Last week Republicans exposed their true colors.
They voted to cut nearly $40 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) which helps 47 million Americans purchase food. The reason, according to Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, is to "limit the public assistance program to those who qualify and close loopholes that have allowed people to game the system."
This fits with the Republican narrative that we are a nation of makers and takers. However, it should be noted that 84 percent of SNAP recipients are children, elderly or disabled. These are people who society does not expect to be full-time participants in the work force. The program also shows an excellent return on investment resulting in $1.73 of economic activity for every dollar spent. And as a safety net program it should come as no surprise that spending on SNAP increased as unemployment rose. That is what a safety net program is designed to do. Help people (and the economy) handle down times.
If Republicans really wanted to lower SNAP spending all they need to do is create jobs. But instead of serious discussions about how to get people back to work, we are stuck with cuts to important programs for the poor, a government shutdown over the debt ceiling, and 41 separate votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
And while closing loopholes and eliminating cheaters seems to be a popular idea when it comes to the poor, the same standards don't seem to exist for the rich. The House Energy and Commerce Committee, for example, recently voted 51-0 to make sure that doctors wouldn't have to experience any cuts to the money they receive from Medicare. This change will cost $140 billion over the next 10 years and at this point there are no plans to make any offsetting cuts. Cutting half of the $60 billion a year in Medicare fraud, some of which is perpetrated by the very doctors and other medical professionals this committee is bending over backwards to protect, would be a nice way to pay for something while eliminated those who game the system.
Senator Carl Levin, D-Mich., has proposed changes to the tax code that would close some offshore tax loopholes and generate $220 billion in additional revenue for the Treasury over the next decade. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that in 2009 the Pentagon weapons projects were over budget by a total of $296 billion.
The carried interest loophole that allows private equity firms to report their wages as capital gains and thus pay a much lower tax rates costs the Treasury around $1.3 billion per year or about $13.5 billion over 10 years.
These are just a small sample of the other areas Congress could focus on if they are really concerned about closing loopholes and eliminating those who game the system. But the reality is these representatives don't care about cutting loopholes, they believe that the bulk of the people who get public assistance are lazy moochers -- and that cutting off their funds will magically lead them to get jobs.
If the global downturn has taught us anything, it's that focusing on government spending instead of job creation has dire results. This obsession over punishing the poor for being poor may play well with the base but turning our backs on millions of Americans in their time of need not only hurts the economy but it makes these Republican politicians look like unpatriotic, elitist bullies.