After reading this rather dramatic article from Paul Krugman about the referendum wrapped up in this coming election, I can’t help but wonder how far to the margins politicians are willing to go in order to represent the America they believe in. Are they betraying that vast majority of Americans who remain in the ideological center?
Listening to the debate about unemployment and the economy, BirrarungMarr is confused about the priorities of certain politicians and their policy prescriptions. Is the aim to reduce poverty or assistance for the impoverished? Even before the election, disagreements over funding for Medicaid (the government health program for the poor) were reaching fever pitch. It is hard to find a congressman who speaks about the human cost over the dollars and cents. Similarly, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, aka Food Stamps), has an uncertain future since Congressional Republicans picked a fight over funding priorities.
The referendum Mr Krugman writes about might be one about not just about the shape and composition of the Federal Government in society (read: the New Deal), but about the very delineation that separates what is American and what is not.
Is it unAmerican to be poor?
For starters, look at the language used to describe the poor, huddled masses that America used to welcome. It is now becoming vogue to describe these individuals as part of Americas ‘entitlement problem‘. Never mind the fact that entitlements have increased in proportion with the number of people living in poverty. According to last years census, America now has 46.2 million citizens living in poverty – roughly one in six Americans. For Perspective, that is more than double Australia’s population.
The war on the poor, rather than on poverty can be found elsewhere. The Romney-Ryan tax plan is the most blatant example. It would see those earning under US$30,000 per year pay $360 in income tax. This figure alone is short-selling the real cost. Currently, those below the poverty line (US$22,811 p.a) get around $4000 in the form of a tax refund, in addition to assistance programs like SNAP. The Ryan budget would, therefore, see the poorest Americans cough up a cumulative $4360 per year, even while it slashes benefits and reduces funding for nutritional and other programs.
Equally troubling is the vicious fighting over the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), condescendingly referred to as Obamacare. Despite the Supreme Court approving its constitutional legality, Republicans still clamor to see it ‘repealed and replaced‘. Depressingly, this would once again hit the poor, who are set to receive vouchers, discounts and guaranteed coverage under the ACA.
Perhaps it’s not all bad news. The election has seen much debate over jobs and job creation. However, BirrarungMarr cannot understand the obsession some congressmen have over repealing or reducing benefits for the poor. How is it class warfare to raise taxes on the rich but ‘fiscal discipline’ to cut federal assistance for the poor? The election needs to confront the growing ranks among the poor if it is to truly deal with its perceived entitlement problem.