Shameful! My congressman voted to cut food stamps!
Adam Kinzinger, the Republican who represents my district in the U.S. House, should ponder what Timothy Egan has to SAY about a certain matter:
Late Thursday, despite pleas from Catholic bishops and evangelicals, the Republican-dominated House passed a bill that would deprive 3.8 million people of assistance to buy food next year. By coincidence, this is almost the exact amount of people who have managed to remain just above the poverty line because of that very aid, the Census Bureau reported a few days ago.
A Republican majority that refuses to govern on other issues found the votes to shove nearly 4 million people back into poverty, joining 46.5 million at a desperation line that has failed to improve since the dawn of the Great Recession. It’s a heartless bill, aimed to hurt. Republicans don’t see it that way, of course. They think too many of their fellow citizens are cheats and loafers, dining out on lobster.
Certainly there are frauds among the one in seven Americans getting help from the program formerly known as food stamps. But who are the others, the easy-to-ignore millions who will feel real pain with these cuts? As it turns out, most of them live in Red State, Real People America. Among the 254 counties where food stamp use doubled during the economic collapse, Mitt Romney won 213 of them, Bloomberg News reported. Half of Owsley County, Ky., is receiving federal food aid. Half.
You can’t get any more Team Red than Owsley County; it is 98 percent white, 81 percent Republican, per the 2012 presidential election. And that hardscrabble region has the distinction of being the poorest in the nation, with the lowest household income of any county in the United States, the Census Bureau found in 2010.
Since nearly half of Owsley’s residents also live below the poverty line, it would seem logical that the congressman who represents the area, Hal Rogers, a Republican, would be interested in, say, boosting income for poor working folks. But Rogers joined every single Republican in the House earlier this year in voting down a plan to raise the minimum wage over the next two years to $10.10 an hour.
The argument holding back higher pay — a theory that Republicans accept without challenge — is that raising wages for the poorest workers would be bad for companies, and bad for hiring.
But experience debunks this convenient political shelter. Washington State has the highest state-mandated minimum wage in the country, $9.19 an hour, and an unemployment rate that has been running below the national average. It’s not all Starbucks, Amazon and Microsoft in Seattle, either. In the pine-forested sliver of eastern Washington, a high-wage state bumps right up against low-wage Idaho. Fast-food outlets flourish in Washington, the owners have said, because they can retain workers longer, while Idaho struggles to find qualified people to hold entry-level jobs.
Costco, they of the golf-cart-size containers of gummy bears, has long paid wages and benefits well above the industry average for big-box stores, and it hasn’t hurt the bottom line. The stock is up 79 percent over the last five years. Costco, to its credit, is urging Congress to raise the minimum wage. But that’s one big business Republicans will not listen to, because it breaks with the heartless credo of the new G.O.P.
The movement for higher minimum pay is raging through the states just now, with ballot initiatives and legislation plans. The people, in this case, will have to circumvent a Congress bent on actively trying to hurt the poor.
Republicans have more pain in store for their base in poor white America. Shutting down government, for one, will cause a ripple effect that will be hardest on those living paycheck-to-paycheck. The biggest obsession, the Moby-Dick of the right wing, is making sure millions of people do not have access to affordable health care. This week, Republicans drew the line for any doubters: they will wreck lives to blow up the health care law.
You have to wonder where this animus for those in the economic basement comes from. It’s too easy to say Republicans hate the poor. Limousine liberals can seem just as insensitive. And if Republicans were offering some genuinely creative approaches to helping the 26 million Americans who self-identified as “lower class” in a recent survey, they would deserve a listen. Tax cuts, the party’s solution to everything, do nothing for people who pay no federal income tax.
What’s at work here is the poison of ideology. Underlying the food assistance fight is the idea that the poor are lazy, and deserve their fate — the Ayn Rand philosophy. You don’t see this same reasoning applied to those Red State agricultural-industrialists living high off farm subsidies, and that’s why Republicans have separated the two major recipient groups of federal food aid. Subsidized cotton growers cannot possibly be equated with someone trying to stretch macaroni into three meals.
But Republican House leaders do have some empathy — for themselves. National Review reported this week that Representative Phil Gingrey, a hard-right conservative who wants to be the next senator from Georgia, complained in a private meeting about being “stuck here making $172,000 a year.” To say the least, he doesn’t yet qualify for food assistance.