What About the Needy?

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, January 25, 2008; 1:26 PM

Is the economic stimulus package announced yesterday really a bipartisan victory? Both sides are certainly calling it that. But it's also a testament to how far President Bush has skewed Washington's political climate to the right.

Democrats and Republicans agreed last week that this would be a good time for the government to give away vast sums of money.

And yet the Democratic leadership is considering it a victory that some small portion of the money will actually go to people who need it. The vast majority will go to the middle and upper-middle class.

What did Bush give up in the course of these tough negotiations? Well, originally he wanted the super-wealthy to get some of the money. He wanted the poor to get nothing. He also wanted his tax cuts, which heavily favor the rich, to be made permanent.

That is what we call a compromise in this day and age.

Because social justice is essentially off the political radar in the Bush era -- and because both parties are prone to pandering to the middle class during an election year -- Democrats never even tried to get White House agreement on a stimulus package that would significantly help the needy. An option that could have had a hugely positive social impact, while effectively stimulating the economy, never had a chance.

Looking to the Real World

The Washington press corps didn't seriously consider what $150 billion might have meant to people living in the margins of our society.

The closest thing I could find to a serious treatment of that question was in South Dakota.

Kevin Woster writes in the Rapid City Journal: "Mari King, a 25-year-old pregnant mother of two, who relies on food stamps and income-based housing, didn't qualify for the tax rebate of up to $800 per qualifying individual that was initially proposed by President Bush. And it was unclear Thursday whether she would be covered by an expanded assistance plan being negotiated by congressional leaders to give smaller checks, possibly about $300, to virtually anyone who earns a paycheck.

"As an asthmatic with other health issues who is currently out of work, King relies on government assistance to get by. She said she and her children have daily financial needs that could be helped by a few hundred dollars.

"'It would do a lot,' she said as she selected free food items at the food pantry on North Maple Ave. in Rapid City. 'There are things I'd like to buy for my kids that I can't buy. I could do some thing for them that I can't do now.' . . .

"King hopes she isn't forgotten in the negotiations. So does her mother, Bridget Defender, who now lives on disability payments and other assistance, including food from the food pantry. Defender hopes federal officials won't overlook her as they develop the financial-stimulus package.

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