Barack Obama Is Not the “Ice Cream President”

There’s an email making the rounds that tells a story about two little girls who run for class president in grade school. One girl works hard, runs a good campaign, and promises to do her best if elected. The other girl promises to give everyone ice cream. The teacher asks the children how they’ll pay for the ice cream. They have no idea, but they vote for the ice cream girl anyway.

That, says the email, is how Barack Obama won the election. He promised to give away free stuff that we can’t afford.

Bill O’Reilly got the ball rolling on this theory when he said, “It’s not a traditional America anymore, and there are 50 percent of the voting public who want stuff. They want things. And who is going to give them things? President Obama.”

Earlier that day, a Romney supporter told me that he expected his candidate to lose because Obama “bought” votes by “giving away” food stamps and welfare.

We have such short memories.

It was the Republican president George W. Bush who expanded eligibility for food stamps in the 2002 farm bill. It was 99 Republican representatives who voted to expand the program further in the 2008 farm bill. And it was that same Republican president who waived one of the work requirements for 32 states in November 2008.

That’s why the food stamp program added more recipients under Bush than it did under Obama.

The welfare claim is even more ridiculous. We may not remember the food stamp expansion under Bush, but surely we remember welfare reform under Bill Clinton. In 1996, Congress ended “welfare as we know it” and replaced it with “Temporary Assistance for Needy Families” (TANF), a program whose budget hasn’t changed in 16 years. It was $16.6 billion in 1996, and it’s $16.6 billion today.

In the year before welfare reform, 4.7 million Americans received assistance from the program. Today, only 2 million receive assistance from TANF.

When TANF was created, 68 percent of families with children in poverty received welfare. Today, only 27 percent get it.

Low-income entitlement spending has increased, but it would’ve increased under any president. Most of it is what economists call “automatic stabilizers” because they automatically increase during recessions. More people become unemployed. More people fall into poverty. More people lose their health insurance. So more people qualify for unemployment insurance and food stamps and Medicaid.

Since the end of the recession, low-income entitlement spending has been falling. In the next decade, the Congressional Budget Office says that it will return to the same level it’s been for the last forty years: a little more than 1 percent of our nation’s income. If you exclude health care, where costs are rising for completely separate reasons, the CBO expects low-income entitlement spending to fall below its forty-year average in coming years.

The CBO is making these projections, of course, based on the Obama administration’s budget. The president who is supposedly giving away free stuff, it turns out, is actually planning to reduce low-income entitlements.

What’s particularly galling about the Republicans’ argument is that Romney was the candidate who couldn’t explain how he’d pay for everything he was promising. Romney was the candidate who wanted to add a $480 billion tax cut to a $1.3 trillion deficit. Romney was the candidate who wanted to add $200 billion in new Pentagon spending every year.

It was the Republican president George W. Bush who turned a surplus into a deficit. It was Bush who took the nation into two wars while passing two massive tax cuts. It was Bush who signed Medicare Part D without figuring out how to pay for it.

Are we all suffering from a collective bout of amnesia?

The Romney camp’s explanation for their electoral loss fits right in with the broader picture they tried to paint of the Obama presidency. In their world, Barack Obama “has fundamentally changed the relationship between government and the people of this country,” as Jon Stewart put it in his debate with O’Reilly.

But it’s simply not true.

And the truth matters. Obama didn’t win the election because he’s giving away free stuff, and perpetrating such a myth only serves to obscure what’s really going on and what really needs to be done in Washington.

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This op-ed was published in today’s South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

The World That Mitt Romney Wants to Build…for the One Percent

“A gaffe is when a politician tells the truth — some obvious truth he isn’t supposed to say.” — Michael Kinsley

Mitt Romney really stepped in it this time. His only saving grace is that no one noticed…yet.

In a recent interview with Fortune magazine, Romney indicated that, under his tax plan, “high-income people would continue to pay the same share of the tax burden that they do today.”

This quote doesn’t sound like a gaffe until you put it together with the rest of Romney’s promises. Under his tax plan, those “high-income people” would face much lower tax rates.

This seemed odd to me. The same tax burden with lower rates? Wouldn’t that mean they’d have to earn a heck of a lot more money before taxes?

As it turns out, yes. Yes, they would.

If Romney gets his way, the top 1 percent will pay an average federal tax rate of 22.5 percent, down from the 28.3 percent rate they paid in 2007. The average federal tax rate for the nation as a whole will fall from 19.9 percent to 17.4 percent. (This is assuming Romney doesn’t eliminate a bunch of deductions and credits, in which case most people’s tax rate would actually go up and the number I’m about to report would be worse. I’m giving Romney the benefit of the doubt here.)

