Friday, February 3, 2012

Romney's unconcern about the very poor

Another week, another gaffe from Mitt Romney. This time, it's "I'm not concerned about the very poor."

Like "I like being able to fire people," this is made to order for being taken out of context. But just like that gaffe, there are big problems with his thinking even if you do consider it in context.

For example, here's Bloomberg (hardly a bastion of liberalism):
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s statement that the “very poor” don’t concern him comes at a time when the portion of Americans living in deep poverty is the highest in more than a generation while assistance varies widely and is often inadequate.

“Virtually any food bank in any city in America would tell you that they have not been able to keep up with the demand,” said Bill Shore, founder and chief executive officer of Share Our Strength, a national charity that fights childhood hunger. “That means more rationing of food, not allowing families to take as much as they would have before and being open shorter hours.”

More than 20 million Americans live in a household with income of less than half the federal poverty rate, the level social scientists often use as a category for the very poor, according to census data for 2010. Last year that meant an annual income below $11,057 for a family of four.

The portion of the population in that category was the highest in at least 35 years and has almost doubled since 1975, from 3.7 percent then to 6.7 percent in 2010.

At a time when the wealthy - and note that Romney was born into wealth - have made out like bandits, the percentage of Americans dropping into the "very poor" has nearly doubled. Don't you think a presidential candidate should care about that?

And here's the Atlantic:
The social safety net does a lot. But does it do enough?

To begin to answer that question, it's worth pointing out that today's social safety net isn't tomorrow's social safety net. The 99-week unemployment benefits will end as employment grows, and they should. Expanded income security measures will fall away as we whittle down domestic spending under the Budget Control Act of 2011 (the debt ceiling deal) and other laws. Republicans want to pare it back even further with cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and domestic spending.

This is what austerity does. It forces us to make tough choices about who wins and who loses. Mitt Romney has made his choice. His tax plan is basically today's tax policy with more support for businesses and investors, and less for the poor. First, he makes investment income tax free for the middle class. Second, he cuts corporate income taxes. Third, he repeals the estate tax. And fourth, he does not extend the tax cuts created by the 2009 stimulus bill, which Obama has proposed keeping. Romney's tax proposal would "raise taxes for households in the bottom two quintiles, relative to what they're paying this year," wrote Roberton Williams of the Tax Policy Center, even as it cuts taxes for middle class investors.

Romney's tax plan - indeed, the tax plans of all the  Republicans - would slash taxes on rich people like himself, even from his already low, low rate. He would cut taxes for the wealthy far more than for the middle class, and he would actually raise taxes for the poorest 40% of Americans.

And note that this is from a guy who makes more than $50,000 a day, without working. Yet he pays only 13.9% in federal income taxes (and since he's "unemployed," he pays nothing in payroll taxes).

Even if you don't take this out of context, even if you look at the full quote ("I'm not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs repair I'll fix it."), it's crazy, because Republicans like Romney are actually proposing to shred that safety net.

In fact, the right wing is also mad at Romney, just for suggesting that those "safety nets" do any good. And as Paul Krugman points out, Romney himself made that argument just a few days ago:
First of all, just a few days ago, Mr. Romney was denying that the very programs he now says take care of the poor actually provide any significant help. On Jan. 22, he asserted that safety-net programs — yes, he specifically used that term — have “massive overhead,” and that because of the cost of a huge bureaucracy “very little of the money that’s actually needed by those that really need help, those that can’t care for themselves, actually reaches them.”

This claim, like much of what Mr. Romney says, was completely false: U.S. poverty programs have nothing like as much bureaucracy and overhead as, say, private health insurance companies. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has documented, between 90 percent and 99 percent of the dollars allocated to safety-net programs do, in fact, reach the beneficiaries. But the dishonesty of his initial claim aside, how could a candidate declare that safety-net programs do no good and declare only 10 days later that those programs take such good care of the poor that he feels no concern for their welfare?

Also, given this whopper about how safety-net programs actually work, how credible was Mr. Romney’s assertion, after expressing his lack of concern about the poor, that if the safety net needs a repair, “I’ll fix it”?

Romney really isn't concerned about the very poor, or about the middle class, either. Do you think the middle class doesn't rely on Social Security and Medicare? Do you think the middle class doesn't ever need unemployment benefits?

Frankly, a lot of the lower middle class is desperately concerned about dropping into that "very poor" category themselves. All it would take for many of them would be losing a job in this terrible economic environment of  high unemployment. All it would take is a medical emergency, especially one not covered in what health insurance they can afford. But Republicans actually want to raise their taxes!

This is a gaffe, but it isn't just a gaffe. Republicans actually think this way, and it's especially wrongheaded now, after decades of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.

But as I've noted many times before, Republicans are faith-based, not evidence-based. They believe what they believe, and they'll never change course, because evidence means nothing to them.

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