Imaginary problems

It appears lawmakers are becoming increasingly proficient in addressing policy challenges that don’t exist.

It’s an image many Americans would find rather upsetting: a recently laid-off millionaire, luxuriating next to the pool eating grapes bought with food stamps while waiting for an unemployment check to roll in.

Under the Republican bill to extend a payroll tax holiday scheduled to be voted on in the House as early as Tuesday, those Americans with gross adjusted income over $1 million would no longer be eligible for food stamps or jobless pay, producing $20 million in savings to help pay for the tax cut for American workers. The idea is also embraced by many Democrats, who had a similar version of the savings in a Senate bill to extend the payroll tax cut, as did a failed Republican Senate bill.

Yet as it turns out, millionaires on food stamps are about as rare as petunias in January, even if you count a lottery winner in Michigan who managed to collect the benefit until chagrined officials in the state put an end to it.

I certainly don’t have a problem with the idea of cutting off the rich from public benefits intended to help struggling Americans who need a hand, but the issue here is the frequency with which this actually happens. There are, for example, practically zero examples of the very rich taking advantage of food stamps. There’s some evidence of millionaires getting jobless aid, but the numbers are very tiny.

Wayne Vroman, an economist at the Urban Institute, told the NYT, “It’s a water drop in a hurricane. I can see the PR appeal, but unemployment insurance collected by millionaires is not one of the major problems with the program. This is a way of trying to put an income test on the unemployment system that has never existed in the past.”

And in the larger context, it seems the list of policy initiatives launched by Republicans to address problems that don’t exist keeps growing. GOP officials are passing measures to combat voter fraud, without instances of actual voter fraud. House Republicans voted to eliminate a proposed EPA farm-dust regulation, despite the fact that the EPA has no proposed farm-dust regulation. GOP officials recently passed a resolution to affirm “In God We Trust” as the national motto, but “In God We Trust” was already the national motto.

Now they’re tackling benefits for millionaires that hardly ever go to millionaires.

There are real problems in need of policymakers’ attention. Maybe Congress should consider working on them?