The Republican double standard on public assistance

Henry Jay Karp is the Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Emanuel in Davenport, Iowa, which he served from 1985 to 2017. He is the co-founder and co-convener of One Human Family QCA, a social justice organization.

As some of the Republican presidential hopefuls are talking about cutting Social Security and Medicare benefits for the young, starting in 2031, the underlying issue is far more extensive than the financial woes of these two programs.

Yes, both the Medicare and Social Security programs are in need of serious reform if they are to remain solvent. But there are two major fixes which could do the job: cutting benefits or raising taxes. These presidential candidates choose to cut benefits for future beneficiaries, rather than raising the taxes of our country’s top earners.

That choice reflects a broader ideological problem with the current Republican Party: favoring the interests of the rich and corporations over the interests of the everyday people.

Republican politicians would rather cut benefits for hard-working folks who live paycheck to paycheck than require the wealthiest Americans and corporations to carry their fair share of the tax burden. While they perpetuate the myth that they are “the peoples’ candidates,” they cater to the interests of those who make political contributions totaling hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars, over and above those masses who may contribute $5, $10, $25, or maybe as much as $100 dollars to their coffers.

That GOP preference for the “haves” over the “have nots” is not only seen in their approach to Social Security and Medicare benefits. We see more evidence of the Republican double standard when considering whom politicians deem worthy of government subsidies.

GOP politicians do not think twice about granting unrestricted corporate bailouts worth billions of dollars to huge investment banks or airlines—industries that then turn around and grant their executives obscene pay raises. Meanwhile, the same elected officials are eager to cut funding to federal programs like food assistance (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), denying access to food to those Americans who cannot afford to feed their families.

They continue to promote the theory of “trickle-down economics,” even when the corporate bigwigs have made no secret about their intention to pass the profits on to themselves and their investors (rather than to employees), or using the windfall for job creation.

They consider feeding the greed of the wealthy to be “investing in the economy.” But when it comes to throwing a lifeline to those in poverty, Republicans portray public assistance as some demonic form of “socialism”—as if helping their fellow Americans would toxic to our national interest.

In the depths of the Great Depression, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt believed the ills of the nation were best cured by lifting up those most in need of help. He called his plan “The New Deal.” History has proven him right. Somehow, leaders of today’s Republican Party have forgotten that lesson. There is truth to the old adage, “A rising tide lifts all boats,” but only if we remember that “a rising tide” lifts the boats from the bottom on up.

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Top photo taken by Karla Conrad for Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement during a protest on December 5, 2019.  Published with permission from Iowa CCI.

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