Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons and one novel. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.
The Senate managed to come together to pass an unprecedented $2 trillion coronavirus relief package, but not before a small group of Republican senators reminded us of the narrow-minded condescension their party directs toward the working poor. Trumpism holds its own malicious — indeed, dangerous — strains of contempt, but the malevolent disdain the broader GOP holds for the less affluent has been among its hallmarks for generations, since long before Donald J. Trump became president.
Earlier this week, before the Senate approved the aid package, four GOP senators — Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott of South Carolina, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Rick Scott of Florida — insisted that the unemployment benefits in the bill were too generous and would encourage those lazy, low-income folk not to work. They ultimately relented but had threatened to hold up the entire desperately needed deal if their demands to reduce unemployment checks were not met.
In a Wednesday interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity, Graham called the bill “Bernie Sanders on steroids.” Following up on Twitter, Graham insisted, “Only in Senator @BernieSanders world does it make sense to pay people more NOT to work than TO work. I am all for making peoples salaries whole. However, I am not for increasing people’s salary through the unemployment insurance system.”
Has Graham listened to anything the public health experts have been saying about the need for all Americans except essential workers to stay home rather than go to work? We absolutely need to pay people not to work. I have refrained from patronizing fast-food restaurants over the last few weeks because I fear that low-wage employees who live from paycheck to paycheck will keep serving food even if they are ill.
The Grand Old Poohbahs act as if unemployment benefits are generous support payments that would allow laid-off workers to enjoy lobster dinners and trips to the day spa. Hardly.
In normal times, unemployment benefits amount to a percentage of the worker’s last salary, usually somewhere around 45 percent. According to The New York Times, the national average is about $385 a week. The $2 trillion aid bill would add $600 a week for the next four months — a temporary boost in assistance that cannot encourage long-term unemployment.
That’s hardly a windfall for families who will struggle to pay rent, buy groceries and keep the lights on and water flowing before they can return to their jobs. And many won’t be able to return. Some businesses won’t recover from the economic devastation wrought by the novel coronavirus. They will go bankrupt, leaving workers to struggle to make up lost income. Already, more than 3 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits in the last few days — the biggest jump in recorded history.
While looking down their noses at average working folk, the Republican Gang of Four found nothing to criticize in the generous aid they intend to offer to huge companies. As The Washington Post has reported, the bill contains low-interest loans and grants for companies that have failed to pay taxes, flouted safety regulations and misused the bailouts they received during the Great Recession. Among the companies that stand to benefit is Boeing, whose corporate greed led to two airplane crashes within five months, killing hundreds of passengers.
But an embrace of corporate greed and corruption that lives side by side with disdain for the working poor is a hardy strain in the Republican Party, one watered and fertilized by the presidency of Ronald Reagan. His first presidential campaign emphasized tales of alleged welfare fraud, most of which seemed to be based on just one actual case. According to the Pew Research Center, 42 percent of people on the conservative side of the political spectrum believe people are poor because they don’t work hard enough, while only 12 percent of people on the liberal side believe that.
For the record, economists do acknowledge that a generous social safety net may encourage a tiny percentage of workers to take advantage of the system by failing to pull their own weight, but they also warn that a stingy social safety net will dump a certain percentage of struggling workers overboard — people who will end up destitute no matter how hard they work. In a nation as rich as this, I’d rather err on the side of generosity. Clearly, though, the Grand Old Poohbahs disagree.
Meanwhile, reports from across the country show low-wage grocery store workers — deemed essential in this crisis — falling ill to the coronavirus. They can hardly practice social distancing, especially the checkout clerks who stand so close to customers. Did Lindsey Graham and his allies think about them?
Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina was still learning the ways of Washington, he says, when he saw a police officer following his car near Capitol Hill.
“I took a left…,” he recalled in a speech Wednesday on the Senate floor, “and as soon as I took a left, a police officer pulled in right behind me.”
That was his first left turn. His second came at a traffic signal. The patrol car was still following him. Scott took a third left onto the street that led to his apartment complex.
It was his fourth left, turning into his apartment complex, that brought the blue lights on. “The officer approached the car,” Scott recalled, “and said that I did not use my turn signal on the fourth turn. Keep in mind, as you might imagine, I was paying very close attention to the law enforcement officer who followed me on four turns. Do you really think that somehow I forget to use my turn signal on that fourth turn? Well, according to him, I did.”
Oh, did I mention that Tim Scott is African-American? He’s the only black Republican in the Senate and the first to be elected from the South since 1881.
He did not get there by being a liberal or a Black Lives Matter radical. He’s a “pro-life,” anti-Obamacare and NRA-endorsed conservative.
He is also, whatever else you may think of his politics — which are more conservative than mine — a very likeable and thoughtful businessman from North Charleston whose family, as he likes to say with patriotic pride, “went from cotton to Congress in one lifetime.”
Yet, issues such as police conduct and public safety have become personal for Scott. It was in his hometown, North Charleston, S.C., last year that a cellphone video showed Walter Scott (no relation), an unarmed 50-year-old black man, shot to death by a police officer from whom he was running away.
Two months later a gunman fatally shot nine people, including friends of Scott, at Charleston’s historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Scott calls for a halt to abuses by police, but he also wants fairness for police and improved law enforcement.
One tragedy illustrated the dangers of bad policing. The other illustrated why we need good police.
