Gov Romney and Concern for the Poor

February 1st, 2012 at 3:07 pm

Mitt Romney is getting knocked about a bit today for saying that he is “not concerned about the very poor.”  Not quite “let them eat cake” but sounds bad, right?

Actually, what he seems to have meant, if you look at the context, is that he believes the least-well-off are amply provided for by the safety net.  He doesn’t worry about the rich, either—“they’re doing just fine.”

My first thought was: hey, I’m glad he recognizes the existence of and need for the safety net.  My second thought was…um…he’s gonna shred it!

Though Gov Romney recognized that “…we have food stamps, we have Medicaid, we have housing vouchers…” he neglected to make the following four points:

1) his budget slashes, and I mean SLASHES, domestic spending outside of defense.

2) he’s endorsed Rep Paul Ryan’s budget (now the House Republican Budget) which gets two-thirds of its $4.5 trillion in cuts from low-income programs (and uses the cuts to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy).

3) the Gov’s own tax plan actually raises taxes on those in the bottom fifth of the income scale (by $160 per year; by getting rid of a refundable credit for poor kids and cutting the EITC relative to current policy)—while cutting taxes for the top 0.1% of households (avg inc: $8.3 million) by about $460K/year.

4) he’s said he wants to block grant these low income safety net programs–i.e., instead of the federal program, states run it based on an annual grant, a fixed amount that does not go up or down based on need–and that’s a great way to rip some big holes in the safety net.

On #1 and #2, see here.  Remember those Ryan cuts I warned about above?  Well, according to my CBPP colleagues Van de Water and Kogan:

Governor Romney’s budget proposals would require far deeper cuts in nondefense programs than the House-passed budget resolution authored by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan: $94 billion to $219 billion deeper in 2016 and $303 billion to $819 billion deeper in 2021.”

Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) would face cumulative cuts of $946 billion through 2021. Repealing the coverage expansions of the 2010 health reform legislation, as Governor Romney has proposed, would achieve more than the necessary savings.  But it would leave 34 million people uninsured who would have gained coverage under health reform.

Cuts in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program) would throw 10 million low-income people off the benefit rolls, cut benefits by thousands of dollars a year, or some combination of the two.

On #4, if you want to see what block granting does to safety net programs, exhibit one is TANF.  My colleagues Donna Pavetti and Liz Schott point out that the program has become much less elastic to the business cycle.  In fact, its block grant has been frozen for 15 years!

The figure compares its responsiveness in the Great Recession to that of SNAP (formerly ‘food stamps’), a national program (not a block grant) which remains quite countercyclical.  But if Mitt block grants it, that will change.

It’s one thing—and it’s a good thing—to recognize the importance of the safety net in the economic lives of the poorest among us.  But it’s quite another indeed to go after it the way Gov Romney does in his budget endorsements and proposals.

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18 comments in reply to "Gov Romney and Concern for the Poor"

  1. cliot says:

    Does he recognize that he is talking about 46 million Americans, a number that is growing daily?

    To me it was more of a dog whistle to the Newt crowd ” I will worry about you, the Democrats will worry about the food stamp people”. In his “Marie Antoinetteness”, he does not realize that the middle class is now made up of “poor people”. No assets, no pensions, no healthcare, no housing.

  2. jonathan says:

    The sales pitch is that these measures will “create opportunity” and that anything else is an attempt to create “equal outcomes.”

  3. D. C. Sessions says:

    Pet Peeve:

    Theoretically in this country, we don’t have life titles. When JB and I were growing up, there were only two exceptions: military officers who retired with their separation ranks (thus my father would be “Colonel Sessions” if you wanted to be fussy) and former Presidents — and even US Presidents are properly addressed as “Mr.” or “Ms.” For everyone else, it’s a job title and when you’re out of the job, you hand the title over. Sam Palmisano is no longer “CEO.”

