GOP’s Chicken Lit­tle ap­proach won’t work

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - OPINION - BY RE­BECCA VAL­LAS Val­las is the man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of the poverty to pros­per­ity pro­gram at the Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Progress Ac­tion Fund. IN­SID­ESOURCES.COM

Re­mem­ber the old story about Chicken Lit­tle, the per­pet­u­ally ter­ri­fied 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 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,” Speaker Paul Ryan said on a ra­dio show in early De­cem­ber, as he was shep­herd­ing to­ward fi­nal pas­sage a tax bill that will add at least $1.5 tril­lion to the deficit.

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.

That’s also what’s be­hind their fo­cus on work re­quire­ments — which have noth­ing to do with help­ing any­one work. 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. Pub­lic as­sis­tance re­cip­i­ents ac­tu­ally use il­le­gal drugs at lower rates than their more wellto-do coun­ter­parts.

As with their deficits care mon­ger­ing, 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 at $7.25 an hour since 2009. Rais­ing it just to $12 per hour would save $52 bil­lion over the next decade, just in the Sup­ple­men­tal Nu­tri­tion As­sis­tance Pro­gram — 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. 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 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

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