Democrats tied the civil unrest around the country and in Baltimore directly to policy made in D.C., as they unraveled the cuts to Great Society programs in the 2016 GOP budget conference report during a conference call with reporters Friday.
The new Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), charged that the Republican budget is “same wrecking ball we’ve seen” will “wreak havoc”. Referencing the events in Baltimore, Chairman Butterfield continued, “There is definitely a relationship between budgeting in Congress and the .. civil unrest we are seeing across the country can be directly tied to poverty.”
“Black America is in a state of emergency, 1/4 live in a state of poverty, 1/3 of children live in a state of poverty… there is a huge disparity in this country between black, white and brown… In the city of Baltimore, they’ve lost 90,000 jobs in that community. The black unemployment is twice that of white unemployment.”
Chairman Butterfield concluded, “The civil unrest is a byproduct of poverty.”
“We need a new 21st century war on poverty rather than the war on drugs,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Ranking Member of the House Budget Committee.
The Democratic Congressman argued that “budgets tell a lot about our priorities” and “the Republican budget is stacked against working people, it really is not part of war on poverty but war on the poor.”
These are not just words. Van Hollen gave examples, “Look at the tax provisions. The child tax credit provision current law helps support lower income families. 67,000 people receive child tax credit in Baltimore. The Republican plan gets rid of increased refundability of the tax credit. 10,000 in Baltimore will loose the tax credit.”
To further his point, Van Hollen pointed out that the GOP budget cuts taxes for millionaires, just weeks after Republicans tried to eliminate estate taxes for estates over $5 million for individuals and $10 million for couples, while at the same time cutting programs to help those in poverty like SNAP, Medicare, HeadStart, etc.
If voters were to make decisions based on things like policy instead of slogans, the Republican budget wouldn’t get too many takers. It is a vehicle designed to appease the to 1%, aka, the donors to the Republican Party. It’s fair to say that both parties cater somewhat to their donors, but the question that is left out of this equation is who are the donors. Are there a lot of individual people donations or is the party funded primarily by the top 1-2%. The answer to this question belies the “both sides do it” narrative.
The Democrats were confronted with conservative criticism of the Great Society programs by a reporter — basically, why should we make more of an investment in the Great Society programs since they clearly aren’t working? This is a great question. This is the kind of question that Republicans are so good at selling to the public. Notice that it doesn’t require any proof on their side, it uses the existence of poverty as justification to ignore poverty. It’s brilliant in its simplicity. It’s a bumper sticker slogan.
But this time, the Democrats came armed.
Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA) challenged critics, “The fact that we haven’t eliminated poverty with social safety nets, let those who want to cut them show how that is going to make things better.” He scoffed, “The idea that the response should be to reduce the investments is absurd.”
Citing the President’s Economic Report that they say determined “40 million Americans would be in poverty if not for Great Society programs”, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Chair of the Democratic Whip’s Task Force on Poverty, Income Inequality and Opportunity and member of the House Committee on Budget, used herself as an example. She said, “If we had not invested in Great Society programs… we would have millions more living in poverty, and I cite my own self as an example. I was on public assistance and food stamps so I was able to go to college, start a business, run for office, and raise two children.”
“All of these initiatives that lifted people out of poverty, what we see is the Republicans cutting every initiative that has helped our communities,” Rep. Lee said. “It’s a shame to see a cut in food stamps …. and all of those initiatives started 50 years ago that helped many of us in Congress to move forward.”
Going back to events in Baltimore and Ferguson and around the nation, Lee said, “These are wake up calls. It’s our moral duty and moral responsibility to recognize that all lives matter, but that black lives matter also.”
Democrats are working hard to show the connection between policy and Americans’ lives. They aren’t the best at this sort of thing, but today they made significant progress in advancing clarity on the issues surrounding poverty. There is a direct connection between the people we vote for and the policies that trickle down into our communities.
Ms. Jones is the co-founder/ editor-in-chief of PoliticusUSA and a member of the White House press pool.
Sarah hosts Politicus News and co-hosts Politicus Radio. Her analysis has been featured on several national radio, television news programs and talk shows, and print outlets including Stateside with David Shuster, as well as The Washington Post, The Atlantic Wire, CNN, MSNBC, The Week, The Hollywood Reporter, and more.
Sarah is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.