Back to previous page


Republican policies don’t care about poor people

By Ezra Klein,

I’m not saying that congressional Republicans don’t care about poor people. But they really care about rich people. So far, the policy agenda they’ve pushed has been a mixture of very expensive tax cuts for the very wealthy and very deep cuts to a lot of programs that focus on the very poor. It’s . . . curious.

Think back to the tax deal. The GOP’s demands were: 1) the extension of the Bush tax cuts for high-earners; and 2) a massive cut in the estate tax. Put together, the two items will increase the deficit by close to a trillion dollars over 10 years. If the GOP had wanted, they could’ve used that money for more tax cuts for the poor, or even the middle class. The Obama administration would’ve happily signed onto that compromise. But Republicans did not want that. If we were going to increase the deficit, we were going to do it on behalf of the wealthy.

Now they’ve moved onto deficit reduction, or at least spending cuts, and their priorities in the 2011 budget are telling. Their cuts are coming from non-defense discretionary spending. That’s a category of spending, as you can see here, that tends to focus on services to the poor, the jobless and children. Among other cuts, they’ve proposed slicing more than $1 billion off Head Start, $1.1 billion off the Public Housing Capital Fund, $752 million from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, or WIC, and $5.7 billion from Pell Grants. I could, of course, go on. Democrats have tried to widen the cuts out to other categories so their impact falls less heavily on the disadvantaged, but so far, Republicans have refused. If we’re going to cut spending, we’re going to do it on the backs of the poor.

As for the 2012 budget, we know Social Security is being left alone, and we know Medicaid — which is to say, health care for poor people — is taking a $1 trillion cut. If we’re going to reform entitlements, it seems, we’re going to start with the one that serves the poor.

It’s very difficult to argue that these programs are the most wasteful in the federal government. The Pentagon is burning through a lot more cash than Head Start. Medicare spends much more for health services than Medicaid. The mortgage-interest tax deduction is regressive, as is the deduction for employer-based health care, but as of yet, Republicans haven’t proposed reforming either. Again, I’m not saying Republicans don’t care about poor people. But so far, their policy proposals don’t. And you can’t chalk it up to an appetite for sacrifice, because for all that the GOP is asking from the poor, they’ve fought hard to protect the rich from having to make any sacrifices. So far, it’s been program cuts for the poor and tax cuts for the rich. It’s a disappointing set of priorities.

© The Washington Post Company