    As far as I can tell, the current practice of calling someone “dogcatcher Jones” traces back to one person: Sarah Palin, whose acolytes insist on calling her “Governor Palin” despite her having bailed on the job.

    And I would truly, truly appreciate it if we didn’t let this un-American practice get any more established than it already has.

    • Gary Dee, Portland, Oregon says:

      This goes back much, much, much further than Sarah Palin. I have often noticed that people will be referred to by their highest and/or best known title (Governor, Ambassador, Senator, etc.).

    • PeonInChief says:

      It’s standard in diplomacy for people to be known by their former titles–and after retirement by the most important one. Former Presidents are always given the honorific of Mr. President, and by extension, most other government officials (Senators, Ambassadors, Secretaries, Governors). Technically members of the House of Representatives are “Mr.” or “Ms.”, but they’re almost always called “Congressperson”.

    • Michael says:

      Yeah, you’re just incorrect on this one. “Governor,” “Ambassador,” and “Judge” are all titles it’s considered polite to keep.

  4. Will says:

    Republicans whine and Republicans b!tch:
    “The rich are too poor! And the poor are too rich!”

  5. PeonInChief says:

    Whenever people say stuff like that, you know that they cannot even conceive living on the kind of income they’re talking about. Middle class politicians of both stripes do this kind of thing all the time, suggesting that a family with an income of, say, $50K, can afford to pay more in taxes or fees or some such. I always want to say, okay, your family of four will live in Washington DC on an income of $50K for a year, and then you can tell us all about how they can pay more in taxes or whatever.

  6. MassachussettsLiberalinDC says:

    Excellent points. Most commentary today either focuses on the “gaffe” aspect (who would really think he meant he doesn’t care about poor people) or laments the tone-deaf character of the comment.

    My first reaction was “Romney just doesn’t understand”. This is a common accusation Romney hurls at the President and now it can be tossed back in his face.

    Romney’s comments are mainly about his concern for the “struggling” middle class, but aren’t the poor struggling as well? Romney seems to believe that the poor are not struggling because “we have a very ample safety net”.

    The comments do not simply highlight how tone-deaf Romney is, but rather how ignorant he is of the struggles and concerns of the poor and the near poor.

    *He is ignorant of the scope of poverty – seems to think less than 10% struggling with poverty
    *He is ignorant of the scope of the working poor and near poor – he constantly laments that 50% pay no income taxes
    *He is ignorant of the limited scope of the safety net – seems to think that we have “a very ample safety net” yet increases in tanf and snap did not keep pace with rise in unemployment
    *He is ignorant of the proposed gop cuts in the safety net – ryan plan cuts $2.9bil from safety net
    *He is ignorant of the magnitude of his own proposed cuts on safety net programs – discretionary spending cuts of 50% if defense, ssi, and medicare are exempted
    *He is ignorant of the needed special, temporary efforts of the obama administration to expand the safety net, keeping an additional 7 million people out of poverty
    *He is ignorant of the fact that his tax proposals hurt poor families by reducing the child and earned income tax credits
    *He is ignorant of class warfare arguments that conservatives make – “takers vs makers”
    *He is ignorant of the stigma raised by his rhetoric – in his stump speech the safety net becomes the “the welfare state”
    *He is ignorant of the struggles faced by the poor and near poor – the impact of poverty on health, nutrition and education
    *He is tone-deaf to the concerns of the poor and near poor – their concerns become “the politics of envy” and any discussion should be held in “quiet rooms”

    • cliot says:

      I would like to copy and paste your list each and every time Romney is mentioned. The point is that in his ignorance, he is full of arrogance. A toxic combination.

      • MassachussettsLiberalinDC says:

        Use the ignorance and arrogance wording with people you don’t think will take offense or with whom you don’t care if they get offended. But then again, conservatives love to throw the arrogant label at Obama, so I guess it is fair game.

