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GOP's Message to Struggling Americans: Drop Dead

01/08/2014 05:14 pm ET | Updated Mar 10, 2014
  • Jonathan Weiler Director of Undergraduate Studies in Global Studies, UNC Chapel Hill

As the calendar turns to 2014, millions of Americans face the growing disaster of long-term unemployment, lack of access to affordable health care and persistent poverty. Particularly disgraceful is that among children, that figure exceeds 20 percent, the highest of all wealthy countries. And lest anyone think "poverty" means "living high on the hog" in the United States, the poverty line for a family of four is in the neighborhood of $22,000 a year.

So what is the Republican response to those grinding realities? In a nutshell: "we're going to do everything in our power to keep it that way."

Of course, except in their more honest moments, party leaders and office holders would never say that. But their attempts at coy messaging aside, this remains the clear meaning of their actions.

For example:

1) Republicans insisted on cutting money for food stamps, in spite of the fact that the cuts, which have a minimal impact on the budget deficit, have an enormously adverse effect on millions of families, whose average benefit is about $250 a month.

Emblematic of the GOP approach to such matters is Steve Fincher, a Republican congressman from Tennessee. This past year, Fincher defended his support for cutting food stamps by saying that, according to the Bible, "if you don't work, you don't eat. (Shockingly, Fincher appears to have mangled the context and meaning of the quote). Of course, Fincher is a farmer who has raked in $3.5 million in federal subsidies. I say "of course," because by this point no one on the planet should be surprised by this kind of shameless hypocrisy from the party of "fiscal responsibility" and "limited government."

2) GOP-controlled states have also decided not to accept Medicaid expansion as part of a larger effort at obstructing Obamacare. The rejection of Medicaid expansion by about half the states is as senseless and cruel a policy decision as we've seen in recent years. The fiscal impact on the states of expansion, given the funding mechanism, is minimal (which is why some GOP governors have taken to lying outright about the costs of expansion).

In fact, the expansion arguably might well positively benefit the states' budgetary picture. The rejection also means that tens of thousands of new jobs will not be created (in North Carolina alone, it's been estimated that rejection of Medicaid expansion will deprive the state of 25,000 jobs). And most fundamentally, as many as five million people will be denied health insurance as a consequence. In fact, the rejection of Medicaid expansion illustrates well some of the core pathologies of the contemporary GOP -- hatred of the less well-off coupled with cynical and empty professions of concern with job creation and balanced budgets.

3) Republican opposition to extending unemployment benefits is similarly motivated. The evidence is clear -- the long-term unemployed generally don't want to be out of a job; they face bleak employment prospects; the impact of the benefit cut off will be severe; it will not improve their job prospects and, as an added bonus, it's bad for the economy more broadly.

All of this and more represents a policy package reflecting a worldview born of contempt for the less well off and explains why Republicans are especially apoplectic about the flawed but major initiative to fortify our already tattered social safety net -- Obamacare. Don't believe for a second the GOP's crocodile tears about people having their policies cancelled, or rates jacked up. Both have been realities of health insurance in the United States for decades and today's Republican leaders uttered nary a peep about them until they could disingenuously blame Obamacare for those long festering problems (disingenous not because Obamacare hasn't brought on some of those problems, but today's crop of Republican leaders never gave a rats ass about either longstanding issue until roughly three months ago). Republicans' special hostility to Medicaid expansion and determined efforts to sabotage it wherever they've had the leverage to do so exposes the lie clearly, since Medicaid expansion involves neither jacked up rates nor cancelled policies -- only a real commitment to extend coverage to previously uncovered adults who lack the means to obtain health insurance on their own.

In sum, nothing about the persistence of the serious hardships facing millions of Americans, worsened by longer-term trends and exacerbated by the after effects of the disastrous 2007 financial crisis has moved the party one iota. The GOP remains as determined as ever to perpetuate the concrete suffering of large numbers of Americans.

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