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Sunday, October 23, 2016

WASHINGTON — Briefly, there seemed a chance we might have a cross-party discussion of the biggest economic problem the country faces: the vexing intersection of wage stagnation, declining social mobility and rising inequality.

Even the most conservative Republicans were starting to talk about this challenge in rather urgent terms. In a moment whose irony he noted, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) told a bunch of rich Republicans gathered by the Brothers Koch earlier this year that those doing well in America were “the top 1 percent, the millionaires and billionaires the president loves to demagogue, one or two of whom are here with us tonight” while the “people who have been hammered for the last six years are working men and women.”

And on it went through the country’s top Republicans. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) stressed “opportunity inequality” and Mitt Romney, in another ironic turn, charged that “under President Obama, the rich have gotten richer.”

It would be wonderful if conservatives really wanted to deal constructively with the predicament they so passionately describe. But thanks to the House and Senate GOP budgets, we now know that conservatives and Republicans (1) aren’t serious about the plight of working class and lower-income Americans, and (2) would actually make their situations much worse.

Their spending plans fail even on conservative terms: They are not fiscally responsible. Instead, they rely on all sorts of magic tricks that shove choices and problems down the road.

One heartening sign is that at least some conservatives find these budgets ridiculous. For example, James Pethokoukis of the American Enterprise Institute headlined his commentary for The Week: “The disappointing unseriousness of the House GOP’s budget.”

Pethokoukis wrote: “House Republicans say they want to balance the federal budget and eventually eliminate the federal debt. They do not have a plan to do so. Oh, to be sure, they have a plan! Just not a realistic one that will actually accomplish their goals.”

He noted that of the $5.5 trillion in cuts from planned spending, $2 trillion would come from “repealing the Obamacare insurance subsidies and Medicaid expansion and replacing them with … well, nothing right now.”

The wholesale assault on efforts to provide lower-income Americans with health insurance is the clearest sign that Republicans don’t want to deal with inequality. The inability to get health insurance is one of the biggest burdens on low-income families, particularly those working for low wages and few or no benefits.

Obamacare has helped 16.4 million Americans get health insurance. Where would they turn? And Republicans would compound the damage: The Senate proposes cutting an additional $400 billion from Medicaid over a decade, the House more than double that. Robert Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities notes that on other low-income programs, the Senate budget cuts even more than the House. The vagueness of these plans makes it hard to tally how much damage would be done to food stamps, Pell Grants for low-income college students and the like, but Greenstein estimates that about two-thirds of the cuts in both plans come “from programs for the less fortunate, thereby exacerbating poverty and inequality.”

Greenstein concludes that under such proposals — here’s hoping President Obama is relentless in blocking them — “ours would be a coarser and less humane nation with higher levels of poverty and inequality, less opportunity,” and an “inadequately prepared” workforce.

Another bit of hypocrisy: These budget writers care so much about national security that they’re not willing to raise a dime in taxes to cover their sharp increases in defense spending. Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent, called out his conservative colleagues for how differently they treat defense and social spending.

“You’re always telling us the deficit is so bad we’ve got to cut programs for the elderly, for the sick and for the poor,” Sanders said, “and suddenly, all of that rhetoric disappears.”

Budgets are, by their nature, boring. That’s why those who assemble these long columns of numbers figure they can assail the well-being of the least privileged people in our society even as they profess to care about them so much.

I’d respect these folks a lot more if they said what they clearly believe: They think more inequality would be good for us. It almost makes you nostalgic for the candor of the Romney who spoke about the “47 percent” and the Paul Ryan who once divided us between “makers” and “takers.” Honesty beats saccharine words about the struggles of working people any day.

E.J. Dionne’s email address is [email protected] Twitter: @EJDionne.

Photo: Speaker of the House John Boehner speaks during a press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on July 17, 2014. (AFP Photo/Jim Watson)

  • FireBaron

    This is because Republicans need to court the “blue collar” backbone Ronald Reagan built, and the rest of the Party has systematically ignored. If those same “blue collar” Americans would look past the 2nd Amendment, and the birtherism rampant in the GOP, and actually look at what the Party is doing to the bottom 98%, they would be racing back to the Democratic Party in droves.

    • charleo1

      It seems to be a case of who are going to believe? Us, or your lyin’ eyes? So far, thanks to the same Federal Gov. those same Wingers love to hate, they have been able to say, we’d rather believe the T-Party. The White Party. The Party that says things that are not at all true, but things they like to hear all the same. “The World is on fire!” Says Huckster Cruz, to uproarious applause. Because the audience knows he’s bashing the object of their antipathy. Then turned to embarrassed laughter, at a three year old repeating the hyperbolic rhetoric in question form. “The World’s on fire?” Well, not really Sweetheart. We just like to talk that way, because see, the Left elected a Black person to lead our Country, and we’re just venting, because that should never be done, it’s not who, “We,’ are. Plus we never question anyone disrespecting Barack Obama. So it continues. The supporters that love to indignantly roar about issues they are told are at the heart of every, “value” they hold most dear. Which also happen not to be any of the issues that effect them the most in their everyday lives.

