It is often the case that intelligence is not a protection against being scammed, but thinking critically without emotional influence is one way to avoid being part of a stratagem for another party’s gain. Republicans have scammed millions of Americans into supporting policies and agendas that are not in their own best interests, but there is little critical thinking or intelligence in the tea party or conservative ranks. Allegedly, there is a measure of intelligence in the United States Council of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), but like millions of emotionally-charged ignorant Americans, they were nearly swindled by Republicans into destroying the Affordable Care Act that is contrary to their Church mandate to help the least fortunate among us.
This week, the USCCB sent a letter to lawmakers urging them to avoid cutting funding for social safety net programs that Republicans targeted in a bogus attempt to cut the deficit. As it turns out, the USCCB does follow Church teachings when it comes to caring for the poor as taught by Christ. The USCCB’s Chairmen of the Committee on Domestic Justice wrote in a letter that, “We fear the pressure to cut vital programs that protect the lives and dignity of the poor and vulnerable will increase,” and they specifically cited cuts to spending on health care, food stamps, and affordable housing that they called “essential for human dignity.” Apparently, the bishops are still clueless that their aversion to contraception coverage and defense of religious liberty was a Republican strategy to destroy the Affordable Care Act and protect the insurance industry’s practice of denying coverage for any health service.
The Republicans have been on a tear to slash programs that help the poor, and instead of claiming their goal is causing as much harm to the needy as possible, they use different scams that, on their face, seem reasonable and fiscally prudent. On Thursday, Republican Darrell Issa, chairman of the House government oversight committee convened a hearing on food stamp fraud as a pretense to make drastic cuts to the program. It turned out that there is fraud in the program, but it is primarily from retailers and either over or underpayments to recipients due to errors or miscalculations by administrative agencies at the state level. Total fraud was 3.8% with less than 3% coming from incorrect payments and 1% was deliberate retailer fraud. However, the damage is done by the appearance of a panel to “investigate food stamp fraud” and Republicans have been relentless in demeaning the poor who depend on the program.
In Minnesota, for example, a state Republican representative compared the food stamp program to the Park Service plea to “not feed the animals.” Mary Fransom read a letter from a friend that said, ‘Isn’t it ironic that the food stamp program, part of the Department of Agriculture, is pleased to be distributing the greatest amount of food stamps ever.” Fransom added, “Meanwhile, the Park Service, also part of the Department of Agriculture, asks us to please not feed the animals, because the animals may grow dependent and not learn to take care of themselves.” The notion that food stamp recipients are like dependent animals is not isolated to a vicious Republican in Minnesota. A Nebraska Republican vying for Senator Ben Nelson’s (D-NE) seat compared welfare recipients to “scavenging animals” by asserting that the state is making it too easy for them. The Republican, Jon Bruning said, “The raccoons — they’re not stupid, they’re gonna do the easy way if we make it easy for them. Just like welfare recipients all across America. If we don’t send them to work, they’re gonna take the easy route.”
It is apparent that Republicans want to send over 21-million children who depend on food stamps to work, or millions of destitute elderly people to labor to avoid starving to death. In total, nearly 47 million Americans rely on SNAP for survival and a large percentage already have jobs that barely cover housing expenses for their families, but Republicans will not create jobs that would reduce the number of food stamp recipients. Republicans also will not cut defense spending the USCCB letter addressed suggesting that “defense should not be spared while social programs get cut.” The bishops wrote, “We are also very concerned with proposals to eliminate the “firewall” that currently exists between defense and nondefense spending. Elimination of this firewall would mean that poverty-related domestic programs would compete with other more powerful interests and less essential priorities.”
Republicans’ priorities are not reducing the deficit because they are attempting to undo defense cuts in the debt ceiling deal they reached last summer. Their interests are with continuing Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy, oil industry subsidies, and corporate tax breaks that adversely affect the deficit, and the Bishops recognize that Republicans will harm the neediest Americans to preserve entitlements for those who need it least. However, they did not recognize they were pawns to destroy the health law that their letter was specific in mentioning as “essential for human dignity.” Roy Blunt’s amendment banning coverage for contraception was not about birth control, but about giving the insurance industry legal cover to deny any and all health services if a provider objected.
The USCCB’s letter urging Congress to stop cutting social programs like food stamps (SNAP), a necessity for 47-million Americans, showed they are concerned for the poor and vulnerable Americans who are barely surviving Republican’s Draconian budget cuts. The Republicans, though, are not about to listen to the Bishops now, because like typical scam artists, they used them for political gain with the insurance industry and do not require their advice or input any longer on important issues like social safety nets. Instead, the Republicans moved on to their next scam of assailing non-existent welfare and food stamp fraud that resonates with conservatives and will engender support to slash the program without regard for the 47 million Americans who will go hungry without assistance.
Republicans are not concerned with austerity measures unless they are aimed at the poor, children, education, affordable housing, health care services, and food stamps. They could end oil subsidies, eliminate tax cuts for the wealthy and their corporations, and honor the debt ceiling deal they made last summer by cutting defense spending, but their contempt for the people prevents them from making humanitarian decisions the Bishops cited.
The lesson for the USCCB is simple; stay away from scam artists who use emotional, hot-button issues that are individual choices and not the purview of the Catholic Church. Republicans scammed the Bishops as easily as they scam ignorant conservatives, racists, and homophobes who lack the insight to see they are supporting Republican policies that are not in their own self interests. It was a welcomed sign that the Bishops demonstrated that, on some level, they are following Christ’s example and took a positive step in urging lawmakers not to cut funding for social safety net programs for the poor. It is the least they could do after nearly being scammed into playing an integral role in destroying affordable health care for 30-40 million Americans. Perhaps the next time Republicans approach the USCCB with emotional hot-button issues, they will remember that Republicans are scam artists who are not above using religious fervor for their special interests’ benefit, and maybe they will remember that their vocation is helping the needy and not legislating morality.