        If you want to tone down the language you can employ Romney’s own turn of phrase and say “Romney just doesn’t understand the scope of poverty and his dismissive comment shows that he just doesn’t want to understand either.”

  7. readerOfTeaLeaves says:

    I find that I have to mull over some of these posts and attempt to ‘translate’ the numbers into something meaningful. The numbers are so huge that they lose meaning for me.

    So here was tonight’s effort, with the generous assistance of The Wikipedia. First, a few stats:

    I had to figure out ‘how many Americans is 34,000,000, so I have better idea of how many might lose insurance? The Wikipedia US States By Population Page shows 19 states’ worth. Eliminating the two lowest population states, the following state populations total 33,964,356: North Dakota, Alaska,  South Dakota, Delaware, Montana, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Maine, Hawaii, Idaho, Nebraska,  West Virginia, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Kansas, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Iowa.
    Color those states on a map, and you have over half the continental US losing health insurance.

    I then asked myself if I could make sense of the number ‘$4.5 trillion.
    Well, a billion = a thousand millions.
    And a trillion is a million millions.

    In 2011, the largest company on the planet, Apple Inc, listed revenues of $108.25 billion.

    In 2011, Google listed revenues of $37 billion.

    In 2011, the nation of India (pop 1.3 billion) had a GDP of around $4.5 trillion.

    So one interpretation-translation goes a bit like this:
    “Paul Ryan, who according to The Wikipedia has never owned, operated, or created a business, is telling us all how to cut the Federal budget. But Romney wants even bigger cuts. How big?

    Basically, he wants 19 states worth of Americans to forego health insurance. But whereas Paul Ryan wants to cut at a minimum ‘two and a half times Google’s entire 2011 revenues’ (Ryan’s $94 billion divided by Google’s $37 billion), Romney wants to cut the budget by almost six times Google’s 2011 revenues (Romney’s $219 billion/ Google’s $37 bn).

    And the total $4.5 trillion?
    That’s roughly equivilent to the entire 2011 GDP of a nation with four times the US population — India. So Romney (and Ryan) want to cut benefits by the rough equivilent of the entire GDP of one of the world’s most vibrant economies.

    I’m struggling to make sense of what these huge numbers actually mean, because it’s very hard for me to conceptualize numbers this large.

    But when I realize that we are talking about multiples of Google’s and Apple’s revenue (to say nothing of India’s GDP), in order to basically leave 19 states worth of Americans in a state of fear and danger, it makes my blood boil.

    I do with that those of us who are outraged at the current foolishness spouted by Paul Ryan and his acolytes would do a better job of ‘translating’ these vast numbers into more concrete, understandable meanings.

    I think it is essential, for I believe the safety of our society depends upon helping people make sense of these obnoxious notions and policy snake oil propositions.

    • Mike says:

      Elegant way to put it. And heartbreaking. Perhaps this is the kind of message that would actually stand a chance of being internalized by the masses.

  8. the buckaroo says:

    …Governments can err, Presidents do make mistakes, but the immortal Dante tells us that divine justice weighs the sins of the cold-blooded and the sins of the warm-hearted in different scales.

    Better the occasional faults of a Government that lives in a spirit of charity than the constant omission of a Government frozen in the ice of its own indifference…FDR 1936 Acceptance Speech

  9. NP says:

    Shouldn’t the correlation be para-cycle? (or some such word)

    Counter-cycle suggests SNAP goes down when unemployment goes up.

  10. Dave says:

    The Republican Party was founded in a civil war, and after the Civil War, presided over the “long depression’ of about 25 years. (This was originally called “the Great Depression” until the Great Depression of the 1930s came along, and this one lasted until World War 2. Republicans hate labor unions, and right today are in the process of busting them. Their hero, Ronny Raygun, showed them how. If the Republicans have their way, there will be no minimum wage, Social Securoty, medicasre, or FDR’s New Deal. SAVE OUR NATION–VOTE FOR OBAMA.