Because Being Poor And Unemployed Is Just One Big Vacation

With all the moaning and groaning over ObamaCare in the mainstream press—including those godawful comparisons to Hurricane Katrina and the Iraq War—and with all the ridiculous coverage of that crazy, crack-smoking mayor in Canada, many people have forgotten about the unemployed in this country.

But Chad Stone, the Chief Economist at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, isn’t one of those people who have forgotten. Last week U.S. News and World Report published a piece he wrote, “The Unemployment Insurance Cliff.” It begins:

Unless the president and Congress act before the end of the year, more than a million Americans will have the plug pulled on their jobless benefits the week after Christmas, and many others who’ve recently become unemployed or will become unemployed next year will see them sharply curtailed.  That would increase hardship for those workers and their families, and it would be bad for the economy.

What he is talking about is the expiration of a program called Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC), which was created when George W. Bush was still president in June of 2008. The program, Stone says, “increased the number of weeks of federal emergency benefits as the Great Recession worsened in late 2008 and 2009.” And although it has been extended “several times” in order “to mount  a strong enough recovery to restore the labor market to normal health,” Republicans “want to kill the program.”

That’s a big surprise, isn’t it? Republicans want to kick folks off unemployment benefits? Who could have guessed that?

In any case, Stone posted this amazing graph:

As you can see, the Great Recession really was the Great Recession. And Stone reminds us that not only was that recession “so much worse” than previous recessions, but if it weren’t for unemployment insurance, the damn thing “would have been deeper and the recovery even slower.” Because, you see, unemployment insurance puts money in the pockets of folks who otherwise wouldn’t have it. And where does that money end up? Yes, it ends up going into the economy, which helps everyone, even rich everyones who own superstores like Walmart.

But Republicans have a theory about what that money really does, especially when it gets extended through programs like EUC. You know what their theory is called? The Great Vacation theory. Yes. That’s what economist Chad Stone calls it:

The “Great Vacation” narrative holds that unemployment insurance (UI) benefits — in particular, the added weeks of benefits for the long-term unemployed that Congress has funded in the past few years — have dissuaded millions of unemployed workers from taking a job.  If, then, jobless workers would get off their duff (or if we would give them a good swift kick there), unemployment would plummet.

The Great Vacation Theory of unemployment insurance has a cousin. It’s called the Hammock Theory, as in “the social safety net has become a hammock.” That has always been one of Rush Limbaugh’s favorite little digs at poor people. And perhaps you remember when Republican Paul Ryan, introducing his infamous budget-slashing plan to America in 2011, compared his plan to the so-called successful welfare reforms under Bill Clinton:

This budget extends those successes . . . to ensure that America’s safety net does not become a hammock that lulls able-bodied citizens into lives of complacency and dependency.

Yep, all those hungry kids that get food and health benefits from the government are living a life of leisure and, by God, Republicans are eager to help make them productive citizens by cutting the help going to their families.

Yep, all those elderly and disabled folks who get government help are endangering the country with their sloth.

Yep, those working poor who get such benefits as Ryan sought to cut don’t know they are lounging around in a hammock of “complacency and dependency” and it is up to Jesus-loving GOP lawmakers to push them out of their comfortable hammock and into…what?

Did you know, according to the Department of Agriculture, that in 2011:

Seventy-six percent of SNAP [the old “food stamp” program] households included a child, an elderly person, or a disabled person, and these households received 83 percent of all benefits.

Did you know that? And did you know this:

Nearly half (49 percent) of all SNAP households with children had earned income; 40 percent of single-adult households with children and 64 percent of married-head households with children had earned income. Four percent of all households with children had both TANF [the old AFDC program that provides a little cash to poor families with kids] and earned income.

That’s a helluva a hammock those folks are swinging in. I don’t know how they have time for all that “complacency and dependency” when they’re out there earning income, do you?

snap announcementIn any case, the Democrats stimulus plan passed in 2009 (remember the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act?) temporarily increased SNAP benefits to those hammock-loving kids and old folks and the disabled. But that temporary increase ended on November 1 and SNAP households have seen their meager benefits cut. And there ain’t no way on God’s GOP-governed earth that SNAP benefits will go up again. As CBPP put it:

Without the Recovery Act’s boost, SNAP benefits will average less than $1.40 per person per meal in 2014. 