  • Eleanore Whitaker

    The problem is that red states are backward. When we turn on our Cable TV stations and see programs solely in the purveyance of red states like TX, Alaska, the backwoods of Virginny, we up north wonder where the hell these ancient relics of the Antebellum Era come from. They are out of touch with what goes on in the most progressive states struggling to keep balance because 65% of all of our federal taxes support relic red state industries that pay barely living wages. So, the red staters run to the fed for phony SSDI and Medicare because when you are not paid living wages, you end up relying on other states’ taxes to support you. That’s freeloading courtesy of the red state politicians.

    All anyone needs to do to prove this is check out the wages in red states, versus blue. Why should people living in blue states become the sole support of Big Oil, Virginia’s military industry or the Alabammy and KENtuckee hick prison states who feed on our federal tax subsidies while they build more prisons to house more prisoners they snare into them.

    • Daniel Jones

      They aren’t backward, they have an identity of not having and of alienation from the “haves”. It’s fairly easy to believe in someone offering you a way out, even if it’s bullshit, and the emotional investiture gets you toeing the line even after the truth begins to emerge.
      This is why people followed Hitler, but it’s not just the Nazi Party, so Godwin’s Law need not apply. The disenfranchised are easily rallied with the right words. Unfortunately, the conservative base is now being kept base, as in low, so they will continue to vote and not expect more out of the Enviable Masters.

  • CPAinNewYork

    The problem with the present day Republican Party is that it’s populated by small-minded plutocrats who’s greed is so unbounded that they cannot get enough money to satisfy that greed. It’s almost like an addiction with them.

    The Republican Party and the greedy American rich will provide the greatest impetus for the coming revolution, just as their French and Russian counterparts did in their respective countries.

    • LotusJoan

      These are the same people who are Sooo Christian yet ignore the teachings of Christ. No wonder they love the Prime Minister of Isreal, they are stuck in the old hate full testament too.

  • stcroixcarp

    The photo of Boehner looks like Nancy Pelosi has just taken him to the woodshed and given him a spanking.

  • Whatmeworry

    Why work? Just ask the 47% who don’t pay taxes

    • Daniel Max Ketter

      Heck, I read many books by Matthew Lesko, and found many loopholes over the years in not paying taxes. It’s like when me & the mrs go to church, and the donation basket comes around, when the pastor isn’t looking, I give nutting but grab a handful of cash and pocket it, then pass the basket to the next person.

      • dpaano

        You ARE being facetious, I hope.

        • Daniel Max Ketter

          No, the corporate thieves do it ever day. I just want my share of the graf as well.

          • dpaano

            By thieves, I’d assume you mean those evangelical Christians that you probably go to church with!!!

    • dpaano

      You mean senior citizens, disabled, unemployed??? Unfortunately, they DO pay taxes whenever they buy products, gas, medicine, etc. But, I guess you guys seem to forget that somehow. And, senior citizens DO pay taxes on their social security in California, so you can’t add them to the pile!! Try to do your research before you put out misinformation.

      • Whatmeworry

        nope they don’t pay income taxes

        • Daniel Max Ketter

          Heck, I don’t pay taxes, just sales tax and of course union dues at one time. I read several Lesko books and found all sorts of loopholes and free moneys to be a fat cat. You just have to fill the forms out and bingo.

          • dpaano

            And you don’t pay taxes on any of your paychecks??? Interesting….and if you’re retired, you don’t still pay taxes on your retirement income?

          • Daniel Max Ketter

            It’s in “Free Money to Change Your Life” by Matthew Lesko.

        • nope our military don’t pay income tax

          • dpaano

            Oh, by the way, I’m also retired military, and I paid federal taxes not only on each and every paycheck, but I now pay income taxes on my retirement check. Don’t know where you are getting your erroneous information but you are totally incorrect.

        • dpaano

          Can you make up your mind? As a note, I’m a senior citizen AND disabled…I pay income taxes, along with property taxes, gas taxes, sale taxes, etc.

      • yep they do pay income taxes

    • Daniel Max Ketter

      I guess I’m within that 47 percent also. I never paid nuttin but union dues.

  • Why work? Just ask the 4% who don’t pay taxes

  • Hans Olo

    It’s also important to keep in mind that neo-cons like John Bolton, Bill Kristol, Sean Hannity, Richard Perle, and John McCain have zero credibility on foreign policy issues.