BY JERRY BROWN
H. L. MENCKEN SAID the job of practical politics is to scare the hell out of people and shoosh away hobgoblins. It's all how we frame it. For example, there are lots of subsidies. Whose subsidy? Is it General Dynamics? Is it MacDonald's or Gallo winery getting money to sell their products in Europe? Or is it some African American or Latino or Puerto Rican mom trying to struggle on an inadequate income? See, it all depends. The protracted debate on welfare should have been a national discussion for the soul of this country. It wasn't! The whole debate was framed around the idea of "limits," of how long people should be able to "freeload" on the government. The bill is estimated to extract $56 billion from those at the bottom-the poor, the working class-and send it back into a government spending-machine that gives millions to programs benefiting the very affluent and the corporations.
We need to frame the brute facts-what is-before we talk about what should be. We are drenched in mythology. The Republican members of the House and Senate indulged in a perverse excitement in sadistically cutting the very life support systems out of millions and millions of defenseless people. They're not picking on corporate welfare-the $100 billion that's been identified by Public Citizen and others. They're not going to touch veterans benefits. They're not going to touch the bloated pay that goes to members of Congress-$140,000 cash, free medical care, plane rides, expensive dinners from big-shot campaign contributors, a pension to fall back on if they hang on for ten years or more in office. Is that welfare? No, they "work." How do they work? They work their mouths. They collect money from those who want to buy influence. Are they cutting the Pentagon? The Pentagon budget goes up $13 billion. The 1996-97 farm subsidy payments go up too. What about Medicare? The Medicare premium for elderly users will actually enjoy a $2.60 monthly premium reduction. The people this bill is picking on are women, children, and immigrants. Why? Because immigrants can't vote. Children can't vote. And probably the majority of women on Aid to Families with Dependent Children are too discouraged to vote.
The welfare bill is basically an assault on a million children, moving them further down into poverty. One in five families with children-8.2 million people-will see their incomes fall. They're not going to get Medicaid, and the present "generous" food-stamp assistance, amounting to 80¢ per person per meal for the unemployed, the elderly, and children, will be cut to 66¢. These kids are not living in the lap of luxury when their mom is pulling in $580 for two children in the better states, much less in poorer states. This bill also denies illegal alien children (most of the farmworkers are undocumented) the federal nutrition hot lunch program in school-no lunches for mostly Mexican children of Mexican workers who provide our food. That's why the Catholic Church has opposed so vehemently this destruction of living children who can't fight back.
The Democrats tried to amend the bill to allow women and kids kicked off welfare to receive non-cash vouchers with limited purposes-diapers, cribs, clothing, medicine, school supplies. Nope! The Republicans are so perverted, so mentally screwed up, so selfish, so borne aloft by their ideology and greed, so out of touch with ordinary humanity, that they feverishly twisted arms on the Senate floor to make sure they could eke out a 51-48 victory against this amendment. Under the anti-terrorist bill, you can still give medicine to terrorist groups without breaking the law, but the government can't give medicine to American citizens and poor kids if their mothers exhaust the time limit for welfare. I don't have the language to describe the calamity, the criminality, and the utter bogus quality of the discussion.
When we had a more generous spirit in Washington with Franklin Roosevelt as president, Congress was trying to soften the ravages of capitalism. At that time the concern was that widows would have to put up their kids for adoption because they couldn't support them. So they enacted the whole social security program. Among its features was supplemental aid to what were called "mothers' pensions." In 1939 the Aid to Dependent Children was enacted so that all single mothers could get some assistance. The goal was to keep the family intact. Another part of that program is called the "earned income tax credit." That's a more direct way of providing financial assistance to people who work, who have kids, who make so little they cannot climb out of poverty. That's the "official" program. The unofficial work subsidy is welfare.
It turns out that almost everyone on welfare must supplement their welfare checks-work illegally, get money from boyfriends or parents or brothers or sisters, double up and triple up in apartments, take in roommates, sell drugs, sell sex, sell stolen property-do what they have to do. The money from food stamps and welfare provides a little more than half of what it takes for a family to live. So don't say, "Oh, we're going to make those mothers, those lazy good for nothings, go to work." Wake up! They're working now! Most of them have jobs. They don't report the income because their measly miserable welfare payments would be cut even further and whatever they earn would be canceled out. What we have here is a system to subsidize low wage work with welfare payments. When you say, "Put them to work," what you mean is "Make their unreported income reportable" so you can cut their welfare check and drive them deeper into poverty.