So when Scott stood on the Senate floor to declare and decry a “trust gap” between law enforcement officers and black communities, he was worth hearing.
“Please remember that, in the course of one year, I’ve been stopped seven times by law enforcement officers,” Scott declared in the widely covered and retweeted speech. “Not four, not five, not six but seven times in one year as an elected official.
“Was I speeding sometimes? Sure. But the vast majority of the time, I was pulled over for nothing more than driving a new car in the wrong neighborhood or some other reason just as trivial.
“I do not know many African-American men who do not have a very similar story to tell,” said Scott, “no matter the profession, no matter their income, no matter their disposition in life.”
A young former staffer of Scott’s grew so frustrated over being stopped by District of Columbia police, the senator said, that he replaced the car with “a more obscure form of transportation. He was tired of being targeted.”
“There is absolutely nothing more frustrating, more damaging to your soul,” said Scott, “than when you know you’re following the rules and being treated like you are not.”
On that note, Scott asked for nothing in his speech, except empathy, a sincere effort to understand what others are going through — which in itself is asking a lot from some people.
“Today,” he said, “I simply ask you this: Recognize that just because you do not feel the pain, the anguish of another, does not mean that it does not exist. To ignore their struggles, our struggles, does not make them disappear. It simply leaves you blind and the American family very vulnerable.”
Well said. Folks who respond to complaints of racial discrimination by police by bringing up black-on-black crime need to hear what Tim Scott is trying to tell them. Fighting crime without fighting police misconduct leads to more crime. We need to get rid of both.
By Alan K. Ota, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)
WASHINGTON — House Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin is opening the door to new initiatives aimed at helping low-income families as he prepares to discuss poverty in a forum showcasing GOP presidential candidates in Columbia, S.C., on Saturday.
The top Republican plans to make the case — with seven GOP presidential aspirants — for a conservative approach to shrinking poverty’s footprint. Both parties have shown a willingness to develop bipartisan initiatives to help 46.7 million Americans living in poverty, even as they vie on the campaign trial over competing economic plans and ideologies.
Robert Doar, a fellow in poverty studies at the American Enterprise Institute, predicted participants would “show the GOP has more to offer than tax cuts and greater growth.” AEI is one of the sponsors of the gathering.
Ryan plans to join Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., to moderate three panels of presidential candidates and to outline his own thoughts in a speech and panel discussion. The event sponsored by the Jack Kemp Foundation could serve as a bellwether of prospects for items that could move as stand-alone bills or as add-ons to broader legislation such as a possible international tax overhaul.
Scott said in an interview there would be openings to move modest proposals aimed at promoting private and charter schools and helping the jobless, including his own plan (S 574) to create a $1,000 business tax credit for employers that hire an apprentice younger than 25 years old.
“We hope that we will see more traction for apprenticeship programs and school choice opportunities,” Scott said. He said other bigger items such as proposals to broaden eligibility for the earned income tax credit for childless workers likely would be an issue “in 2017 for the next Congress.”
Robert Greenstein, president of the liberal Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, said he hoped Ryan and President Barack Obama could work out differences on proposals to broaden eligibility for the earned income tax credit, or EITC, to low-income workers without minor children but called it “rather doubtful because it’s hard to see the vehicle on which it would move.”
Doar said Ryan likely would focus on ensuring that federal programs do not serve as “poverty traps.”
“He’s open to ideas that can make programs work more effectively and target assistance where people have the greatest need,” Doar said.
Ryan demonstrated his willingness to give ground in the recent $680 billion permanent tax break accord (PL 114-113), which included long-term extensions of the expanded EITC and the additional child tax credit.
Despite the recent tax deal, the two parties disagree over the best way to reduce the nation’s 14.8 percent poverty rate. While Republicans argue for tax cuts and for streamlining aid programs, Democrats advocate worker incentives and raising the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.
Democratic Goals Democrats are looking for ways to shoehorn their own priorities into the floor agenda.
Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., said he and other Democrats planned to work with Ryan on efforts to target funding in a range of federal programs to more than 400 rural counties that have the highest persistent poverty rates. For example, one proposal by Assistant Minority Leader James E. Clyburn, D-S.C., would designate a 10-percent share of funds for rural development and other programs to counties with poverty rates of 20 percent or more for the last 30 years.
Aid targeting could face hurdles with conservatives that seek deeper cuts. But Butterfield predicted wide support for putting more existing funds “into poverty counties.” He said he believed “Ryan is ready to deal in a bipartisan way on issues that are important to low-income families.”
Butterfield said he and other Democrats would oppose any effort by conservatives to shrink aid programs such as temporary assistance for needy families, known as TANF. “We would never tolerate any decrease in TANF. We want an increase in TANF funding,” Butterfield said.
And for now, both parties disagree over a GOP push to reshape TANF to ensure enforcement of work requirements while providing more flexibility for beneficiaries to get job training and education. Rep. Charles Boustany Jr., R-La., said he had handed off responsibility for TANF legislation to Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., as part of the reshuffling of subcommittee gavels, when Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, replaced Ryan as the top tax writer.
©2016 CQ-Roll Call, Inc., All Rights Reserved. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Photo: Newly-elected U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) holds his first news conference at Republican National Committee headquarters in Washington November 3, 2015. REUTERS/Gary Cameron
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