Divide and Conquer the Needy

Recent comments by North Carolina’s Republican Speaker of the House:

The Speaker said he isn’t convinced that the state budget this year doesn’t provide enough money for Health and Human Services. “That may be true,” he said, “Or the money’s not getting to the right people.”

“When you go in and you see a woman in a wheelchair – she’s from here, she’s from Asheville – who’s on the brink of losing her benefits, and you know that Health and Human Services is sending checks to a woman who has chosen to have three or four kids out of wedlock?”

“What we have to do is find a way to divide and conquer the people who are on assistance,” he told the crowd.

“We have to show respect for that woman who has cerebral palsy and had no choice in her condition, that needs help, and we should help. And we need to get those folks to look down at these people who choose to get into a condition that makes them dependent on the government, and say, at some point, you’re on your own. We may end up taking care of those babies, but we’re not going to take care of you.”

He also wants to institute drug tests for welfare benefits.  Well there you go, if your mom is an occasional drug user or is not married to your father, you probably didn’t really need those food stamps anyway.  Or wait, “We may end up taking care of those babies, but we’re not going to take care of you.”   Maybe Tillis is just advocating mass orphanages instead.  I’m sure that would be much more effective as public policy.

Here’s the deal, which Republicans never seem to get.  If you are going to help out truly needy people you are going to help out some undeserving people as well.  Just a fact of life.  That’s simply a “cost” that there’s no way around.  Deal with it.  I don’t actually like it either, but simply understand that this is a basic policy cost when you are dealing with human beings.  Unless, of course, you want to make so sure you are helping the “truly” needy that only a handful of them get the assistance they need.

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Just in case

you missed Rick Perry’s ad attacking Mitt Romney’s health care plan in MA, it’s a must-watch:

Just seems to be missing some explosions and a car chase or two in order to be a big summer blockbuster.

Economic myths

Kevin Drum had a great piece about 6 economic myths.  Not surprisingly, these are myths consistently pushed by the GOP and therefore falsely believed by a lot of people.  My favorite is myth #3:

There’s no greater orthodoxy in the Republican Party than unconditional fealty to tax cuts. In a recent GOP debate, when the candidates were asked whether they’d walk away from a deficit deal that included just $1 in tax increases for every $10 in spending cuts, every single hand shot up

But do lower taxes actually spur economic growth? Bruce Bartlett, an economist in the Reagan administration, has compared tax rates in various rich countries in 1979 to each country’s growth rate since then. His conclusion? There’s virtually no correlation.

Recent US history backs this up too. Bill Clinton raised tax rates in 1993, and Republicans insisted it would cripple the economy. Instead, the economy boomed. In 2001 and 2003, George W. Bush lowered taxes and Republicans insisted the economy would flourish. Instead, we got the weakest expansion of the past century. Republicans are simply wrong about taxes: Within reason, high tax rates don’t hinder growth, and low tax rates don’t stimulate it.  [emphasis mine]

Key point there– within reason.  The truth is raising our top marginal rate from 35% to 70% would quite likely be a bad thing for the economy.  But nobody’s talking about that.  We’re talking about a return to Clinton-era rates of 39.6%.  Likewise, cutting somebody’s top rate from 35% to 22% is not going to unleash astounding economic growth.  Now, a cut from 70%- 50% might really help, but that’s not the sort of changes we’re talking about.  At the margins we’re talking about, tax rates just aren’t that important a factor in the health of the economy.  Drum explains further:

But don’t high taxes reduce the incentive for people to work? Actually, no: For ordinary wage earners, participation in the job force and total hours worked barely respond to taxes at all. (According to tax specialists Joel Slemrod and Jon Bakija, this is “a rare example of a question on which there is a broad consensus among economists.”) The same is true for rich people. As a trio of prominent economists concluded last year after reviewing the literature, “there is no compelling evidence to date of real economic responses to tax rates” (PDF).

This is important stuff, it’s backed up by plenty of data and plenty of economists, but Republicans just keep blithely pretending otherwise.  The worst part is they seem to have snowed a good portion of the American public along with themselves.

The other myths are good, too.

Local elections in NC today

I’ll be hitting the polls just before closing time at 7:30– I always like to see how many people have voted in my precinct by the end of the day (record low, the time I made #11).  Anyway, if you are here in the Raleigh area and don’t know who to vote for, the NC Center for Voter Education– the area non-profit with the greatest leadership of any ever– has put together an absolutely fabulous voter guide.

More Pope

A few more thoughts on the Art Pope piece, which I still haven’t read in full, but did listen to Jane Mayer’s NPR interview.

1) There’s some real straw men in here.  Mayer focuses a lot on the case of conservative Democrat John Snow, who was brought down with the help of Pope’s money.   Of course, conservative Democrats were exactly those most vulnerable in 2010 because of their districts.  She gives several examples of the nasty and highly distorted mailers funded in part by Pope money.  Thing is, I’ve looked at a lot of campaign mail in my day, and these flyers– though appalling in their disregard for the truth– were simply politics as usual.   On a related note, a correspondent from the Locke foundation points out that almost none of Pope’s spending has anything to do with Citizens United.  I’m thinking that just makes a better journalistic hook.

2) The N&O’s Rob Christensen uses numbers to point out how the Mayer article really overstates the impact of Pope’s money (and in the interview, Mayer kept saying things like, “Pope and the foundations he’s associated with spent…”), which was quite useful, but Rob C ends with this:

Does Pope have the state in his back pocket as the cartoon caricature accompanying The New Yorker article suggests?

North Carolinians are a notoriously independent lot. I don’t believe the state is for sale, and I don’t think even a very rich man can buy it.

Really?  That’s sure a lot more faith in democracy than I’ve got.  North Carolinians are really independent so they can just ignore millions and millions spent to influence their political views?

3) I remembered that every spring when we head to the Brooks Avenue  Church of Christ spring carnival for Children with Special Needs and their Families the fabulous Easter Baskets they provide to all the kids, stuffed with toys, say “courtesy of Art Pope.”  Awesome. Good for him.  Thing is, though, he just helped elect a Republican legislature that dramatically cut funds to state programs that really help out these families.  Well, at least we’ve got our Easter baskets.

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