Recent efforts by Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan to focus their policy ideas around poverty-themed messaging have tended to distract attention from the actual policymaking process working its way through Congress in which Democrats and Republicans are reaching across the aisle to cut food assistance to poor families by $9 billion. Democrats in the Senate had initially put together a bill to cut food assistance to poor families by $4 billion while House Republicans wanted $40 billion in cuts. So relative to initial conservative demands, this is only a modest amount of cutting that’s happening, but it is quite a bit of cutting.
And oh yes, this cutting comes in the context of a “farm bill” that still offers many billions of dollars in subsidies to producers of agricultural commodities. A person who actually cared about the poor could easily insist that we not start cutting food assistance to poor people until we’ve cut all we can cut from farm subsidies.
And oh yes, the budget deficit is falling rapidly and we actually had a surplus in December so that’s not the reason we need to cut food assistance to poor families.
And oh yes, the long-term unemployed have lost their social insurance benefits, and there are no plans in place to help them find work.
So that’s the state of anti-poverty policy in America. Republicans are fighting for cuts in programs to help poor people, Democrats are restraining the extent of those cuts, money continues to flow to non-poor constituencies that conservatives happen to like better, and the biggest victims of the Great Recession are getting nothing. Here’s Jonathan Cohn’s analysis of Rubio’s policy proposals, which mostly seem to me to lack the kind of detailed budgetary framework that would be necessary to really evaluate them. Some people say it’s at least good to see these politicians talking about poverty and focusing attention on the issue, but it seems to me that their talk has mostly distracted attention from relevant aspects of the policy process.