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Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Romney on the very poor

Journalists and activists are gleefully dissecting Romney's comments about the "very poor," but the real story is his proposed policies regarding the safety net he claimed he would "fix."  The only reporting I heard that went beyond the sound bite to the substance behind it was on Lawrence O'Donnell's MSNBC show.  We need to stop focusing on the horse race and spend more time learning about what these candidates really plan to do if they're elected.

Here's one commentary on Romney's actual policy proposals regarding the safety net:

Democratic operatives are pouncing on Mitt Romney’s statement to CNN that he’s not concerned about the “very poor.” His context is that we already have a safety net for the very poor, and he wants to focus on the middle class. This may be unstated, but it’s the dominant perspective of everyone who runs for President. That’s because the middle class votes at higher rates than the very poor. Furthermore, about 80% of the country considers themselves middle class, a logical impossibility but one that gets exploited by Presidential campaigns. If you say you want to focus on the middle class, you’re effectively talking to the whole electorate, regardless of whether or not they will be helped by your proposals.

In this case, however, I think it’s fair to say that Romney isn’t concerned about the very poor because his policies exhibit a lack of concern for the very poor. Despite the fact that the full quote was “I’m in this race because I care about Americans. I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I’ll fix it,” a glance at his policy prescriptions shows that he wants to “fix” the safety net for the people who pay it, not for those provided services from it.

. . . Mitt Romney thinks the problem with the safety net is that it’s too generous and the rest of the country cannot afford it. So he would cut Medicaid, gut the part of the budget that includes Section 8 housing and a host of other federal safety net programs, and reduce the workforce that provides the services, making it more difficult for recipients to get the benefits. Cutting programs to the poor, then, is the goal. That’s how benefits in general terms from federal spending, which is what Romney wants to cut significantly (by about 25%).

In fact, Romney brought up almost all the programs cited above, the ones he wants to cut, as a reason why the safety net is working: “We have a very ample safety net and we can talk about whether it needs to be strengthened or whether there are holes in it, but we have food stamps, we have Medicaid, we have housing vouchers. We have programs to help the poor, but the middle-income Americans there are the folks that are really struggling right now and they need someone that can help get the economy going for them.” Right, and so he has as major parts of his plan the block-granting of Medicaid, which will drastically reduce spending on it, and cuts to the budget that includes housing vouchers and food stamps, and cuts to the workforce administering those programs.



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