One of the reasons the Koch brothers invested so heavily in the midterm elections was to put a stop to domestic spending that a Democratic controlled Senate held in abeyance and never allowed to reach President Obama’s desk. Now that Republicans hold majorities in both houses of Congress, it was just a short matter of time before they could do the real the damage they have intended since Barack Obama was elected. It is likely they would have cut government down to size by drastically slashing social programs when Obama took office just out of spite, but their devastating Great Recession has proven to be the ideal vehicle to slash domestic spending under the guise of debt and deficit reduction. That is except where spending on tax cuts for the rich and the military, particularly Israel’s military, are concerned; then there are never enough spending increases. It is just how Republicans operate.
Two areas that are particularly offensive to, and primary targets of, the Koch brothers are any kind of spending to help Americans in poverty or barely subsisting eat and have access to healthcare. Throughout his tenure as chairman of the House Budget Committee, Ayn Rand acolyte Paul Ryan proposed Heritage Foundation austerity budgets that all but eliminated spending on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, food stamps), and changed Medicare into a coupon.
Ryan’s plan for Medicare privatization entails retired Americans producing their GOP-issued “coupon” for an alleged discount when purchasing pathetically underserving and overpriced private health insurance plans instead of using traditional Medicare; the Medicare they paid for their entire working lives. That money they paid into Medicare, according to conservative ideology, belongs to the rich in the form of tax cuts. The good news is that Ryan is no longer in charge of the Republicans’ budget process. But the bad news is the Koch brothers own both the House and Senate, and austerity-mad Republicans are emboldened to do more Heritage budget damage than even Ryan could imagine and targeting food stamps and Medicare is just the first in a long line of austerity cuts to make room for more defense spending and tax cuts for the rich.
The big plan the new Koch Senate is due to propose this week is cutting food stamps substantially and giving the reduced amounts directly to states in the form of “block grants.” Republicans say it makes more sense to let states parse out the reduced amounts in food stamps to the working poor, children, Veterans, the disabled, and elderly because state organizations are “there on the ground” and know what the people really need. What Republicans like Senator Lindsey Graham say the states do not need, particularly Republican-controlled states, is federal bureaucracy telling them how to spend federal money. As is always the case, Republicans claim the federal government has no place telling states how to issue food assistance any more than they have any business regulating toxins poured into the air and water.
Republicans have been pushing ‘block grants’ since 2009 as part of their storied, and failed, austerity measures that not only drastically cut the amount allotted for food assistance, it allows Republican-controlled states to use and abuse the federal funds without any federal oversight whatsoever. The block grants are also “set in stone” amounts that make no provision now, or in the future, for adjustments for inflation or another GOP recession borne of financial deregulation, unfunded tax cuts for the rich, or the next Middle East regime change war put on the nation’s credit card. All the things the Koch Congress intends to enact are precisely what Bush Republicans did to increase the number of Americans in need of nutrition assistance in the first place. However, since the Obama economy has grown and millions more Americans have found jobs, the number of food stamp recipients has been on nearly a yearlong decline; but that is not the reason Republicans are proposing major cuts to SNAP. Thy just hate the idea of spending one red cent to help poor children, Veterans, low-wage workers, disabled people, or senior citizens have access to adequate food when that money could go to enrich the elite one-percent and the military industrial complex.
There are some statistics that Republicans are certainly aware of, but just could not care less because they and their funding machine the Koch brothers take great delight in depriving poor children, low-wage workers, Veterans, many active-duty military families, disabled Americans, and the elderly of adequate nutrition when the money can go to those least in need; the wealthiest Americans and military industrial complex. For one thing, the people who use food stamps today bear absolutely no responsibility for crashing the economy in 2008. In fact, a great number of Americans of all ages and demographics still have not recovered from that GOP-created catastrophe that cost them their jobs, homes, or middle class incomes that keep them struggling just to make ends meet.
Republicans are wont to claim food stamps are some kind of luxury giveaway for the lazy, and yet the average income of recipients, including families is only $788 per month; an amount far below the federal poverty line. There is also a myth that food stamps go primarily to people of color, and yet white people make up over 43% of recipients to 25% of African Americans. There is also a Fox News conservative myth that food stamp fraud is rampant and yet the most recent report from the Agriculture Department is that SNAP recorded historically-low levels of fraud and error. One reason to prevent any kind of block grants, much less drastic cuts to SNAP is a recent tactic in Republican states to force recipients to show personal photo ID when they use government-issued SNAP debit cards even though the benefits are issued and distributed to households, not individuals; anything to keep poor Americans hungry.
The number of applications for food stamps has recently fallen drastically due to economic growth and an increase in jobs, and the reason many recipients still qualify is their wages are too low. In an action that makes little sense, Republicans in some states are beginning to demand that recipients “work to receive welfare food” even if they are children, disabled, active duty military families, or senior citizens barely surviving on meager Social Security retirement benefits. A great deal of recipients already work, but Republicans will use any means, and fabricate any excuse, to deny the neediest Americans adequate nourishment. It informs Republicans’ loathing of Americans in need and not about budget savings or debt reduction; particularly when they can spend on the rich.
There is also an economic upside to preventing food stamp cuts that even some, although very few, Republicans are prone to admit. For every dollar spent on providing nutrition assistance from SNAP, $1.70 is returned to local economies that benefit local businesses, state revenue, and most importantly creating and sustaining jobs. However, Republicans have not only shown no predilection to support any measure to grow the economy and create jobs, they have used austerity measures to kill jobs as a matter of course and say “so be it.”
Coupled with their devotion to failed austerity, cutting economically beneficial and job creating food stamps is just par for the course and part of their continued assault on poor and hungry Americans; including children (47%), one million Veterans, disabled people, 25% of active-duty military personnel, and elderly Americans (20%). Republican austerity measures were bad enough when they did not have control of Congress, and based on their proposals due out this week, the Koch-controlled congressional Republicans are going to show Americans a level of damage the nation has not seen since before the New Deal. Americans will finally see precisely what the Koch brothers’ vision for America looks like in real terms, and it begins by denying hungry Americans access to adequate food by using block grants and SNAP cuts; anything to fund more tax cuts for the rich and increased spending for war. It is, after all, exactly what Americans voted, or failed to vote, for just five months ago.
Audio engineer and instructor for SAE. Writes op/ed commentary supporting Secular Humanist causes, and exposing suppression of women, the poor, and minorities. An advocate for freedom of religion and particularly, freedom of NO religion.
Born in the South, raised in the Mid-West and California for a well-rounded view of America; it doesn’t look good.
Former minister, lifelong musician, Mahayana Zen-Buddhist.