Remember the old story about Chicken Little, the perpetually terrified little chicken convinced the sky was falling, and that life as we know it (for us chickens, anyway) was coming to an end?
Republicans in Congress certainly do, because it’s long been their playbook on deficits.
Except in their version of the story, Chicken Little throws huge millionaire and corporate tax cuts at the sky to make it fall, thus manufacturing the “deficit crisis” he wants as cover for the next phase of the GOP’s Robin Hood-in-reverse agenda: slashing vital programs that help everyday Americans make ends meet.
Their deficit-exploding tax bill hadn’t even been signed into law before Republicans’ amnesiac cries about the deficit (that they suddenly remembered they’re supposed to hate) hit a fever pitch.
“We’re going to have to get back next year at entitlement reform, which is how you tackle the debt and the deficit,” said Speaker Paul Ryan on a talk radio show in early December, as he was shepherding a tax bill that will add at least $1.5 trillion to the deficit toward final passage. The hypocrisy is so brazen, it would almost be admirable if it weren’t so nefarious.
It’s no mystery why Republicans adopted Chicken Little as their party’s mascot long ago. They know their best chance at cutting popular programs is to convince the public — and their counterparts across the aisle — that cuts are “unavoidable” in the name of deficit reduction.
Meanwhile, in a time-honored linguistic sleight of hand, they’re trying to smear everything from Medicaid to nutrition assistance to affordable housing programs as “welfare” in need of “reform.”
Make no mistake: Slashing Medicaid, Medicare, nutrition assistance, affordable housing, disability benefits and other programs that help families afford the basics isn’t “welfare reform” any more than giving huge tax cuts to billionaires and wealthy corporations is “tax reform.”
Rather, it’s part of a carefully calculated strategy to reinforce myths about who these programs help, complete with a trusty racist dog-whistle.
That’s also what’s behind their focus on work requirements — which have nothing to do with helping anyone work. (Spoiler: Taking away jobless workers’ health care, housing or food isn’t going to help them find work any faster.) It’s about making people who turn to public programs to make ends meet into modern-day welfare queens who “just don’t want to work.”
Ditto the GOP’s obsession with drug testing. (Spoiler: Public assistance recipients actually use illegal drugs at lower rates than their more well-to-do counterparts.) But hey, no better way to stigmatize people who turn to assistance than to make them all out to be “addicts.”
As with their deficit-scaremongering, they know their best chance of cutting popular programs is to reinforce ugly myths about the people they help — when in reality it’s most of us at some point in our lives. When wages aren’t enough. When we lose a job. When we can’t get enough hours at work. When we need to care for a sick loved one.
Case in point: Fully 70 percent of Americans will turn to a means-tested assistance program to make ends meet at some point during their lives.
If Republicans really wanted to see fewer people needing to turn to public programs to make ends meet, they’d embrace raising the poverty-level minimum wage, which has remained stuck at $7.25 an hour since 2009. In fact, raising the federal minimum wage just to $12 per hour would save a whopping $52 billion over the next decade, just in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly called Food Stamps) — because more low-wage workers would earn enough to be able to feed their families without food assistance.
But slashing critical programs has no more to do with “welfare reform” than it does with addressing the deficit Republicans claim to hate (when it serves them). Rather, it’s the latest chapter in the GOP’s quest to funnel money upward to themselves and their donor class — paid for on the backs of everyday Americans.
What they aren’t counting on this time around is the American people connecting the dots and seeing their craven hypocrisy for what it is — just in time for November’s midterm elections.
Rebecca Vallas is the managing director of the poverty to prosperity program at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. She wrote this for InsideSources.com.