That’ll teach those slackers!

And now, according to Chad Stone, we have Republicans wanting to kill emergency unemployment insurance because they believe it “has created a ‘Great Vacation’ in which workers prefer unemployment benefits to a job.”

Meanwhile, most of what you hear on TV news these days is either stories about a crack-crazed Canadian mayor, or how Democrats didn’t adequately foresee every possible problem with making our healthcare system a little more humane for millions upon millions of Americans.

And that, my friends, is how Republicans can do their dirty work and get away with it.

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Billy Long’s Shame

My congressman, Ozark Billy Long, has now voted to, in the words of Salon’s Richard Kirsch, “kill tens of thousands of people. Every year.”

Hear me out, people.

Republicans in the House passed Paul Ryan’s budget today by a vote of 221-207, with all Democrats voting against it. Ten Republicans, some of them because it wouldn’t inflict enough pain and misery and death on the country, also voted against it.

But Ozark Billy apparently considered the bill sufficiently painful to warrant his vote. The Associated Press reported today’s macabre theatrics this way:

WASHINGTON — The Republican-controlled House passed a tea party-flavored budget plan Thursday that promises sharp cuts in safety-net programs for the poor and a clampdown on domestic agencies, in sharp contrast to less austere plans favored by President Barack Obama and his Democratic allies.

And thanks to Barack Obama and his Democratic allies, Ryan’s budget will never get to do its killing, killing that is quantifiable because, as Richard Kirsch, pointed out:

when more people lack health coverage, more people die.

It is uncertain just how many people would be threatened by the Republican vote to, among other things, end ObamaCare and mangle Medicare and Medicaid, because we still don’t know how many Republican governors and Republican-dominated legislatures will refuse to expand Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

But we do know that studies have found that somewhere between 26,000 and 45,000 people die needlessly prematurely because they don’t have health insurance. And the Ryan-Long-Republican budget, if it were to become law, would see to it that the needless deaths continue.

Kirsch says,

I’ve grown tired of providing a veneer of respectability to people in power –people with good health insurance, coverage that provides them with access to the best medical care, and pays most of their bills – who deny their constituents a basic human right.

Yes, I’ve grown tired of it, too. Thus, today I say that Billy Long, my representative in Congress, voted to allow countless Americans to die needlessly, even if Democrats will see to it that some of them won’t have to.

And to further strip off the veneer, I say today that those of you who went to the polls last November and cast a vote for Billy Long bought yourself a share of his shame.

Republicans Win And Democrats Lose As Journalists Peddle False Equivalence

Well, it worked. Paul Ryan’s extremist budget offering has done its job. Now, the mainstream press can do what it does best—peddle false equivalency—and Republicans will be set to win major concessions from Democrats.

Pursuing the appearance of neutrality to the point of absurdity, journalists can now compare Ryan’s grim and sinister and obviously stillborn budget plan to the fair and sensible and potentially fruitful budget plan put out by Senator Patty Murray and the Democrats in the Senate. And when they make that comparison, using absurdist neutrality as their guide, the result will look like this:

It’s clear that both House Republicans and Senate Democrats have decided to lead with their worst budget offers first.

That was how NBC’s Chuck Todd, my favorite of the mainstream journalists, began his analysis this morning of the politics of the latest budget war. Todd’s opening this morning on The Daily Rundown illustrates perfectly how successful was Paul Ryan’s tactic of putting out a budget only Ayn Rand could love.

Both budget offerings, you see, are equally bad. Both are “their worst…first.” Both sides are equally guilty of extremism. I promise you that will be the message you hear from the mainstream press from now until the end, if there is an end, of this process. As if there is an exact symmetry between the two, as if the Senate Democrats’ budget was just as extreme as that monstrosity Paul Ryan authored.

Chuck Todd’s analysis ignores the fact (even though he pointed out the fact on his show this morning) that the Democrats are offering a budget that is essentially balanced between spending cuts and revenue increases, and it ignores the fact (even though he also pointed this fact out too) that Ryan offered us all spending cuts with no new revenue.

