in the excerpt above, the cost difference between NATO and the EPA, whose budgets Republicans want to slash for "deficit-cutting" reasons, compared to the truly astounding cost of their wars, which Republicans started for no good reason, and without raising taxes to actually pay for them. The entire budget of the Environmental Protection Agency is burned up every month in Afghanistan!)

Anyway, to some extent, we're still waging war on poverty, if not very vigorously. Is it all futile? Check out this article from Miller-McCune:
This week, the Census Bureau released its first report on the new Research Supplemental Poverty Measure (so-called because the existing “official” poverty measure will live on, in part due to the political mess of discarding it). The data reveal a slightly counterintuitive picture: More people are living in poverty than thought — by about 2.5 million — but the new measure also shows government anti-poverty programs are making a difference.

“It was Reagan who made the crack about the war on poverty ‘and poverty won,’ and I think to some degree, there is that popular perception,” said Elizabeth Lower-Basch, a senior policy analyst with the Center for Law and Social Policy. “It is in part because the official poverty measure doesn’t capture what are two of the largest anti-poverty programs, particularly for families and children at this point.”

These are the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps. The official poverty measure makes no distinction between families who are helped by these programs and those who aren’t.

“I think people get a sense that poverty’s out there, it’s sort of endemic, and public policy can’t really do much to affect it,” Lower-Basch said. “But public policy really does matter. This measure does a better job of reflecting that.”

Note that the old poverty measure will continue, "in part due to the political mess of discarding it." Well, when politicians want to believe that poverty-relief is useless, they don't want anything which will contradict that.

But for the rest of us, it's better to have these things separated out, so we can see what works and what doesn't. Faith be damned, I want evidence! And in this case, well,...
One of the most interesting charts the Census Bureau produced in this week’s report is this one (click to enlarge):

Because the supplemental measure now takes into account a litany of new expenses and benefits, researchers can remove individual pieces from the equation to isolate their impact. This graph illustrates that the Earned Income Tax Credit has the single largest effect on reducing poverty. If the federal government didn’t offer it, the poverty rate would be about two percentage points higher than it is now.

On the other end of the spectrum, medical-out-of-pocket expenses — or MOOP — has the single largest effect on dragging people into poverty. Were it not for these expenses, the poverty rate would be more than three percentage points lower.

Now, there may be better ways to fight poverty, but of the programs we have now, the Earned Income Tax Credit seems to have the biggest effect. And note that this benefits only the working poor.

But how do Republicans characterize it? They rant and rave about how half the country doesn't pay any taxes at all! Obviously, that's either a complete lie or just misleading, depending on how it's phrased. Even if you're just talking about federal taxes, the working poor pay plenty of payroll taxes to support Social Security and Medicare, two of the biggest parts of the federal budget.

And Republicans have no problem at all with corporations and millionaires paying no income taxes. From that first article I mentioned: "More than 1,500 millionaires paid no income tax last year, according to federal records, mainly due to tax loopholes and savvy accountants." But Republicans have been fighting like hell against President Obama's proposed "Buffett Rule."

On the income side of things, Republicans campaign for a flat tax or a "fair" tax or a 9-9-9 plan - all designed to make the poor and middle class pay more in taxes while the rich pay less.

On the expense side, the biggest effect on "dragging people into poverty" is out-of-pocket medical expenses. Note that the Earned Income Tax Credit just helps the working poor, but when it comes to medical expenses, senior citizens have the huge advantage of Medicare.

So what's the reaction from Republicans? First, they fight tooth and nail against any kind of health care reform which might lower expenses - even against their own plan, when it's adopted by Democrats, which requires people to have health insurance (hardly "socialism," is it?).

And second, one of the first things they did after taking control of the House of Representatives last fall (after promising to "defend" Medicare from the Democrats) was to propose ending Medicare!

Now, I realize that the American middle class doesn't give a damn about the poor - not until something happens which threatens to drag them down there, too. But Republican policies are designed to harm the middle class, too.

How will you make out, once you're retired - if you can retire - desperately trying to find an insurance company willing to cover hospitalization for the elderly, especially with vouchers which won't come anywhere near the cost of it? That biggest contribution to poverty - out-of-pocket medical expenses - will then be your concern, too.

And if you're not on Medicare now, you'll know how medical expenses are skyrocketing. My own health insurance goes up every year at a truly astounding rate. But Republicans fight tenaciously against any reforms at all.

All of this seems clearly aimed toward helping the rich, especially the super-rich. Look at those graphs in the above video clip again. How can Republicans get more than 1% of the vote, when they're determined to help only the top 1% of our nation, at the expense of the rest of us?

Well, that's one reason why they focus on "culture war" issues. If you believe them when it comes to things like that, you'll tend to believe them when it comes to trickle-down economics. These help-the-rich economic policies have just become one of the right-wing's cultural identifiers.

All too often, it's a package deal. You're faith-based, you're anti-abortion, you hate gays and distrust racial minorities,... and you support economic policies which favor the rich. Well, you know which side you're on, and "your side" favors those economic policies. So, obviously, the other side must be pushing socialism when they want the wealthy to pay a little more.

I guess I know which side I'm on, too. But as far as I can see, the Republicans are just flat-out wrong about pretty much everything. That doesn't necessarily mean the Democrats are right, but they're sure far closer than their opponents. (And when Democrats are wrong, it's usually because they're too much like Republicans.)

I just do not understand how anyone can support the Republicans - especially after the disasters of the Bush years. Even the rich would be better off, in the long run, with policies which were fair to everyone. But it's easy to believe what you want to believe, isn't it?

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