Classic Republican Smear Classically Debunked Again

Counting instances of Republican disinformation and demagoguery is tantamount to counting drops of rain in a major hurricane, but occasionally it can be helpful to tabulate the score. Both a museum piece and living entity, the lie that America retains a lavish and expanding safety net off of which countless leaches enjoy a life of leisure, while sucking the economic marrow out of hard-working Americans has been a staple of the Republican carnival act since the inception of the War on Poverty and the passage of civil rights legislation in the mid-Sixties.

Conservatives have worked hard over the years to create and to perpetuate the stereotype of the shiftless impoverished burdening the federal budget, always with an underlying racial foundation. Most who depend upon public assistance are white of course, but as with many another nugget of Republican misinformation, never mind.

There are a multitude of metrics and common observations which destroy these smarmy mythologies (and expose the pathologies behind them) for the reasonable, the informed and the alert among us. For one, public assistance comes in such paltry sums (information in the public record of course) no sane human being would seek to depend upon it to live. Another is that safety net programs combined are not a budgetary behemoth, but rather comprise only 14% of the budget through 2010 (Social Security and Medicare are self-financed through the contributions of workers themselves throughout their lives. Medicare costs are increasing because the costs of health care in our private health insurance ecosystem rise exorbitantly in the absence of braking mechanisms).

When folks like Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum and others of their benighted tribe engage in their customary demagogic bottom-feeding, saying for instance as Romney has said, that we have “an entitlement society,” or that “we will have created a society that contains a sizable contingent of long-term jobless, dependent on government benefits for survival.” adding “government dependency can only foster passivity and sloth”; or, as Rick Santorum has said, expansions in the “reach of government” are “systematically destroying the work ethic,” they carefully elude the reality of millions of Americans driven to seek assistance in the wake of the Great Recession, economic catastrophe brought about by a corrupt financial sector whose reckless practices proliferated precisely due to Republicans’  own policies of deregulation, greed is good, and do-as-you please unaccountability.

Now, an exhaustive study just released by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shoots a whole new arsenal of nails into the coffin of these hoary Republican lies and distortions. Among their findings are:

“More than 90 percent of the benefit dollars that entitlement and other mandatory programs spend go to assist people who are elderly, seriously disabled, or members of working households — not to able-bodied, working-age Americans who choose not to work. Federal budget and Census data show that, in 2010, 91 percent of the benefit dollars from entitlement and other mandatory programs went to the elderly (people 65 and over), the seriously disabled, and members of working households.  People who are neither elderly nor disabled — and do not live in a working household — received only 9 percent of the benefits.”

“Moreover, if we look only at entitlement programs that are targeted to people with low incomes, the percentage of benefit dollars going to people who are elderly or disabled or members of working households remains high.  Five of every six benefit dollars in these programs — 83 percent — go to such people. If anything, these figures understate the percentage of the benefits that generally go to people who are elderly, disabled, or members of working households.  As noted, these data are for fiscal year 2010, a year when the unemployment rate averaged 9.6 percent and an unusually large number of Americans were in economic distress.  In fiscal year 2007, the share of entitlement benefits going to people who are elderly or disabled or members of working households was a bit higher.”

In short, both the current reality and the trends of recent decades contrast sharply with the critics’ assumption that social programs increasingly are supporting people who can work but choose not to do so.  In the 1980s and 1990s, the United States substantially reduced assistance to the jobless poor (through legislation such as the 1996 welfare law) while increasing assistance to low-income working families (such as through expansions of the Earned Income Tax Credit).  The safety net became much more “work-based.”  In addition, the U.S. population is aging, which raises the share of benefits going to seniors and people with disabilities.”

“The data in this analysis also dispel other common misperceptions, such as a belief (sometimes fanned by political figures) that entitlement programs shift substantial resources from the middle class to the poor.  The data show that the middle class receives approximately its proportionate share of benefits:  in 2010, the middle 60 percent of the population received 58 percent of the entitlement benefits.  (The top 20 percent of the population received 10 percent of the benefits; the bottom 20 percent received 32 percent of the benefits. “

The other component of the right’s perpetual propaganda of demonization of the putative recipients of safety net programs, and of government itself in the assault against revenue (taxes, oh my) is that money paid in taxes is quickly sluiced down the line and directly into the voracious maws of awaiting chronic deadbeats.  The facts tell a much different story about those deriving the actual benefit from tax-based government expenditures:

– The top fifth of the population receives 66 percent of tax-expenditure benefits (compared to 10 percent of entitlement benefits).

– The middle 60 percent of the population receives a little over 31 percent of tax-expenditure benefits (compared to 58 percent of entitlement benefits).

– The bottom fifth receives just 2.8 percent of tax-expenditure benefits (compared to 32 percent of entitlement benefits).

– The top 1 percent of the population receives 23.9 percent of tax-expenditure benefits — more than eight times as much as the bottom fifth of the population, and nearly as much as the middle 60 percent of the population.

So, while we know Republicans have created an impenetrable fortress against any powerful inclemency of facts coming their way, it’s occasionally useful for those of us in the reality-based community to collect some of them in our rain buckets.

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