Expanding the Welfare State in America
By Laurence M. Vance
Don’t let their libertarian rhetoric and their mantra of free enterprise, private property, the Constitution, and limited government fool you: Republicans are incorrigible welfare statists.
Just before the 1994 midterm election, Republicans promised specific actions they would take if the American people voted for enough of them to give the Republican Party a majority in Congress. It was called the Contract with America. After the Democrats trounced the Republicans in the 2006 midterm election, the Republicans offered to Americans their budget alternative called the Path to American Prosperity. Since they suckered enough people once, Republicans thought they would try it again for the 2010 midterm election. This time House Republicans unveiled the Pledge to America, but it only resulted in a Republican majority in the House. Once Paul Ryan (R-WI) became the chairman of the House Budget Committee, he oversaw the release of The Path to Prosperity: Restoring America’s Promise (fiscal year 2012), The Path to Prosperity: A Blueprint for American Renewal (fiscal year 2013), and The Path to Prosperity: A Responsible, Balanced Budget (fiscal years 2014 & 2015). The Republican Study Committee in 2013 introduced its Back to Basics alternative to the Paul Ryan budget plan.
Paul Ryan and the Republicans are at it again. This time it is Expanding Opportunity in America: A Discussion Draft from the House Budget Committee.
Make that Expanding the Welfare State in America.
Expanding Opportunity in America was released on July 24. It is said to be “A Discussion Draft from the House Budget Committee.” But at the bottom of the document’s table of contents it states:
This document was prepared by the Republican staff of the Committee on the Budget, U.S. House of Representatives. It has not been approved by the full committee and may not reflect the views of individual committee members.
The official press release says that “the draft proposes a new pilot project to strengthen the safety net and discusses a number of reforms to the EITC, education, criminal justice, and regressive regulation.” On the same day, Ryan authored an opinion piece about his plan for USA Today and spoke about it at the American Enterprise Institute.
The 73-page Expanding Opportunity in America (EOA) contains an introduction, “Opportunity in America,” and six chapters:
1. Reforming the Safety Net
2. The Earned Income Tax Credit
4. The Criminal Justice System
5. Regulatory Reform
6. Results-Driven Research
There are also four appendixes, but only the first three have titles:
1. Streamlining Support
2. Helping Families Save
3. Federal Aid to Higher Education
The introduction to EOA makes a great statement: “On the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty, then, we should reexamine the federal government’s role.” The only problem is that after their examination, Republicans—contrary to the Constitution they claim to follow—still think that the federal government has a role. The EOA will merely “put forth a number of ideas to make federal aid both more accountable and more effective.”
The first Republican proposal “would create a pilot program called the Opportunity Grant to coordinate aid for families in need.” The federal government should “customize assistance to low-income Americans and incorporate work into the safety net.” This Republican proposal “seeks to combine the resources of the federal government with the vast knowledge of states and local communities.” The federal government should offer “a more dynamic form of aid.” It should “create a safety net that both catches the falling and supports the striving.” To this end, the EOA suggests “a new pilot project in a select number of states” that “would consolidate a number of means-tested programs into a new Opportunity Grant (OG) program.” According to the EOA’s first appendix, “the following programs would be folded into the Opportunity Grant (OG) in participating states”:
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program (HCV)
Section 521 Rural Rental Assistance Payments
Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance
Public Housing Capital and Operating Funds
Child Care and Development Fund
The Weatherization Assistance Program
The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
Community Development Block Grant (CDBG)
WIA Dislocated Workers
But note that:
The funding would be deficit-neutral relative to current law.
It is important to note that this is not a budget-cutting exercise—this is a reform proposal.
This consolidation does not make judgments about an optimal level of spending.
This proposal seeks to create the space and flexibility necessary for local, state, and federal government to add value without making judgments about the right level of spending.
Because the OG would be deficit-neutral, participating states would receive the same amount of funding as before.
This means that the Republicans are not recommending that welfare spending be cut by one penny.
