January 24, 2013

Morning Line: The GOP's secret weapon

Sam Smith - For the past three decades, the Republican Party has used a remarkably successful secret weapon against Democrats: make them scared of being Democrats. To the extent that the Democrats have a platform today it is "Look how awful the Republicans are," which is true enough but hardly sufficient to get a lot of people to vote for you.

Worse, many Democratic politicians have repeatedly deserted their party's beliefs and tried to present themselves as just more rational conservatives. The first president to do this with a vengeance was Bill Clinton.

One of his prime sell outs was his assault on welfare. It was a failure but that hasn't stopped the new Democratic House speaker in Maine from proposing a similar program of semi-indentured servitude for welfare recipients. And doing at a time when, as the Bangor Daily News, notes: "Maine’s estimated unemployment rate in December was 7.3 percent, which was little changed from 7.2 percent in November, but an increase from the state’s December 2011 unemployment rate of 7.0 percent. Nationally, only six states experienced increases in their unemployment rates between December 2011 and December 2012, while 42 states and the District of Columbia posted declines in the unemployment rate."

In other words, blame the poor for not having a job, which used to be something you only heard from Republicans. These Democratic politicians have redesigned their party to be based on fear of the opposition, which is a lousy way to win the game. 

In the midst of his defense of Obama, not one to miss a chance to give himself a little back-pat, Clinton said of the ’90s reforms: “This is personal to me. We moved millions of people off welfare. It was one of the reasons that in the eight years I was president, we had a hundred times as many people move out of poverty into the middle class than happened under the previous twelve years, a hundred times as many. It’s a big deal.”

But while welfare reform may have initially reduced poverty, it left those still living at that income level worse off than they were before, reaching fewer of them and giving those it did reach less. And our poverty rates didn’t stay low. When they began to rise again, the program couldn’t offer them the support it used to. The recession has been a crystal clear, and incredibly painful, demonstration of this fact.

Wikipedia - Three assistant secretaries at the Department of Health and Human Services, Mary Jo Bane, Peter B. Edelman, and Wendell E. Primus, resigned to protest the law. According to Edelman, the 1996 welfare reform law destroyed the safety net. It increased poverty, lowered income for single mothers, put people from welfare into homeless shelters, and left states free to eliminate welfare entirely. It moved mothers and children from welfare to work, but many of them aren't making enough to survive. Many of them were pushed off welfare rolls because they didn't show up for an appointment, because they couldn't get to an appointment for lack of child care, said Edelman, or because they weren't notified of the appointment.

Feminist critics, such as Barbara Ehrenreich, said that PRWORA was motivated by racism and misogyny, using stereotypes of lazy, overweight, slovenly, sexually indulgent and "endlessly fecund" African-American welfare recipients. PRWORA dismissed the value of the unpaid work of raising a family, and insisted that mothers get paid work, "no matter how dangerous, abusive, or poorly paid."

Portland Press Herald - House Speaker Mark Eves announced  that he has submitted his first major legislative initiative, a bill designed to ensure that welfare recipients are ready for the work force.
The bill will test the Democratic speaker's ability to gain support from Republicans and Gov. Paul LePage. Republicans have called for reductions and changes to the state's welfare programs, often arguing that the programs are too generous and don't create incentives for recipients to find work.

At last year's Republican State Convention, LePage famously told the crowd, "To all you able-bodied people out there, get off the couch and get yourself a job." The comment drew a standing ovation from the crowd.

Eves' bill, which has not yet been printed, aims to make sure recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families get the "tools and training necessary to enter the work force and secure long-term employment."

We know the best anti-poverty program is a job," Eves said in a prepared statement. "The 'Ticket to Work' bill will help more Maine families climb into the middle class -- rather than fall out of it."

Just a reminder: Eves is a Democrat. -TPR

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