The impact of this bill is that the states are going to have to pick up a lot of the responsibility as the federal government cuts back. The burden will go to the budget of the city of New York, the city of San Francisco, the city of Los Angeles, the city of Houston. Then, as this burden gets greater, our taxes will go up; there will be more "white flight"; the ghettoization will intensify; the racial and class divisions will become exacerbated. That's why they've got the three-strikes bill, that's why they've got 100,000 more cops and a crime bill; that's why Clinton came back with the second anti-terrorism bill, because he's breeding terrorists with the combination of NAFTA and GATT and this so-called welfare reform. They all go together like a hand in a glove. This is the infrastructure for authoritarian control because there is no other option. You can't drive people to the wall and then expect them to be nice and harmonious. No, it's going to be more disharmonious, and that's why they need more police, more wiretapping, more controls.
People don't react because they're not getting a picture of the reality that this bill will create. The bill assumes that the states will spend the maximum that the federal government will let them. But under this bill they don't have to spend the max. There are all sorts of little loopholes by which they can take money from the most hated group-mothers and kids on welfare-and move it over to other programs in the social service area that have organized representation. It is much easier to give the money to people who will provide campaign donations than to try to maintain the miserable levels of welfare support that the federal government now will allow but not mandate.
What is really perverse in the welfare debate is the use of the word "opportunity." Where is the opportunity when the jobs that are available (a) pay too little, (b) shut down unpredictably, and (c) don't have any benefits: no child care, no health care, no training in most cases. That's not right when the gross national product is estimated to keep on growing. By kicking millions of people off welfare, what you do is put more downward pressure on wages, and that, added to the globalization of business, continues to give management an upper hand, continues to boost the balance of power between the boss and those at the bottom of the scale. People will find out there are more bodies on the line competing with them-not just those in Mexico and Indonesia making stuff that used to be made here-but people pushed out of this support system called welfare. I think there's a very intentional program here by corporate America.
Very narrow constraints make the debate absolutely empty. For example, the revenue from federal taxes since the mid-sixties-individual, corporate, social security, Medicare, gasoline, cigarette and half a dozen others-has remained fairly constant. If you try to lower taxes beyond a certain point, then the politicians will say we've got to cut spending. If you try to cut too much, you start hitting Medicare, you start hitting farm subsidies, military, highways, all the stuff that has powerful people behind it, and there's an outcry and Congress backs off. The other bloc is Wall Street. If the deficit rises too much, Wall Street and the gnomes of Zurich, Germany, where a lot of the bonds and financial market ideas emanate from, will say high interest rates are on the way. The stock market will drop, the politicians will panic, and they can't cut taxes in a way that would increase the deficit beyond a certain point, particularly when the economy is overheated.
There have been significant adjustments. The rich are paying a greater percentage of their income in taxes and the poor are paying less, but-here's the significant point behind the tax debate, the political debate, and the welfare debate-between 1968, the year that Richard Nixon was elected, and the end of 1994, Clinton's second year, the gap between the top 20% and the bottom 20% has been getting larger. A study reported by the Twentieth Century Fund, right out of official government statistics, showed that just between 1983 and 1989, 1% of the total gained in marketable wealth went to the bottom 80%, while 99% went to the top 20%. Why aren't we hearing the truth? We talk about Central America as a place where the rich have everything-it's right here! When a certain group of people can buy a certain kind of clothes, take a certain kind of vacation, have a certain kind of house, put their kids in a certain kind of school, have a certain kind of police service, then that sets a tone. If the gap between those at the top or middle and those at the bottom grows beyond a certain point, then that felt deprivation begins to work a cancerous effect and separates and alienates people.
The gap between rich and poor also keeps increasing because of computers, because of the declining power of unions and union membership, because of technology that replaces people in unskilled and semiskilled jobs, because of workers in foreign countries merged into the employment base of American companies, and because of the use of part-time workers putting people at a disadvantage and lowering their benefits. The focus ought to be on making low income work pay more. And where there aren't those jobs, let the government step in like they did in WPA, community service, CCC, and all the rest of it. There's plenty of work there as a last resort.