In 2007, the top 1 percent paid 26.2 percent of the nation’s taxes. In order to maintain that share of the tax burden, as Romney suggested in his interview, the top 1 percent would have to earn 33.9 percent of the nation’s pretax income.

33.9 percent. One in three dollars of our nation’s output will go into the pockets of the richest 1 percent. To put that into context, in 2007, the top 1 percent pocketed 18.7 percent of pretax income. In 1979, they earned 8.9 percent.

Let’s take Romney at his word. Let’s try to imagine what the world will look like if the top 1 percent earns 33.9 percent of pretax income.

In order to earn that much income, CEO compensation will soar. The financial sector will probably double its share of corporate profits. Leveraged buyouts and other short-term gimmicks will become more prevalent, and many more manufacturing jobs will disappear, replaced by low-wage, no-benefit service jobsif they’re replaced at all. Wages for the average worker will decline relative to inflation. Most households will have to work more hours just to maintain their standard of living, but even that won’t be enough. Households will sink deeper in debt just to stay afloat. As a result, financial crises will become more frequent and more prolonged. Wall Street will thrive, creating ever more complex financial securities that prey on ever more naïve borrowers.

That’s another thing: Lack of education. Well, you can expect poverty to go up, and therefore students’ test scores will go down. But don’t expect the government to pick up the slack with more funding because the top 1 percent is no friend to high public education spendingor food stamps or Medicaid or pretty much anything that would help poor kids.

And in a world where they’re earning one-third of the nation’s income, the top 1 percent is going to have twice the influence they currently have in Congress. So you can expect plenty of corporate subsidies, especially for Big Oil. Forget about clean energy. We’ll import all that stuff from China. You see, the 1 percent doesn’t like to nurture new industries when they threaten the old monopolies.

Of course, not everyone in the 1 percent thinks or acts the same. They’re a diverse and brilliant and, in many ways, admirable bunch. But 1 percent of the population should not control one-third of the economy, no matter how impressive they may be.

You may think I’m an alarmist. Surely the future won’t be that bad.

Well, guess what: Everything I just described has been happening for the past three decades. And it all happened while the 1 percent doubled its share of pretax income.

Welcome to the future. How do you like it so far?

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This op-ed was published in today’s South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

A Most Cruel, Cynical Duo

In reaction to today’s news that Mitt Romney has chosen Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate, I’m reproducing my op-ed from April on Ryan’s claim to fame — his budget proposal:

Do you think the government should spend less money on Medicare? On Medicaid? On education? On aid to the poor? On veterans’ benefits?

If you’re like most Americans, your answer to all of these questions is, “No.”

According to a recent poll, less than a quarter of Americans want the government to cut spending on these programs. Even the majority of Republican primary voters are opposed to such reductions.

Yet House Republicans recently passed a budget that significantly reduces spending for all these programs. And those same Republican primary voters are most supportive of the one candidate who has publicly endorsed this budget: Mitt Romney.

Clearly, most Americans have no idea what Romney and the author of the budget, Republican Congressman Paul Ryan, stand for.

Ryan’s budget slashes spending from almost everything except Social Security and defense. Of the $5.3 trillion he wants to eliminate over the next decade, $3.3 trillion comes from programs that benefit low-income Americans: Medicaid, Pell Grants, food stamps, job training, school lunch, etc.

Seriously, school lunch. Evidently, Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney believe that the richest country in the history of the world can’t afford to provide its children with one decent meal a day.

Yet we can afford to pay the average millionaire an extra $265,000 per year. That’s how much more they’d earn if Ryan’s tax cuts became law.

Millionaires would get a raise of 12.5 percent on their after-tax income. The middle class would get a raise of less than 2 percent.

Is there an epidemic of suffering millionaires that I’m unaware of? Are they unable to pay their health insurance? Their student loans? Their mortgages?

No. Those are middle-class problems.

And they’ll become bigger problems if Ryan’s budget becomes law. Fewer Pell Grants will result in a lot more student debt, and less funding for the Affordable Care Act will rescind affordable health insurance for upwards of 30 million Americans.

Economists expect unemployment to remain high for several more years. Ryan’s solution is to fire thousands of federal employees.

Our veterans are suffering from record levels of post-traumatic stress disorder after multiple tours of duty in a war that most Americans no longer support. Ryan’s solution is to dishonor their sacrifice by skimping on their health care.

