In most third world countries, citizens living in abject poverty is as normal as the sun rising in the East. Even developed countries have a segment of the population that barely subsist from day-to-day and America is no different. However, for the richest country in the history of the world to have more than a tiny portion of the population living at or below the poverty level is an outrage the nation’s leaders should work tirelessly to alleviate. Since Republicans took control of the House in January, instead of helping the poor, they have cut programs that feed and house the most destitute Americans at the same time they enrich corporations, the oil industry, and wealthiest 1% of the population. Last week, House Speaker John Boehner took the low road of hypocrisy by claiming it was the government’s responsibility to feed and house low-income Americans.
Boehner insinuated that efforts to fight poverty was a priority for Congress and that he supported low-income safety-net programs when he said, “No one here in this Congress, Democrat or Republican, wants to do anything about putting holes in the safety net for Americans. There are Americans who are poor, and I think it’s the responsibility of the rest of us to ensure that they have food in their stomachs and they have a roof over their head.” Boehner’s comments reflect a sentiment that is correct on some level; there are some in Congress who are fighting to protect the poor’s safety nets, but they are certainly not Republicans and Boehner knows it.
For the entire 112th session of Congress, Republicans promoted bills that cut low-income benefits like food stamps, housing subsidies, heating assistance, and Medicaid in their spending cut frenzy. Boehner and Republicans’ actions belie the Speaker’s compassionate sentiments and no amount of warm and fuzzy words will hide the contempt Republicans demonstrate against the citizens of this country; especially the poor. Democratic representative James McGovern (D-Mass) said, “This Congress has continuously attacked poor people. Republicans believe you can cut programs that help poor people and there will be no political consequences.” McGovern succinctly identified the reason Boehner made a hypocritical statement because with 46.2 million Americans living below the poverty level and about 20.5 million living in extreme poverty, Republicans cannot ignore the problem much longer without facing an irate segment of the voting public.
Americans living in extreme poverty are the poorest of the poor and it means their income is less than $11,157 for a family of four or $5,570 for an individual. The bad news for Republicans is that last year 2.6 million more Americans fell into poverty representing the largest increase since 1959 when the government began recording poverty statistics. The most depressing news is that in many areas of the country, data shows at least 30% of children live with food insecurity and more than 20 million depend on government-funded school meal programs to avoid going hungry. Republicans appear happy to continue and grow those statistics based on their record in dealing with spending cuts.
The GOP’s 2012 budget proposal sought to cut $127 billion (20%) from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that was formerly referred to as food stamps. They also proposed cutting $800 billion from Medicaid and billions more from federally funded housing programs. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities revealed that nearly two-thirds of the Republican cuts focused on programs that assisted low-income Americans. The budget cuts for fiscal year 2011 included cuts of 63% to Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) that offers assistance for housing and various other aid for low-income communities. In the 2011 continuing resolution, Republicans included cuts of 50% to FEMA’s emergency food and shelter program as well as $747 million in cuts to WIC that helps poor women and children have nutritious meals. Obviously, Boehner’s compassionate comment about helping the poor with food and housing is not backed up by his actions. Boehner also said that until the economy gets moving again and starts producing jobs, there will be uncertainty and fear about the future.
Republicans claim government overspending encroached on the private sector’s ability to grow and create jobs, and that slashing spending and cutting taxes for high income earners is the only way to improve the lives of every American. It is the fallacy of trickle-down economics that Republicans have promoted since the Reagan Administration that has never worked and increasing poverty numbers are further proof that giving the wealthy tax cuts is not helping Americans escape poverty. Back in May Boehner spoke at Catholic University in Washington and some faculty members challenged Boehner’s spending cuts and claimed they were harmful to poor people. The head of Catholic Theology and Culture at the University of Dayton said, “The budget he worked to pass in the House literally takes food from hungry children while enacting massive tax cuts for the wealthy. These actions are antithetical to Catholic doctrine.” Boehner has heard the same complaint from Democrats before and his record shows he does not care about anyone except the wealthy regardless of his comments to the contrary.
Boehner’s comment that government has a responsibility to care for the poor is admirable, but he needs to stop talking like his party cares and start taking bold action to assuage the life-threatening poverty Republicans are promoting with Draconian cuts to critical safety nets the poor depend on for basic survival. Besides cutting the safety nets, Republicans refuse to pass President Obama’s jobs plan that will lift some of the destitute Americans out of poverty and inject revenue back into the government’s coffers. Instead of helping the poor, Republicans are fighting a tiny tax increase on the wealthiest 2% of Americans that will fund new jobs, and the prospect for more tax cuts for the wealthy increase with a Republican in the White House. John Boehner is a hypocrite who must realize as more Americans fall into poverty with no hope of good paying jobs or an improved economy, the prospects for Republican victories in 2012 are getting slimmer.
The only certainty is that Republican governance means more Americans falling into extreme poverty while the wealthy increase their share of income. Democrats have fought against the Republican attempts to cut funding for programs for the poor and are the last line of defense to prevent the poverty numbers for becoming fatality rates. When 15.1% of the population in the richest country on Earth are living below the poverty line with the numbers increasing daily, one must wonder exactly when Republicans will act. It is unfortunate, but they will not act to help the poor or any American who is not filthy rich because contrary to John Boehner’s claim of compassion for the poor, Republicans serve 2% of the population exclusively and there are no signs in the foreseeable future of the GOP changing. Boehner’s comment is proof positive that Republicans know Americans are hungry, homeless, and desperate for jobs and the only thing Boehner and his Republican caucus can propose is more spending cuts and tax cuts for the wealthy. Now that Boehner has shown the GOP is aware of the poor’s plight, besides being a crybaby, he is officially a lying hypocrite.