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8 Phony GOP Solutions for Poverty That Will Only Bring More Economic Pain

The GOP is trying to rebrand itself as "compassionate" toward the poor. So what are its big ideas?

On the 50th anniversary of the war on poverty, Republicans are whipping out "compassionate conservatism" again, in an attempt to rebrand themselves as something other than the harsh, anti-poor, anti-women, anti-minority, anti-gay, anti-everything wingnuts they have been showing us they are. It's a strategy Republicans default to when they've taken things to such an extreme that the country is revolted. And here we are with Republicans pretending to have proposals geared toward fighting poverty instead of just boosting the fortunes of those who already have huge fortunes.

Republicans say that assistance to the poor makes people “dependent,” or as Paul Ryan put it in what has become known as the “Hammock Theory,” welfare is “a hammock that lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency.” These are the same people who say that helping the unemployed causes unemployment, and cutting taxes increases tax revenue, so you have to take this with more than a grain of salt. Let’s take a look at some of the various Republican proposals allegedly meant to help the poor and fight poverty.

Florida’s Republican Senator Marco Rubio recently  gave what was billed as a major speech on poverty,  saying the poverty-fighting approach of Democrats is “stale and old and doesn’t really address the magnitude of the problem.” Here are a few of his proposals.

1. Don’t raise minimum wage: Rubio said we shouldn’t raise the minimum wage to $10 because no one wants a job that pays $10. “Raising the minimum wage may poll well, but having a job that pays $10 an hour is not the American dream.” It is not clear how not raising the minimum wage translates into people getting jobs that pay more than $10 an hour. The current minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, an amount so low that people working full-time can’t afford to pay rent in any state, never mind buy food. People making the minimum wage actually qualify for food stamps and other government assistance. A bill currently before Congress to lift the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would lift 4.6 million Americans out of poverty.

2. Give subsidies to employers instead: Instead of raising the minimum wage (higher wages mean less money going into the pockets of those at the top of the corporate ladder) Rubio proposes to replace the Earned Income Tax Credit with a direct wage subsidy. He would give government money to companies to “supplement wages.” He says this would “encourage and reward work.” This would mean the money companies are not paying out in higher wages would continue to go to the top few and government would make up the difference: a direct government subsidy of inequality.

3. Turn programs over to states: Rubio proposed turning federal anti-poverty programs over to the states in a single “flex-fund” block grant, in order to let the states decide what to do with the money. Note that  24 states are currently refusing the federal Medicaid expansion, leaving 5.4 million people without health coverage even though it comes at no cost to those states. So the record on turning things over to the states as a way to help the poor is not good. 

4. Marriage: Rubio’s  big proposal is marriage (but not gay marriage). He said, “the greatest tool to lift children and families from poverty is one that decreases the probability of child poverty by 82 percent. But it isn’t a government spending program. It’s called marriage.” Rubio says that government subsidies to increase wages (instead of just raising the minimum wage) makes men more “marriageable.” He also said we need to “remove the marriage penalties in safety net programs.” This is typical Republican dog-whistle politics, used to evoke images of “welfare mothers” – single black mothers having lots of babies so they can get more welfare.

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