In Defense of Tax Cuts, GOP Old Guard Shows Disdain for Working Americans

With the advent of the tea partiers during the Obama years followed by the election of Donald Trump, there have been some interesting discussions about whether or not we’re witnessing a more extremist Republican Party or simply a trajectory that has been developing over the last few decades. Depending on the issue being discussed, there is a case to be made on either side of the argument.

But as the Senate finalized their vote on the horrendous GOP tax cut plan, a couple of old guard Republicans stepped forward, demonstrating a contempt for working Americans that affirms the idea that they’ve been extremist all along. The first piece of evidence came from Orrin Hatch, who has been representing Utah in the Senate since 1977. When challenged by Sen. Sherrod Brown about passing huge tax cuts while ignoring reauthorization of the CHIP program, Hatch pointed out his support for reauthorization. But then he said this:

I have a rough time wanting to spend billions and billions and trillions of dollars to help people who won’t help themselves, won’t lift a finger and expect the federal government to do everything. Unfortunately, the liberal philosophy has created millions of people that way, that believe everything they are or hope to be depends on the federal government rather than the opportunities this great country grants them.

Keep in mind that he said this while supporting a bill that will spend billions of dollars giving tax breaks to wealthy people and corporations. But this is the age-old philosophy of the GOP, which assumes that they can somehow divine the difference between the deserving and undeserving in this country. The creation of this thinking was the original dog whistle signaling that it is “those people” who are undeserving. It’s interesting that there is no such attempt to divide the deserving from the undeserving when it comes to handing out tax breaks to the wealthy.

The reason why I suggest that an attitude like this shows a contempt for working Americans is that, other than Social Security and Medicare, the statistics show that people who receive government benefits tend to be working Americans who either don’t make enough money to support themselves and their families, or who are temporarily in need of assistance due to life circumstances. Those are simply the facts. For example, one of the Republican’s favorite targets these days is food stamps (SNAP).

…the reality is, many people (44 percent) who rely on SNAP — the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, as food stamps is now known — have at least one person in the family working, according to the latest figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

And when it comes to families on SNAP with kids, a majority — 55 percent — are bringing home wages, according to USDA. The problem is, those wages aren’t enough to actually live on.

The idea that government programs create dependency is also a myth.

Most poor people who avail themselves of a U.S. government safety net program are off benefits within three years, according to a government survey that tracked individual people over time.

Of the one-in-five Americans who participated in a program like Medicaid or food stamps from 2009 through 2012, the Census Bureau reported this week, 56 percent stopped participating within 36 months, while 43 percent lingered between three and four years. Nearly one-third quit receiving benefits within one year.

Regardless of the facts, Republicans like Hatch continue to harbor this disdain for working Americans and feed it to their constituencies that use it as a reason to resent “those people.”

In addition to Hatch, Sen. Chuck Grassley, who has represented the state of Iowa since 1981, made even more crass remarks about working Americans. He did so while defending the elimination of the estate tax because he thinks we should do more to punish spenders as opposed to invest.

“I think not having the estate tax recognizes the people that are investing,” Grassley said, “as opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it’s on booze or women or movies.”

Did you catch that? Working Americans who don’t have enough money to invest spend their pennies on booze, women or movies.

Any American who has ever fallen on hard times should take offense at what these old guards in the Republican Party think of them. To the extent they have an ounce of empathy, everyone else should as well. This is a craven view of anyone who isn’t wealthy enough to gain approval from  those who have consistently backed policies that have contributed to our current income inequality.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.