Can’t you see the symmetry? The fiscal and moral equivalence? The Democrats give us a mix of spending cuts and higher taxes on the wealthy and the Republicans give us a mix of spending cuts and, uh, spending cuts, with lower tax rates for the wealthy. What dreadful nonsense.

In Todd’s mind, those two positions represent “their worst budget offers,” and that is how he, as well as his mainstream colleagues, will present it to news consumers. He also said this morning:

Neither budget seems to reflect the reality of where things are in D.C.

Mind you that the “reality” in D.C. is that Democrats control the United States Senate and the White House, which is two-thirds of the governing apparatus. Todd’s analysis seems to define reality in a way that ignores the last election and the Democrats’ standing both in Washington and in the country, and if Democrats seek to get a fair and sensible budget deal they are, in Todd’s estimation, simply asking too much.

That is why I suggested on Tuesday that Democrats use their budget to demand free health care and a free college education for everyone. That would have been roughly the extremist equivalent of what Ryan did and it would have been a better place to begin negotiations, rather than start on essentially Republican budget-cutting turf.

But Democrats didn’t do that. They offered a balanced approach, which is why Paul Ryan and the Republicans are more politically savvy than Patty Murray and the Democrats, and why Democrats always end up sacrificing more than they should to reach a deal.

Fortunately, although he has lately been meeting with Republican lawmakers, President Obama hasn’t yet lost his way. He told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos:

I think what’s important to recognize is that– we’ve already cut– $2.5– $2.7 trillion out of the deficit. If the sequester stays in, you’ve got over $3.5 trillion of deficit reduction already.

And, so, we don’t have an immediate crisis in terms of debt. In fact, for the next ten years, it’s gonna be in a sustainable place. The question is, can we do it smarter, can we do it better? And– you know, what I’m saying to them is I am prepared to do some tough stuff. Neither side’s gonna get 100%. That’s what the American people are lookin’ for. That’s what’s gonna be good for jobs. That’s what’s gonna be good for growth.

But ultimately, it may be that the differences are just too wide. It may be that ideologically, if their position is, “We can’t do any revenue,” or, “We can only do revenue if we gut Medicare or gut Social Security or gut Medicaid,” if that’s the position, then we’re probably not gonna be able to get a deal.

obama and stephanopoulosHearing that was good news. And I heard other good news from the President, especially when he told Stephanopoulos—who like other mainstream  journalists has a major jones for the Republican talking point of a “balanced budget”—that,

No. We’re not gonna balance the budget in ten years because if you look at what Paul Ryan does to balance the budget, it means that you have to voucherize Medicare; you have to slash deeply into programs like Medicaid; you’ve essentially got to either tax middle-class families a lot higher than you currently are; or you can’t lower rates the way he’s promised. So, it’s really– you know, it– it’s a reprise of the same legislation–

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Balanced by any point?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: –that he’s put before. No. I think that there is a possibility. Look, balancing the budget in part depends on how fast you grow. You remember– you were in the Clinton administration. The reason that you guys balanced it was a combination of some tax hikes, some spending cuts, and the economy grew.

And, so– you know, my goal is not to chase a balanced budget just for the sake of balance. My goal is how do we grow the economy, put people back to work, and if we do that we’re gonna be bringin’ in more revenue. If we’ve controlled spending and we’ve got a smart entitlement package, then potentially what you have is balance. But it’s not balance on the backs of, you know, the poor, the elderly, students who need student loans, families who’ve got disabled kids.

That’s not the right way to balance our budget.

And that, my friends, is how any discussion about the Ryan budget should end.

_________________________________

Here’s part of the opening segment from Wednesday’s The Daily Rundown on MSNBC, oozing with false equivalence:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Free Pot For Everyone, And Other Budget Fantasies

Many liberals are criticizing Paul Ryan for essentially ignoring last November’s election results, as he released his third very dark, very Randian, budget resolution.

