Saturday, September 21, 2013

Their Economic Agenda

It's a Republican dream come true.

Or it would be a Republican dream come true, if it had any chance of passage.  On Thursday, House Republicans, with one dissenting vote in their caucus, steered to narrow approval a bill which the New York Times described as

written under the direction of the House majority leader, Eric Cantor, Republican of Virginia, would cut $40 billion from the food stamp program over the next 10 years. It would also require adults between 18 and 50 without minor children to find a job or to enroll in a work-training program in order to receive benefits.

It would also limit the time those recipients could get benefits to three months. Currently, states can extend food stamp benefits past three months for able-bodied people who are working or preparing for work as part of a job-training program.

“This bill makes getting Americans back to work a priority again for our nation’s welfare programs,” House Speaker John A. Boehner said.

The bill would also restrict people enrolled in other social welfare programs from automatically becoming eligible for food stamps.

In addition, the legislation would allow states to require food stamp recipients to be tested for drugs and to stop lottery winners from getting benefits. The Senate farm bill also contains a restriction on lottery winners.

Notwithstanding John Boehner's inference that he finds "getting Americans back to work a priority," the jobs crisis in the nation does not emanate from lazy Americans but from an insufficient number of jobs. As Digby noted of food stamp recipients, "the problem is that they are hungry, not that they are being fed."

It is heartening to discover a new-found love among Repubs for job training, though states may be discouraged when they find that most poor people are adults with minor children, or the children themselves, not the well-bodied adult males allergic to work, as they imagine.

But what is really impressive is that the bill serves conservative interests not only in cracking down on the poor and increasing their numbers by cutting food stamp benefits.  It also requires childless adults to find employment (or go to training for non-existent jobs), wherein they can compete with other people for jobs with stagnant wages and diminishing benefits.

The value in putting more individuals in the labor force, putting downward pressure on wages, cannot be lost on Repubs.   Their corporate base understands, as reflected in the letter representatives of more than 100 companies sent on September 10 to Speaker Boehner and Minority Leader Pelosi in which they urged passage of comprehensive immigration reform. After many of them laid workers off last year, they now claim "many of our companies continue to have difficulty finding sufficient American workers to fill certain lesser-skilled positions."  Sure they do.

Steven Pimpare, in A People's History of Poverty in America, was prescient.  According to Salon's Andrew O'Hehir, Pimpare explained that opposition to food stamps, disability insurance and similar programs

serve to disguise another kind of economic agenda- labor markets matter to the beneficiaries of anti-relief ideologies and cutting off access to and or decreasing its value help to lower wages.  In fact, those nations and even those U.S. states with  more generous socila support tend also to have higher wages. High unemployment and stingy benefits area boon to employers, since a desperate worker is a cheap and compliant worker.

While agricultural subsidies remain protected, the recipients- and their children- of food stamps are the primary victims of what is only the most recent effort by the GOP to increase income inequality, already higher now than in any industrialized nation in history. Republicans view their latest victims as only collateral damage.  But let's not lose sight of their goal.  The party's corporate base is depending on it.

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