But this is not what you hear about. You hear, "Don't stay home with the kid; you ought to be working." But to be working, you have to have good child care, you need some training to be able to earn enough. A rich country like America could do that. But scapegoating is too powerful in today's politics. You can scapegoat people who don't vote like immigrants and kids. Blacks and Latinos and people coming across the border can be dehumanized, demonized, to indulge the fears of an angry mob. You've got a formula that won't quit. Cutting welfare won't be the last of it. Once you call somebody an insect or inhuman or good-for-nothing or lazy, then you can do pretty well what you want.
The issue is not welfare. The issue is remunerating, rewarding work, based not on the market, but on human dignity. The issue is raising wages and making work available, even if the government has to step in, even if you have to curb free trade, even if you have to make sure that real honest work is there, that child care is there, that medical care and assistance and job training are there. If you do all of that, welfare will take care of itself. So there are ways to promote welfare without dependency, without an urban underclass. That's all a function of the way the market is organized, the way jobs are outsourced, the way that unions have been busted, the way the meritocracy is manipulated so that those at the top make disproportionate salaries while those at the bottom are treated like serfs and scum. That's what they ought to be talking about.
This nation is being led by people who are not telling the truth, who are not putting out for discussion the only serious issue-the unequal distribution of income. Otherwise the welfare reform bill would have died, or someone would have said, "Okay, take your $56 billion and let's put it all back into public service work, and let's add another $50 billion from the military and export promotion and all the rest of the boondoggles of corporate welfare." Then you could have really ended welfare as we know it and created opportunity as it really could be.
Welfare, taxes, inequality, and the political debate all pull together to keep everyone in the dark. Look with open eyes at what is going on! This great experiment-the so-called workfare and tough love--is nothing more than devastation, more crime on the streets, more burden on already bankrupt municipal urban governments across the land. It's not welfare that's broken. It's the market system, the whole economic system that is creating surplus people. It's going to take more than training, more than child support, more than the minimum wage, more than the tax code itself if free trade, shattered unions, and continued automation are allowed to run their course. It's going to require different structures of ownership, different rules of trade, different powers on the part of workers, guaranteed by the government itself. What has to be brought back is: What is the common good for a community, for a state, for a nation? What is the common good and how far away from it are we and what would it take to get there?
If people want solutions, there are ways to lift the standard of living of those who are working or who want to work:
1. Increase the earned income tax credit for working parents. They should all achieve the poverty line at least or above. Food stamps was a way to do that-the surplus food commodities. You've got to provide a way to lift the remuneration, the pay people get for working.
2. Provide tax credits for the children of parents that work.
3. If you're working poor, you ought to be able to get Medicaid coverage and pay a certain amount, up to 5% of your income.
4. You ought to get a tax credit for housing expenses. People who have the big houses are collecting thousands of dollars in mortgage tax breaks subsidies, from Uncle Sam. Why couldn't the equivalent be made available to all working people, particularly the working poor?
5. Finally, you ought to get mortgage subsidies if you buy your home in low income neighborhoods to stabilize the neighborhood.
Call the system "capitalism, "call it "unrestrained market exploitation," call it "profit," but from the time of Roosevelt, from the time of Pope Leo XIII, we have known that you can't just sit back and let the fit wipe out the less fit. It's not right and it will destroy America.
Material for Jerry Brown's article was excerpted and edited with permission, from Jerry Brown's "We The People" radio broadcasts. Jerry Brown broadcasts live on non-commercial radio FM (Pacific Standard Time: 4-5 p.m., M-F, KPFA, Berkeley, 94.1, & KFCF, Central Valley, 88.1; Eastern Standard Time: 7-8 p.m., New York, WBAI, 99.5). Contact "We The People" in Oakland, 1-800-426-1112, or 200 Harrison St., Oakland, CA 94607 for more information or to join We The People.
by Paul Cienfuegos
Most federal welfare spending goes to the rich, not the poor. In 1994, the amount of money allocated for Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), the program that is popularly known as "welfare," was about $23 billion-less than 2% of the entire budget. An additional $50 billion was spent on low-income assistance such as school lunches and food stamps. (Since President Clinton's welfare reform bill, poor Americans are receiving even less.) In contrast, the federal government handed out over $200 billion to giant corporations last year in price supports, export subsidies, export promotions, subsidized insurance rates, new plants and equipment, marketing services, and irrigation and reclamation programs. Additional billions were spent on loan guarantees and debt-forgiveness, including the erasure of most of the mega-billion-dollar debt owed by the nuclear industry for uranium enrichment services provided by the government.