But it’s not that Ryan is acting as if the last national election didn’t happen. It’s that he is acting like he and Mittens actually won the damned election. In what can only be considered flat-out delusion (or that he intends to win a GOP primary in 2016), he offers the country a budget proposal that wouldn’t even become reality if Romney and Ryan had successfully duped a majority of Americans last November.

This monster would: repeal ObamaCare, slash Medicaid and food stamps, kill traditional Medicare, cut Pell grants, create lower tax rates for the rich—yet again. There is apparently no allowance for emergency spending on disasters, or the recognition that our infrastructure is crumbling and we need more not less money to fix it. Tax reform is part of the proposal, but we don’t know what the reforms are. The economic growth assumptions are also shrouded in mystery worthy of the ongoing papal conclave.

Not to mention the blinding hypocrisy of supposedly balancing the budget in ten years by using the $716 billion in Medicare cuts (used to help fund ObamaCare), cuts that Ryan and his fellow Republicans so famously campaigned against in both 2010 and 2012.

And not to mention the breathtaking dishonesty of using the $600 billion in revenue generated by Obama’s insistence on the restoration of the Clinton-era tax rates on high-income earners, which settled the fiscal-cliff nonsense this year.

This is not a serious proposal and Democrats in the Senate, who have now released details of their own budget, should revise their proposal in response to Ryan and the Republicans by including a series of people-pleasing goodies like: free health care, a free college education, forty acres and a Ford for all, a chicken in every pot, and some pot in every pipe.

Democrats can then start budget negotiations from there.

Chain Reaction

Chains, chains, shackles and chains
No matter what it takes some day I’m gonna break these
Chains, chains, shackles and chains
These love taking, heart breaking, cold, hard, lonely making chains

Patty Loveless

 love Joe Biden.

Gaffe-prone, yes, but his remarks in Danville, Virginia, yesterday were not a gaffe. It was honest metaphorical language describing what Democrats believe the budget choices Republicans have embraced would do to a large swath of Americans:

They’ve said it. Every Republican’s voted for it. Look at what they value and look at their budget and what they’re proposing. Romney wants to let the—he said in the first 100 days, he’s going to let the big banks once again write their own rules—unchain Wall Street.

They’re going to put y’all back in chains!

Romneyland was outraged, I mean, outraged! Mittens, who now holds the American record for telling the most lies in a presidential campaign before the conventions, said of the remarks,

his surrogates have made wild and reckless accusations that disgrace the office of the Presidency. Another outrageous charge came a few hours ago in Virginia. And the White House sinks a little bit lower.

I for one believe that using appropriate metaphors to describe what a bind many Americans would be in should Republicans take back the White’s House is long overdue. And for Republicans to say such talk disgraces the office of the Presidency is itself a disgrace, especially when one considers what Republicans have said about the President, strongly suggesting he is un- or anti-American.

From the beginning Mr. Obama has endured many nasty insults, whether it be Sarah Palin’s accusing him of “palling around with terrorists,” or Romney supporter Donald Trump suggesting he is not an American citizen—without a peep from Mittens—or whether it is Romney surrogate John Sununu saying the President’s roots are in the “political-slash-felon environment” of Chicago and that he wishes “this president would learn how to be an American.”

Indeed, Romney himself said Mr. Obama’s course for the country “is extraordinarily foreign.”

A simple metaphor to summarize what Democrats believe will be the results of Republican philosophy is not out of order. And the phony outrage expressed by Romney is laughable. Remember these remarks he made after he essentially became the Republican nominee:

With Obamacare fully installed, government will come to control half the economy, and we will have effectively ceased to be a free enterprise society.

Huh? Give me a break. What could be more outrageous than that? You’re ourtaged that someone uses a metaphor you don’t like and you accuse the President of killing free enterprise? And Romney wasn’t done:

This President is putting us on a path where our lives will be ruled by bureaucrats and boards, commissions and czars.

Chains, anyone?

“Laughable”

I don’t think people fully appreciate the nature of this budget.”