Income inequality has triggered protests in the streets and unsustainable household debt. Ryan’s solution is to pay the rich more and the poor less.

“If they can’t afford food or health care, let them die.” That should be Paul Ryan’s motto. Put that on your Mitt Romney bumper sticker.

And don’t think this is hyperbole, because they are dying. According to Harvard Medical School researchers, 45,000 Americans die every year because they lack health insurance and therefore cannot get the necessary care. According to researchers at Columbia University and the Federal Reserve, being unemployed for a year increases your odds of dying by 50 percent. Another year, and it’s 100 percent.

This is a cruel, cynical world we live in where hard-working men and women are tossed aside like road-kill for political gain.

“I’ve always resented the smug statements of politicians, media commentators, corporate executives who talked about how, in America, if you worked hard, you would become rich,” said the great historian Howard Zinn. “The meaning of that was: if you were poor, it was because you hadn’t worked hard enough. I knew this was a lie about my father and millions of others, men and women who worked harder than anyone.”

Indeed they did. This country was built on their broken backs. But Mitt Romney thinks they’re expendable — and when you go to the voting booth in November, he’s counting on you not to notice.

The Cruel, Cynical Lie at the Heart of Paul Ryan’s Budget…and Mitt Romney’s Campaign

Do you think the government should spend less money on Medicare? On Medicaid? On education? On aid to the poor? On veterans’ benefits?

If you’re like most Americans, your answer to all of these questions is, “No.”

According to a recent poll, less than a quarter of Americans want the government to cut spending on these programs. Even the majority of Republican primary voters are opposed to such reductions.

Yet House Republicans recently passed a budget that significantly reduces spending for all these programs. And those same Republican primary voters are most supportive of the one candidate who has publicly endorsed this budget: Mitt Romney.

Clearly, most Americans have no idea what Romney and the author of the budget, Republican Congressman Paul Ryan, stand for.

Ryan’s budget slashes spending from almost everything except Social Security and defense. Of the $5.3 trillion he wants to eliminate over the next decade, $3.3 trillion comes from programs that benefit low-income Americans: Medicaid, Pell Grants, food stamps, job training, school lunch, etc.

Seriously, school lunch. Evidently, Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney believe that the richest country in the history of the world can’t afford to provide its children with one decent meal a day.

Yet we can afford to pay the average millionaire an extra $265,000 per year. That’s how much more they’d earn if Ryan’s tax cuts became law.

Millionaires would get a raise of 12.5 percent on their after-tax income. The middle class would get a raise of less than 2 percent.

Is there an epidemic of suffering millionaires that I’m unaware of? Are they unable to pay their health insurance? Their student loans? Their mortgages?

No. Those are middle-class problems.

And they’ll become bigger problems if Ryan’s budget becomes law. Fewer Pell Grants will result in a lot more student debt, and less funding for the Affordable Care Act will rescind affordable health insurance for upwards of 30 million Americans.

Economists expect unemployment to remain high for several more years. Ryan’s solution is to fire thousands of federal employees.

Our veterans are suffering from record levels of post-traumatic stress disorder after multiple tours of duty in a war that most Americans no longer support. Ryan’s solution is to dishonor their sacrifice by skimping on their health care.

Income inequality has triggered protests in the streets and unsustainable household debt. Ryan’s solution is to pay the rich more and the poor less.

“If they can’t afford food or health care, let them die.” That should be Paul Ryan’s motto. Put that on your Mitt Romney bumper sticker.

And don’t think this is hyperbole, because they are dying. According to Harvard Medical School researchers, 45,000 Americans die every year because they lack health insurance and therefore cannot get the necessary care. According to researchers at Columbia University and the Federal Reserve, being unemployed for a year increases your odds of dying by 50 percent. Another year, and it’s 100 percent.

This is a cruel, cynical world we live in where hard-working men and women are tossed aside like road-kill for political gain.

“I’ve always resented the smug statements of politicians, media commentators, corporate executives who talked about how, in America, if you worked hard, you would become rich,” said the great historian Howard Zinn. “The meaning of that was: if you were poor, it was because you hadn’t worked hard enough. I knew this was a lie about my father and millions of others, men and women who worked harder than anyone.”

Indeed they did. This country was built on their broken backs. But Mitt Romney thinks they’re expendable — and when you go to the voting booth in November, he’s counting on you not to notice.

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This op-ed was published in last Friday’s South Florida Sun-Sentinel.