Editorial April 29, 2016

TheWeekinCongress.com

Editorial

Rather than an editorial this week we are publishing a press release from the House Minority Whip’s office regarding the recent release by House Republican leadership ‘Strengthening Our Safety Net to Empower People’. 

We highly recommend you read that lengthy document before or after reading the opinion that follows.

To: Editors, Editorial Writers, Reporters

From: Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer & Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Chair of the Democratic Whip Task Force on Poverty, Income Inequality, and Opportunity

Re: The Republican Study Committee’s Misleading Report: Strengthening Our Safety Net to Empower People

Date: April 26, 2016

Late on Friday, the Republican Study Committee (RSC) released recommendations for Speaker Ryan’s six Republican task forces. While the recommendations to all six task forces are deeply troubling, the recommendations for the Task Force on Poverty, Opportunity, and Upward Mobility, which are outlined in Strengthening Our Safety Net to Empower People, are particularly egregious in their inaccuracy and callousness.

With more than half of all American families experiencing poverty or near-poverty during at least one year of their lives, struggling families need more than austerity, trickle-down economics, and ineffective block grants. The American people deserve effective anti-poverty programs, which will lift those in need out of poverty and provide opportunity to enter the middle class.

Here’s a look at six of the most disturbing elements of the report:

1) Numbers without context. In the opening pages of its recommendations, the RSC bemoans the federal government’s investment in anti-poverty programs since 1964. The RSC uses a dollar amount that the government has spent, which earned “two Pinocchios” from the Washington Post. Furthermore, the RSC fails to provide appropriate context concerning the effectiveness of these programs. Without them, the poverty rate would be 50% higher.

2) Advocacy for government intrusion into family life. In its report, the RSC outlines its intrusive ideology about what American families should look like. Instead of working to empower all families, including those with single parents, the RSC demonizes families that don’t reflect its members’ vision of the traditional American household.

3) Misleading statements about the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. The RSC lauds “conservative reforms” to TANF under the header: “We Know What Works.” However, only one in three families living in poverty are helped by TANF. Instead, many states are using TANF block grants to plus-up their budgets without actually investing in struggling families.

4) Ending SSI as we know it. With seniors and people with disabilities struggling to stay out of poverty, the RSC outlines a program to end supplemental security income (SSI) as we know it. In 2010, SSI reduced the aggregate poverty gap by more than two-thirds. Its proposal would convert this highly-successful program into yet another block grant program, allowing states to raid these critical funds instead of ensuring robust support for the health and welfare of seniors, people with disabilities, and families with disabled children.

5) Failure to recognize that unemployment and underemployment are still challenges.  As our economy rebounds from the Great Recession, many Americans are still struggling to find jobs that pay well and lead to opportunity, yet the RSC advocates kicking families off of critical programs, such as nutrition assistance, while they are still in need. In this report, the RSC foolishly applauds the efforts of Kansas Governor Sam Brownback to insert work requirements into anti-poverty programs. It seems the RSC missed the memo that Kansans are tired of Governor Brownback’s failed experiment.

6) Block-granting away results. The RSC’s recommendations stay remarkably true to the Ryan budget framework. They would turn effective anti-poverty programs, like SNAP, into ineffective block grants. As seen with other block grant programs, like TANF, some states regularly divert TANF resources for other projects. Additionally, in referring to the Social Services Block Grant as a slush fund in their budget, House Republicans suggest that block grants are a first step toward slashing funding.

Overall, the RSC’s recommendations provide nothing more than a roadmap to disinvestment in proven anti-poverty programs. Far from being a War on Poverty, it’s a War on the Poor. It’s past time for the RSC and the GOP to abandon this disinvestment – which, in turn, will justify future tax cuts for the top while telling families in poverty: “you’re on your own.” Republicans and Democrats need to come together and advance real policy solutions that create jobs that pay well, strengthen the safety net for struggling families, and build pathways out of poverty into the middle class.

Hamilton on Congress

It’s Getting Harder to Govern, And It’s Not Just Politicians’ Fault

By Lee H. Hamilton

Hamilton

Hamilton

We may not know who our next President is going to be, but here’s one thing that’s almost certain: he or she will take office with roughly half of the electorate unhappy and mistrustful. The notion that the President speaks for a broad coalition of Americans who are willing to set aside their differences on behalf of a compelling new vision for the country? It’s vanished.

I’ve spent a lot of time pondering where it went, and though I still haven’t found an answer, I do know this: it’s not only Washington’s – or even the political class’s – fault.

Let’s start with a lament I hear frequently about this year’s crop of presidential candidates: “Is this the best we can do?” I used to believe that the popular argument that the best among us do not seek political office was wrong – that there were plenty of standout Americans who went into politics. And there are. But there are also a lot of talented people – the kind who could lead us beyond our tired political discourse – who take a look at politics and turn the other way. They don’t want to spend their waking hours grubbing for donations. They don’t want to put their families through the attacks and vitriol that so often show up in political campaigns now. They believe they have better ways of spending their time than subjecting themselves and everyone they know to the kind of scrutiny that has become part and parcel of political life.