—Barack Obama, on the GOP budget plan

resident Obama’s extraordinary speech—all 4,700 words of it—given on Tuesday before the annual meeting of the Associated Press, involved some important truth-telling, most notably his saying this about the Ryan-Romney budget plan:

This is supposed to be about paying down our deficit? It’s laughable…

It is a Trojan horse. Disguised as deficit reduction plans, it is really an attempt to impose a radical vision on our country. It is thinly veiled social Darwinism. It is antithetical to our entire history as a land of opportunity and upward mobility for everybody who’s willing to work for it, a place where prosperity doesn’t trickle down from the top, but grows outward from the heart of the middle class. And by gutting the very things we need to grow an economy that’s built to last — education and training, research and development, our infrastructure — it is a prescription for decline.

Laughable. Trojan Horse. Social Darwinism. A prescription for decline. Ahhh, how sweet are the words of truth.

But there were other highlights in the speech.  The President treated us to “a partial sampling of the consequences” of the Ryan-Romney budget, which, he said, “proposes massive new cuts in annual domestic spending — exactly the area where we’ve already cut the most.”

And here (in full) is how Mr. Obama characterized Republican economics generally and the bad decisions that led to the Great Recession:

…research has shown that countries with less inequality tend to have stronger and steadier economic growth over the long run.

And yet, for much of the last century, we have been having the same argument with folks who keep peddling some version of trickle-down economics.  They keep telling us that if we’d convert more of our investments in education and research and health care into tax cuts — especially for the wealthy — our economy will grow stronger.  They keep telling us that if we’d just strip away more regulations, and let businesses pollute more and treat workers and consumers with impunity, that somehow we’d all be better off.  We’re told that when the wealthy become even wealthier, and corporations are allowed to maximize their profits by whatever means necessary, it’s good for America, and that their success will automatically translate into more jobs and prosperity for everybody else.  That’s the theory.

Now, the problem for advocates of this theory is that we’ve tried their approach — on a massive scale.  The results of their experiment are there for all to see.  At the beginning of the last decade, the wealthiest Americans received a huge tax cut in 2001 and another huge tax cut in 2003.  We were promised that these tax cuts would lead to faster job growth.  They did not.  The wealthy got wealthier — we would expect that.  The income of the top 1 percent has grown by more than 275 percent over the last few decades, to an average of $1.3 million a year.  But prosperity sure didn’t trickle down.

Instead, during the last decade, we had the slowest job growth in half a century.  And the typical American family actually saw their incomes fall by about 6 percent, even as the economy was growing.

It was a period when insurance companies and mortgage lenders and financial institutions didn’t have to abide by strong enough regulations, or they found their ways around them.  And what was the result?  Profits for many of these companies soared. But so did people’s health insurance premiums.  Patients were routinely denied care, often when they needed it most.  Families were enticed, and sometimes just plain tricked, into buying homes they couldn’t afford.  Huge, reckless bets were made with other people’s money on the line.  And our entire financial system was nearly destroyed.

So we tried this theory out.  And you would think that after the results of this experiment in trickle-down economics, after the results were made painfully clear, that the proponents of this theory might show some humility, might moderate their views a bit.  You’d think they’d say, you know what, maybe some rules and regulations are necessary to protect the economy and prevent people from being taken advantage of by insurance companies or credit card companies or mortgage lenders.  Maybe, just maybe, at a time of growing debt and widening inequality, we should hold off on giving the wealthiest Americans another round of big tax cuts.  Maybe when we know that most of today’s middle-class jobs require more than a high school degree, we shouldn’t gut education, or lay off thousands of teachers, or raise interest rates on college loans, or take away people’s financial aid.

But that’s exactly the opposite of what they’ve done.  Instead of moderating their views even slightly, the Republicans running Congress right now have doubled down, and proposed a budget so far to the right it makes the Contract with America look like the New Deal.  (Laughter.)  In fact, that renowned liberal, Newt Gingrich, first called the original version of the budget “radical” and said it would contribute to “right-wing social engineering.”  This is coming from Newt Gingrich.

And yet, this isn’t a budget supported by some small rump group in the Republican Party.  This is now the party’s governing platform.  This is what they’re running on.  One of my potential opponents, Governor Romney, has said that he hoped a similar version of this plan from last year would be introduced as a bill on day one of his presidency.  He said that he’s “very supportive” of this new budget, and he even called it “marvelous” — which is a word you don’t often hear when it comes to describing a budget.  (Laughter.)  It’s a word you don’t often hear generally. (Laughter.)