The second Republican proposal “would expand the EITC for childless workers by eliminating ineffective programs and corporate welfare.” The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is a refundable tax credit. When preparing one’s income taxes, a refundable tax credit is treated as a payment from the taxpayer, such as federal income tax withheld or quarterly estimated taxes paid. If the “payment” is more than the tax owed, the taxpayer receives a refund from the government of money he never had withheld or paid in. This is much different from a regular tax credit that reduces the amount of income tax owed. A regular tax credit may reduce the amount of tax owed down to zero. However, if there is no taxable income to begin with—due to tax deductions, exemptions, or otherwise—then no credit can be taken. There is only one word needed to describe refundable tax credits—welfare. To expand the EITC for childless workers, the Republican proposal “would eliminate a number of ineffective programs,” “reduce fraud in the Additional Child Tax Credit,” and “scale back corporate welfare.” But of course, if Republicans actually followed the Constitution they claim to revere, they would eliminate the refundable nature of the EITC, eliminate all ineffective programs, eliminate the refundability of the Additional Child Tax Credit, and eliminate corporate welfare.
The third Republican proposal “would give states more flexibility with federal education and job-training programs in exchange for more accountability. It also would simplify the current pile of higher-education programs into one grant, one loan, and one work-study program.” Since the Higher Education Act will soon be up for reauthorization, “now is the time to review and reform the federal government’s role in higher education.” The problem, of course, is that now is the time to end the federal government’s role in higher education since the Constitution doesn’t authorize the federal government to have anything whatsoever to do with the education of any American. Republicans propose to “simplify the Free Application for Federal Student Aid” instead of do away with the application, “reform and modernize the Pell program” instead of eliminate Pell Grants, “cap federal loans to graduate students and parents” instead of stop making loans in the first place, “expand funding for federal Work-Study programs” instead of cutting funding, “build stronger partnerships with post-secondary institutions” instead of sever them, and “reform the accreditation process” instead of get out of the accreditation business.
The fourth Republican proposal “would revise mandatory-minimum guidelines and couple expanded enrollment in rehabilitative programing [sic] with an earned-time-credit system in federal prisons.” The EOA reports that “about 2.2 million people are currently behind bars—a more than 340 percent increase since 1980.” It neglects to report that this is a direct result of “law and order” Republicanism. And although the EOA acknowledges that “most federal prisoners—nearly 51 percent—are serving time for a drug-related offense, and data from the U.S. Sentencing Commission shows that most of these federal drug offenders are in the lowest criminal-history category,” the solution Republicans propose is to “grant judges more flexibility within mandatory-minimum guidelines when sentencing non-violent drug offenders” instead of ending the drug war outright. After all, it is not authorized by the Constitution, and is more destructive than drugs themselves.
The fifth Republican proposal “would require Congress to review any proposed federal regulation that would unduly burden low-income families. It also calls for states and local governments to revise their licensing laws.” Although the EOA acknowledges that “in 2013, federal regulations cost the economy $1.86 trillion—or about $14,974 per household,” the EOA “does not call for comprehensive regulatory reform.” It would merely “require Congress to review regulations that would disproportionately affect low-income families.” And regarding occupational licensing, the EOA correctly points out that it “can hurt low-income families” because “these requirements often prevent workers from entering or advancing in the workforce.” But rather than calling for the elimination of occupational-licensing laws, the EOA only suggests “eliminating irrational or unnecessary licensing requirements.” And as the EOA points out: “The vast majority of these licensing requirements are the result of state and local laws.” This means that it was a waste for Republicans to even bring up this subject since this is something the federal government has no control over it.
The sixth Republican proposal “calls for a commission to examine the best ways to encourage rigorous analysis of our safety-net programs.” The commission would be made up of “leading economists, statisticians, program administrators, and privacy experts.” They would advise Congress on five things that are not important since advising Congress that the Constitution doesn’t authorize the federal government to have safety-net programs is the last thing the commission would ever do.
The cry of Republicans is always to reform, review, revise, rework, revisit, and replace instead of reduce, rescind, retract, remove, revoke, and repeal.
Like Democrats, they are incorrigible welfare statists. But unlike Democrats—who are not shy about their plans to expand the welfare state in America—Republicans wholeheartedly support the welfare state (although they prefer their version of it) while at the same time professing credence in limited government and fidelity to the Constitution. They are hypocrites. They are liars. They are two-faced. And as I recently pointed out, they are enemies of freedom.