Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Joe Lieberman, Jon Huntsman Call for Throwing Even More People Off Welfare

Today, former Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman and former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman unveiled 60 different policy proposals that they say have the support of the great majority of the American people. Many of them seem worthwhile, but many others don’t go nearly far enough when compared to the spirit of the New Deal. The overriding principle is getting rid of the national deficit. Unfortunately, one of their proposals involves throwing even more people off welfare who they deem to be too lazy.
Our greater concern ought to be about what the debt level -- now topping $19 trillion or about $150,000 of debt for every household in America -- means for our future. Interest on the debt is the fastest growing item in the federal budget.  The U.S. spent an astounding $223 billion in interest payments last year. That number is projected to reach $1 trillion by 2020, “a lot of money,” one analyst observed, “to be spending on something that doesn’t do anything for you.” It’s a lot of money that won’t be spent on repairing America’s aging infrastructure or investing in our children’s future.  
If you go to their website,, you can view all 60 of their proposals. Here is the proposal on welfare:
Receiving welfare or other forms of public assistance should be conditioned upon recipients actively looking for employment if they are able. Tightening welfare requirements could also help fix the “welfare cliff” that can discourage people from working or accepting better-paying jobs for fear of abruptly losing benefits.
Supposedly, 82% of Americans support this proposal. Their About Section says that these ideas were polled:
*Polling data derived from three national surveys conducted by Cohen Research Group in February and March 2016. Each survey had a sample size of at least 1,000 registered voters with a margin of error of +/- 3.1%.
Cohen Research is a company which does data research for corporate clients.
First of all, what we find is that people tend to respond to polls depending on who is doing the questioning. For instance, people are much more likely to give a conservative answer is FOX News is doing the questioning, for instance. Secondly, this proposal to kick people off welfare is totally antithetical to the Second Bill of Rights that was part of the New Deal:
The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the Nation;
The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
The right of every family to a decent home;
The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident and unemployment;
The right to a good education.
If we don’t make having a good job with a living wage a basic right, then kicking people off welfare doesn’t make sense. No Labels lamely acknowledges the problem of people who are long-term unemployed:
For example, Gov. Pete Ricketts of Nebraska unveiled a plan last year that provides one-on-one training and counseling for unemployed workers, along with individualized “re-employment” plans that work with local employers to match their needs. Nebraska estimated that 6,800 new workers were added into the workforce as a result and hope to add more over the coming years.
Congress should allocate more funding towards nation-wide projects that mimic local efforts already underway in states like Nebraska.
To reduce chronic unemployment, Congress should require long-term unemployed persons to participate in a reemployment or vocational training program that provides the advising, skills and credentials necessary to become employed or reemployed. This process could be further reinforced with partnerships in industry.
This helps, but doesn’t go far enough. For instance, how much would it cost the worker? Would they have to go into even more debt just for the possibility of getting a job? What would be the consequences for not participating in such a program? This ignores the fact that many people who have jobs nonetheless are still on welfare. For instance, Wal-Mart tells people who want more money to go to the nearest welfare office. 
And even assuming that 82% of Americans are on board with this plan, the Constitution is designed to protect the minority against the tyranny of the majority. It doesn’t do any good to stigmatize one’s fellow human beings by refusing to provide full employment on the one hand and then turn around and call people who can’t get a job lazy when they are among the unlucky ones left out in the cold.
And what No Labels omits is just as telling as what they propose. They sweep the problem of race under the rug. It is just like the administration of Grover Cleveland, who tried to pretend that the problem of race didn’t exist anymore and that we were now a colorblind society. The reality is that racism is alive and well in this country. The May 17th Washington Post reported that schools are now actually resegregating, suggesting that two causes of long-term unemployment are racism and lack of opportunity. 
Mr. Lieberman and Mr. Huntsman may be right that we have a Constitutional obligation to pay off the interest, but what we found was that when the economy performs strong enough, as it did under Bill Clinton, when we created 20 million new jobs, the deficit will be wiped out on its own. The deficits came back when George Bush put in his infamous tax cuts and committed war crimes costing taxpayers trillions of dollars. 
Our first priority has to be to create a society with full employment by fueling growth industries that both create jobs and protect us against climate change. That would mean pushing more wind, solar, and geothermal along with phasing out coal and fracking. We can also resurrect the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration as well. Our next priority has to be to identify and fuel other such industries. We can cut our military spending by two thirds and still maintain the strongest army in the world. Then, we can stop all the tax evasion by breaking up the big banks, getting rid of corporate tax inversion, and cracking down on the practice of offshoring. The Panama Papers merely scratch the surface of what is available to us. That, plus cracking down on waste, fraud, and abuse in government will give us all the money we need to fuel a New Deal for the 21st Century.

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