Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Starving the Beast


Published: NYT, July 6, 2004

WASHINGTON, July 5 — Welfare programs around the country are in limbo because of a stalemate in Congress that has prompted state officials to postpone new investments in child care, expansions of job training and most other initiatives for welfare recipients and low-wage workers.

Congressional Republicans insist that stricter work requirements must be part of any effort to renew the 1996 welfare law. Democrats, including some who voted against that measure, now embrace it, saying only minor changes are needed.

Major provisions of the law were scheduled to expire in September 2002. Since then, Congress has passed seven bills extending the program, typically for three months at a time. Lawmakers, who return to work on Tuesday, say they see little chance for approval of a long-term reauthorization this year.

If the stalemate persists, states could lose money. The House and the Senate have tentatively agreed to continue providing $16.5 billion a year for the main welfare program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. But with large budget deficits looming, lawmakers say, Congress will be under intense pressure to cut this amount next year.

"Our fear is that if you go past the elections, things will change — things will change for the worse," said Marc S. Ryan, Connecticut's budget director.

Representative Wally Herger, a California Republican who is chairman of a subcommittee that handles welfare legislation, agreed, saying, "As time passes, budget pressures will squeeze tighter and tighter."

And so the Gingrich/Norquist/Bush strategy of deliberately creating huge deficits in order to use the resulting budget squeeze to strangle social programs is coming to fruition. The Bush Tax-Cut for the Rich is going to force cuts in programs for the poor.

They're going to tell you they 'have no choice'. They're going to say 'economic realities' are forcing their hand. They're going to say, 'We'd like to but we can't--there isn't enough money.'

Bullshit. They did this deliberately. They've been planning to do it since Reagan's first term almost 25 years ago. Nothing about it is 'accidental'; nothing about it is a 'response to economic conditions'. It was engineered from the beginning to do exactly what it's doing, and Ryan is right--it's going to get much worse after the election, especially if Bush wins.