It’s unfathomable to even contemplate how Republicans can classify the poor as the drivers of debt in our country. Day after day, we continue to be subjected to talks of President Obama’s chained CPI budget proposals not going far enough–that “real” entitlement cuts are needed across the board to truly start fixing our debt crisis. Republicans have doubled down on vilifying the poorest among us, just to protect the highest income earners from the horrors of shared sacrifice. In doing so, they’ve backed themselves into a mathematical paradox exposing how willfully ignorant they’ve become as a whole.
Many of them have voiced outrage about “massive” fraud in the food stamp system and used that as a tool to drive talks of reducing benefits, or getting rid of them altogether. Food stamp fraud costs us up to $750 million a year, which is of course a problem, but it needs to be put into proper context. When you look at the big picture, you see that money lost to fraud accounts for only 1% of the total SNAP budget yearly. In much the same way that the vast majority of hunters are law-abiding citizens who don’t use their guns to cause harm to others, the same can be said of the vast majority of food stamp recipients who use their benefits to feed their families. In each case, those who are law-abiding should have no problems with better oversight and cracking down on shady transactions. But to suggest that food stamp fraud is a massive issue driving our deficits is a logical fallacy of the highest order.
Let’s take that $750 million figure a step further and see how it compares to other debt drivers. It’s estimated that we lose $300-$400 billion annually to tax evasion. That’s 400-500 times more than what we lose to food stamp fraud, and 4-5 times more than the entire SNAP program costs to feed almost 50 million people. Or how about the cost of war? The war in Iraq cost us $720 million per day, which of course equates to almost a trillion dollars which was never paid for (over a trillion if you include Afghanistan). Food stamp fraud is, for all intents and purposes, the least of our problems.
So why do conservatives focus on things like welfare fraud instead of tackling the real issues? Because it’s easier to blame the poor than to hold the richest accountable. Republicans enjoy leaving us in a perpetual state of debt while attacking the “boogeymen” (the poor, sick and elderly) under the guise of cutting “entitlements.” Meanwhile, the country comes to a standstill and nothing is done to actually bring down the debt. This cycle is repeated over and over again until they either get what they want (more tax breaks for the rich, which have done nothing to stabilize our economy) or go home crying without accomplishing anything. All the while, they know that even if they do succeed in getting certain entitlement cuts, that in itself is not a cure-all for our debt without significant new revenues being brought in. They just don’t care, as long as they can convince their constituents that the only answer is more cuts.
Just take a look at the Paul Ryan budget plan, which was voted on and passed by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives last month. Ryan’s budget cuts over $700 billion from Medicare and billions more from other safety net programs to pay for more tax cuts for the rich and $500 billion more in “defense” spending. And his “Path to Prosperity” still adds over $1 trillion to the deficit by 2023. It’s just another case of hypocrisy from Ryan, who seems to have no problem handing billionaires billions more while thinking the poor should pay for it–and still coming up short on his numbers.
The vilification of the poor becomes even more egregious when you consider that debtors’ prisons are still alive and well in our country–while we’ve still yet to prosecute a single Wall Street executive for their role in bringing about the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Mothers and fathers unable to pay a few thousand dollars of debt risk being jailed, while Wall Street execs cry about being “too big to fail” and laugh all the way to the bank with their billions. Not only getting away with it, but getting rewarded for it through TARP (which was also supported by Paul Ryan and many of his Republican colleagues). Consider what type of message that sends to Wall Street. They now know that being too big to fail means they’re too big to jail–giving them free rein to develop and implement new strategies to launder billions from under our nose. If they get caught, who cares right? What’s a million dollar fine to a trillion dollar bank?
It all leads back to the fundamental problem of perpetual greed. Conservatives like to portray the single mom collecting a couple hundred dollars a month in food stamps as “greedy,” while lavishing praise on the CEO who’s claiming bogus tax credits while keeping billions in a Cayman Islands bank account. It’s convenient to blame the poor–after all, they don’t have powerful lobbyists and millions of dollars to bribe with. But the vast majority of them have work ethic, have families counting on them, and have hope to one day not need government assistance to get by. And one day, hopefully, that will be the new definition of “too big to fail.”