Heads We Win, Tails You Lose

I’ve already registered some initial thoughts about Paul Ryan’s “poverty speech” at Cleveland State yesterday. It’s not getting a lot of attention. Charles Pierce, not a big fan of the man he routinely calls the “zombie-eyed granny starver,” does give him credit for talking about a subject Democrats routinely ignore in their lust for middle-class voters. Jonathan Chait demolishes Ryan’s core argument that social mobility is inhibited by social safety net provisions.

But Chait makes a point in passing that illustrates the deceptive heads-we-win, tails-you-lose underbelly of Romney-Ryan budget policies and how they affect the poor and near-poor:

Medicaid offers health care for the very poor, along with nursing-home care and other special medical needs. It is possible that the availability of Medicaid could reduce a person’s incentive to earn more money, because at some point, they would earn enough to no longer qualify for Medicaid and then they’d lose their health insurance. But this would only hold true if we enact Ryan’s proposal to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Otherwise, people will have access to health insurance at every income level.

This sort of Catch-22 is everywhere in the GOP agenda. Romney and Ryan (most recently in this latest speech) constantly tout work-based welfare reform while proposing to demolish virtually every program and policy that “makes work pay” for people coming off public assistance. States are given “flexibility” to “innovate” in Medicaid along with vast cuts in funding for federal-state programs (including Medicaid itself) that make anything other than wholesale reductions in benefits and eligibility all but impossible. GOPers make all sorts of magical claims about their ability–somehow, some way, some time–to boost private-sector employment, even as they guarantee the elimination of actual, existing public-sector jobs (which are somehow less “real” than the hypothetical jobs of the future). And all the cluck-clucking and crocodile tears over the plight of economically stressed families is accompanied by relentless efforts to ensure that workers have lower pay, fewer benefits, and less leverage than ever before.

To understand what a Romney-Ryan administration, particularly if working with a Republican Congress, would mean for lower-income Americans, you have to look not just at their proposals but how they interact. The combinations are often purely toxic.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.