And perhaps my favorite part of the speech, because I have a soft spot for practical political philosophy, is Mr. Obama’s explanation of his view of government. If any voter out there wants to know how Mr. Obama understands the role of government in society, here it is:

Now, keep in mind I have never been somebody who believes that government can or should try to solve every problem. Some of you know my first job in Chicago was working with a group of Catholic churches that often did more good for the people in their communities than any government program could. In those same communities, I saw that no education policy, however well-crafted, can take the place of a parent’s love and attention.

As president, I’ve eliminated dozens of programs that weren’t working and announced over 500 regulatory reforms that will save businesses and taxpayers billions and put annual domestic spending on a path to become the smallest share of the economy since Dwight Eisenhower held this office, since before I was born.

I know that the true engine of job creation in this country is the private sector, not Washington, which is why I’ve cut taxes for small business owners 17 times over the last three years.

So I believe deeply that the free market is the greatest force for economic progress in human history. My mother and the grandparents who raised me instilled the values of self-reliance and personal responsibility. They remain the cornerstone of the American idea.

But I also share the belief of our first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, a belief that through government, we should do together what we cannot do as well for ourselves.

That belief is the reason this country has been able to build a strong military to keep us safe and public schools to educate our children. That belief is why we’ve been able to lay down railroads and highways to facilitate travel and commerce. That belief is why we’ve been able to support the work of scientists and researchers whose discoveries have saved lives and unleashed repeated technological revolutions and led to countless new jobs and entire industries.

That belief is also why we’ve sought to ensure that every citizen can count on some basic measure of security. We do this because we recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us at any moment might face hard times, might face bad luck, might face a crippling illness or a layoff. And so we contribute to programs like Medicare and Social Security, which guarantee health care and a source of income after a lifetime of hard work. We provide unemployment insurance, which protects us against unexpected job loss and facilitates the labor mobility that makes our economy so dynamic. We provide for Medicaid, which makes sure that millions of seniors in nursing homes and children with disabilities are getting the care that they need…

What leaders in both parties have traditionally understood is that these investments aren’t part of some scheme to redistribute wealth from one group to another; they are expressions of the fact that we are one nation. These investments benefit us all. They contribute to genuine, durable economic growth…

It doesn’t make us weaker when we guarantee basic security for the elderly or the sick or those who are actively looking for work.  What makes us weaker is when fewer and fewer people can afford to buy the goods and services our businesses sell, or when entrepreneurs don’t have the financial security to take a chance and start a new business.  What drags down our entire economy is when there’s an ever-widening chasm between the ultra-rich and everybody else.

Finally, Mr. Obama mentioned the tax breaks for the wealthy in the Ryan-Romney budget that, he says, amount to “at least $150,000 for every millionaire in this country — $150,000.”  I haven’t had time to verify the accuracy of the following claims by the President (this was actually the context for his “laughable” characterization), but here they are:

Let’s just step back for a second and look at what $150,000 pays for:

A year’s worth of prescription drug coverage for a senior citizen.

Plus a new school computer lab.

Plus a year of medical care for a returning veteran.

Plus a medical research grant for a chronic disease.

Plus a year’s salary for a firefighter or police officer.

Plus a tax credit to make a year of college more affordable.

Plus a year’s worth of financial aid.

One hundred fifty thousand dollars could pay for all of these things combined — investments in education and research that are essential to economic growth that benefits all of us.  For $150,000, that would be going to each millionaire and billionaire in this country.  This budget says we’d be better off as a country if that’s how we spend it.

If in November Democrats can’t defeat Republicans—almost all of whom have enthusiastically embraced “this budget”— by educating the public about the GOP’s “laughable” “prescription for decline,” then the country, with a Mitt Romney at the helm, will most certainly not be better off.

Unless, of course, you are one of the lucky few who will get that $150,000—three times the per capita yearly income in the United States—windfall.

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