"Welfare for the rich is the name of the game," says Michael Parenti, a leading author and critic of domestic government policies. Here's just a small sampling of how your tax dollars are being spent annually:
·$7.6 billion for grants, financing and tax breaks to US arms exporting corporations (warfare welfare);
·$32 billion to corporations permitted to write off the value of their equipment (depreciation) faster than it actually wears out;
·$40 million in subsidies to millionaire ranchers using public lands to graze their herds (like ABC news anchor Sam Donaldson who leases 2,360 acres of state trust land in NM for $1.25 per acre per year);
·$200 million to mineral mining corporations that pay peanuts for the leasing of public lands;
·$69.4 million to the Market Access Program (MAP) which subsidizes advertising by exporters of food and wine (like McDonalds, M&M, Sunkist, Dole, Ocean Spray, etc.);
·$660 million to build forest roads on public lands for corporate use-not including the environmental cost in terms of lost recreational opportunities, commercial fisheries and drinking water supplies, as well as the enormous social costs of restoring damaged forests and streams;
·$1 billion in "restructuring costs" (payoffs for layoffs) related to the merger of Boeing and McDonnell Douglas; in addition, Boeing paid $0 taxes in 1995 (not an unusual event) and received a $33 million rebate via the Foreign Sales Corporate Tax Credit and hefty deductions for R&D costs;
·$40 million to Westinghouse and GE to finance just their application (!) for a nuclear power license;
·$5.8 billion in tax-supported free research to private industry--called CRADAs (cooperative research and development agreements), like $733,000 to Disney Corp to design a semiconductor for igniting fireworks displays;
·$56.2 million to the Overseas Private Investment Corp (OPIC) which provides loans, loan guarantees, and political risk insurance to U.S. corporations which invest in risky countries (the job-killers subsidy);
·$700 million to fund the General Agreements to Borrow (GAB), which is part of the International Monetary Fund;
·$800 million for hundreds of unnecessary highway demonstration projects across the U.S. that members of Congress have requested;
·$6.7 billion on the mortgage interest deduction (mansion subsidy);
$5.5 billion for the business deduction for sports, 2-martini lunches and entertainment expenses;
·$22 billion for 100% current tax deductions for corporate advertising to US citizens;
·$3 billion for subsidized irrigation water;
·$3 billion that gives up to $10,000 to corporations for each welfare mother they hire at minimum wage (first to sign up were Monsanto, Sprint, United Airlines, UPS and ATT);
·and if they can get away with it this year: $78 billion in added bank profits if the government allows three days to clear your deposits through the system instead of the two-day current legal maximum.
Corporate welfare handouts are so out of control that even conservative organizations are getting involved. Recently, a broad range of taxpayer, consumer, free market and environmental groups formed the Stop Corporate Welfare (SCW) coalition which plans to target hundreds of millions of dollars in Federal spending over the next year.
Of course, not everyone is concerned. California Governor Pete Wilson, a devoted corporate worshipper, is supporting the move to cut off Social Security benefits to hundreds of thousands of non-citizen residents, many elderly. And how does he plan to use the anticipated savings? He wants to cut the Corporate Tax Rate by 10%!
In 1945, corporations paid 50% of all tax revenues. Last year, they paid 7%. Since 1973, the average rate of corporate profit has risen over 50%. Between 1983 and 1992, US-based corporations created 345,000 jobs abroad while cutting 783,000 jobs at home. Of the 100 largest economies in the world, 51 are corporations and 49 are nations. Corporations have become so powerful that they control virtually every economic policy decision made by governments. This is why they now pay virtually no tax, leaving mostly middle and low-income citizens to cover the tax bill. So the next time you read in your daily corporate newspaper that your town or county or state or country can no longer afford to keep its library's doors open, or house its homeless, or provide public transportation at an affordable price, remember that your community is as wealthy as it ever was, but the rich and powerful no longer pay their share. (Of course, your corporate daily is probably among the tax evaders, so don't expect adequate coverage of this story from them. You may have to research and write the story yourself.