Sticking it to the poor, again

Sticking it to the poor, again

If you are poor, you must be lazy, right? Here in the United States of America, the land of milk and honey and gold-gilded streets, the only people struggling to make ends meet are those too shiftless to work, too irresponsible to save, too dumb to make good decisions, right? 

If you don’t believe that, you clearly haven’t read the Republican handbook. It lays out all that is right and good about America, where opportunities abound for all who are decent enough and hard-working enough to take advantage of them. If you’re not decent and hard-working, you don’t deserve public assistance. 

That hoary old conservative narrative is at work once again in Washington negotiations over raising the debt ceiling. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and his band of pseudo-fiscal-hawks are insisting on stricter work requirements for programs that benefit less affluent Americans — Medicaid, food stamps and cash assistance — as a way to reduce federal spending. 

They never tire of sticking it to the poor. They are never shamed by their hypocrisy. They never grow weary of carrying water for the wealthy. 

As a recap for those who haven’t followed the ins and outs of this soul-crushing drama, House Republicans are threatening not to raise the debt-ceiling, which would force the nation to default on its bills. These are bills already incurred or payments — such as Social Security and Medicare — already promised. The debt ceiling has nothing to do with future federal budgets, but that doesn’t seem to matter to the GOP. Nor does it seem to matter to them that default would likely prompt a deep recession.

It clearly does not matter to them that their hypocrisy is obvious: they had no objections when former President Donald Trump drove the federal debt into uncharted territory. A combination of necessary COVID-related spending and reckless tax cuts for the rich resulted in an increase of $7 trillion to the federal debt, about 22 percent of the total.

Suddenly, though, the debt matters to McCarthy and his ilk — as it does every time a Democrat holds the White House. Curiously, raising taxes on the rich is not a part of their proposed solution. Conservatives even tried to block money to hire more Internal Revenue Service agents to make sure the wealthy don’t cheat.

 Apparently, letting the rich get by with cheating is fine. I heard not one word from McCarthy and his House reactionaries when football great Brett Favre was implicated in one of the largest welfare fraud schemes on record. 

The GOP counts on the fact that many white Americans believe, incorrectly, that black Americans account for most welfare spending. That is not the case. Black Americans account for about 26 percent of food stamp recipients, about 19 percent of Medicaid recipients and about 29 percent of the recipients of cash assistance, known as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families.

Still, as the IRS recently acknowledged,  black Americans are much more likely to be audited than other Americans. One likely reason, according to IRS Commissioner Daniel Werfel, is that his agency focuses on tax returns from filers who claim the Earned Income Tax Credit, another program meant to benefit the less affluent. Far be it from me to mention systemic racism — that would be “woke” — but it does seem that government agencies are inculcated with the notion that black Americans are lazy cheats.

There are undoubtedly a few poor folks collecting government checks who don’t work as hard as they ought to, spend their small checks on frivolous purchases and even rip off the tax man when they can. But there are many, many more poor Americans who work every day at hard labor — cooking, cleaning, caring for the elderly in nursing homes — and still can barely pay for groceries. Some have more than one job. Many don’t get benefits such as health insurance. 

Meanwhile, the nation has nurtured countless billionaires who pay zero — zip, nada — in federal taxes. And at least one or two among the rich and famous are scandalous frauds and cheats. Why doesn’t McCarthy want to go after them?