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House GOP Didn't Get Pope’s Memo On Poor Before Slashing Food Stamps

The GOP's war on the poor can now be seen in new and harsher light.
 
 
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There’s nothing new about the House GOP’s war on America’s poor. They want people to go hungry. They want to deny people healthcare. Those were the bottom lines in votes on Thursday and Friday.

The first vote cut $40 billion from food stamps over the next decade, which today assist one in seven households. The second vote cut funding for implementing the Affordable Care Act, including outreach to the poor. 

Now the GOP’s critics don’t just include progressives and Democrats, they include Pope Francis, who called on people to help the poor after his election in March, and in a just-published interview, decried those with “dogmatic” and “obsessed” views inside the church, especially over human sexuality.

The papel interview, which surfaced within hours of the Republican-led House voting to cut billions from food stamps and then from healthcare, underscored just how extreme the GOP’s obsessions have become. There are 61 Republicans who are Catholic in the House; only 15 Republicans opposed the food stamp cuts; only one opposed cutting Obamacare.

“This church with which we should be thinking is the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people,” the Pope said, chastizing idealogues. “I often associate sanctity with patience... as a constancy in going forward, day by day.”

There was little that was patient or inclusive in the House Republican’s ongoing tirade against the poor. If anything, their speeches calling for food stamp cuts were notable for their lack of understanding. They ignored the impact on the poor and presuppose that America is filled with people who don’t want to work and are waiting for government handouts.  

“There are workfare programs, there are options under the bill for community service,” said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, speaking of the bill's language cutting off food stamps after several months until the recipient has a job. “This bill that points to the dignity of a job—to help people when they need it most with what they want most, which is a job.” 

Cantor never mentioned the Congressional Budget Office analysis finding that the bill would cause 3 million people to lose benefits while another 850,000 would see their benefits cut. Nor did he mention that millions of Americans remain unemployed after the 2008 recession.

More impersonal, ideological language came from Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-IN, who led the push for bigger food stamp cuts.

“Mr. Speaker, this bill eliminates loopholes, ensures work requirements, and puts us on a fiscally responsible path,” he blared. “In the real world, we measure success by results. It’s time for Washington to measure success by how many families are lifted out of poverty and helped back on their feet, not by how much Washington bureaucrats spend year after year.”    

The democratic process breaks down when politicians love their ideals more than the real world impact of those ideas on people. That distinction was not lost on some Democrats, whose floor speeches noted the bill’s mean-spirited and vindictive nature.

“You say to the states, ‘If you cut more people off your rolls, we’ll let you keep half the money, and you can do with it whatever you want.’ That is immoral,” said Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-New Jersey. “We’re talking about kids. We are talking about veterans. And we are talking about the disabled.”

Washington’s pundits quickly noted that neither of the House GOP bills—cutting food stamps and defunding Obamacare—were going anywhere. The White House said it would veto the food stamp bill. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said that Democrats would delete the Obamacare cuts, which even Tea Party Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas admitted was all but inevitable.

Americans have been living with the House GOP’s posturing for years. But their pontificating and actions punishing the poor are being cast in a harsh new light that many people did not expect: new statements from the Pope about the errors of extremist thinking and, equally important, what it means to serve the public.

“The thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle,” Pope Francis said in his most extensive remarks yet.    

One wonders how many of the 61 Republican House members who are Catholic are paying attention to the Pope, especially after their latest efforts to make life harder for the neediest Americans.

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America's retirement crisis, democracy and voting rights, and campaigns and elections. He is the author of "Count My Vote: A Citizen's Guide to Voting" (AlterNet Books, 2008).

 
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