I’ve known a lot of very good people in politics. They were motivated by a true interest in improving the country, were fair-minded, respected other points of view, were skillful consensus-builders, and took the time to develop genuine friendships across the political divide. They saw politics as a competition of ideas, not a mean-spirited clash of ideologies.

I see less of this today. Many politicians seem genuinely not to like one another. Backed all too often by their constituents and contributors, they distrust the other party’s members – and see a victory by the other party as a threat to the well-being of the nation.

This is a departure from the past, and it’s not a healthy one. There was a time when the parties played a significant role in the system by serving to build consensus. They were collections of diverse constituencies that had developed the capacity to meld disparate interests together – not always harmoniously, but usually effectively. They helped build a unity of effort in the government, as did a variety of public and private organizations – such as unions, charitable institutions and the like.

This was vital: we don’t have many consensus-building mechanisms in our political culture. But a lot of groups that helped do this are weaker now than they were.

Which is a shame in a year like this, when voters are angry and distrustful. Much of this, I believe, stems from economic insecurity. Incomes remain stagnant, and many of the jobs being created are low-wage jobs. A lot of Americans have lost confidence that their children will have a better life than they had.

This doesn’t mean that fear of terrorism and a general feeling that society is heading in the wrong direction don’t matter this year. Nor does it mean that there aren’t plenty of people who are reasonably satisfied with their lives, and who recognize that the U.S., especially in comparison with other countries, is doing reasonably well. But overall, economic malaise seems to be front and center in voters’ minds.

This may help explain why voters this year seem not to have much appetite for the substance and complexity of policy. Many of them have responded enthusiastically to candidates who lay out a straightforward vision but don’t bother much with the details of policy. And a lot of voters seem to relish the clashes that this year’s campaigning has produced, and are uninterested in talk of finding common ground.

It’s a campaign year, of course, so a certain amount of this is to be expected. But if the voters’ surly mood and mistrust carry over after November, it’s going to be very hard for the next President – and politicians in general – to govern effectively.

Lee Hamilton is a Senior Advisor for the Indiana University Center on Representative Government; a Distinguished Scholar, IU School of Global and International Studies; and a Professor of Practice, IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.


Quotes on the Issues

Budget

““When Ryan was chosen as speaker in October, Republicans had high hopes he could unite a fractured caucus…But Ryan has also had his share of struggles, including missing an April 15 deadline for the House to pass a fiscal 2017 budget. Ryan had said kick-starting the budget process would be part of his promised return to legislative ‘regular order.’ His efforts have instead found him wrestling with the same fiscal conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus and others that helped to usher Boehner out the door last fall.” [Bloomberg, 4/25/16]”

Energy & Water Bill

“The first appropriations bill taken up this year by the Senate — in what was supposed to a be a new spirit of bipartisan cooperation on financing the government — crashed and burned on Wednesday because of a dispute over an 11th-hour amendment that Democrats and White House officials said would undermine President Obama’s nuclear accord with Iran. The amendment, put forward by Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, would bar the United States from purchasing heavy water, which is used in producing nuclear energy and nuclear weapons, from Iran.” New York Times

Government Efficiency

GAO’s 2016 annual report identifies 92 new actions that Congress and executive branch agencies could take to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of government in 37 areas. GAO identifies 12 areas in which there is evidence of fragmentation, overlap, or duplication. For example, GAO found that the Internal Revenue Service could potentially collect billions of dollars in taxes owed and save resources by better managing fragmentation and overlap, improving communication, and streamlining processes within its nine public referral programs.” Government Accountability Office


Foreign Affairs

ISIS

Sweden

“An ISIS terror cell has reportedly entered Sweden and is planning on carrying out acts of terror in its capital. ‘Seven or eight’ ISIS terrorists are already in the country with the aim of attacking civilian targets in Stockholm, according to Iraqi security services. Sweden has the second highest ‘ISIS fighters per capita’ in the EU.”  Dailymail.com

ISIS Recruits

“The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) for years has benefited from a robust flow of foreign fighters to their ranks, something that confounded many in the West who only saw a blood-thirsty death cult. That may be changing, however. Recently, Major Gen. Peter Gersten, the Pentagon’s director of operations and intelligence for the campaign against ISIS,” CBSNEWS.com

We Need More Bombs

“Even before President Obama announced a U.S. military expansion in Syria on Monday, the Pentagon’s stepped-up campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) had led analysts and others to conclude that billions of dollars in additional funds were needed to replenish munitions depleted by strikes on the terrorists.” CNBC


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