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Reforming Welfare and Gutting the Poor: A Bipartisan Platform

8:57 am in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Charles McCain/Flickr/Creative Commons

Originally posted at In These Times

The Romney camp’s new attack line on the Obama administration–that he “gutted” the work requirements imposed on families receiving public assistance–has been widely debunked as a distortion of a mundane policy memo. But the real scandal here isn’t what Obama did or didn’t do to “workfare”; it’s that both parties have gutted the welfare system as a whole to conduct a cruel social experiment on impoverished families.

As many watchdogs have pointed out, the memo in question from the Department of Health and Human Services basically offers states more flexibility to meet mandatory targets for moving people off of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and into gainful employment. This program, administered jointly through federal and state agencies, is the central plank of Clinton-era welfare reform, and its principal political aim has always been to reduce the statistical presence of the poor, not alleviating their poverty.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), as welfare reform approaches its Sweet Sixteen, TANF’s track record contrasts bitterly with that of its predecessor, AFDC, which Reaganite conservatives had savaged as undeserved entitlement:

Washington’s Debt Panic and the Real Social Debt in America

10:48 am in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

DonkeyHotey via flickr

Cross-posted from In These Times

In the wake of the Congressional Supercommittee’s collapse, we finally have consensus on both sides of the aisle: the lawmakers orchestrating the partisan drama are, behind the scenes, happy to collaborate on destroying economic security for all but the wealthiest Americans.

Though the debt hysteria made good political theater, the main immediate impact on the budget is simply to prolong the sense of doom hovering over struggling households. The budget problem those families face isn’t some theoretical future debt crisis but the possibility of losing unemployment checks when a year-end legislative deadline hits.

Federally funded unemployment benefits, which conservatives dismiss as a fluffy cushion for the shiftless poor, have been a lifeline for some 17 million Americans in the past three years. In addition to helping individual households pay their bills, the benefits have had a ripple effect on cities and towns battered by an anemic job market,  “contributing nearly $180 billion in hard cash to those communities struggling with severe unemployment,” according to a report issued in October by the National Employment Law Project. Read the rest of this entry →

Scant Room for Equity in Obama’s Talking Points on Jobs

7:16 am in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Photo by Kevin Lamarque-Pool/Getty Images

Cross-posted from In These Times.

President Obama’s jobs speech before Congress struck an uncomfortable balance between the art of the possible and the sophistry of defeatism.

The speech did offer some serious ideas about reinvigorating the stagnant economy. But for all the talking points—from infrastructure investment to initiatives to promote hiring of veterans and the long-term unemployed—his eloquent words sidestepped the ideological barriers imposed by Washington’s reactionary ideologues. Meanwhile, the groups suffering the worst of the economic crisis—the poor, people of color, single women—may be hurt more by his careful omissions than they’d be helped by his proposals.

First, it’s far from clear whether the initiatives laid out in the speech, particularly the tax-cutting provisions, would make a significant dent in unemployment. The Progressive’s Matthew Rothschild points out that the structure of Obama’s highlighted payroll tax cut could be considered “regressive,” in that the bonus will be weighted toward the pockets of higher income-earners rather than the working poor.

More broadly, the pitch for cautiously modest, though earnest, stimulus measures seemed designed to ease the path toward more deficit slashing and cutbacks on social programs in the long run. The subtext appears to be a drive toward austerity and “entitlement reform”—pivoting toward conservatives who routinely demonize “nanny state” institutions like Social Security and Medicare. So despite rhetoric that pundits praised as “Trumanesque” and “fiery,” celebrating historic public works and exhorting Congress to cooperate for once, the speech was silent on the institutional pillars that should buttress any job creation plan. Read the rest of this entry →

Washington’s Anti-Regulatory Crusade, and Why Your Job Hasn’t Killed You Yet

12:42 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Carol Simpson Cartoonwork

Cross-posted from In These Times

On the campaign trail, Republican presidential hopeful Rick Perry is spreading the gospel of Perrynomics—a magical job-creation formula based on minimal government regulation of industry, combined with tiny tax rates and tight controls on lawsuits. In a state that seems inclined to cannibalize its own government, this agenda plays well. But a closer look reveals the high price of low regulation.

In recent months, politicians in both parties, including the White House, have claimed that scaling back regulations would unleash economic growth, suggesting that businesses should be liberated from rules that protect the environment, occupational health and other public interests. But a new analysis by Public Citizen presents a few unsung gems of federal bureaucracy that help keep us happy, healthy and sane. Several of these regulatory chart-toppers, not surprisingly, were enacted in defiance of heavy political pushback:

Clearing the Air. Since the days of the Lowell mills, so-called “brown lung” has been a hallmark of the miserable toil of poorly ventilated, dust-clogged textile factories. The disease, also known as Byssinosis, has historically hit women especially hard, spreading its signature coughing and lung scarring to thousands of workers around the world. The epidemic was virtually ignored until the 1960s and 1970s. Then came OSHA’s 1978 rule requiring more lung-friendly machinery, and within a few years the prevalence of brown lung in the industry fell by an estimated 97 percent. And employers’ grumbling about the “costs” of the rule faded when it became clear that the reforms improved the industry’s efficiency as well. Read the rest of this entry →