Saturday, October 01, 2005

Despicable Stop-Gap Funding Bill

On the way home from work today, I heard a story on NPR that has my blood boiling. The Congress is doing its annual dance of creating stop-gap funding bills because it has yet to pass the necessary budgetary legislation to keep the Federal government running (the fiscal year has just expired, Oct. 1). While that has become the expectation, what has been reported in the details of this particular measure is simply crazy to me. Funding for all federal spending and programs has been extended at the same levels as the past budget, with a very small number of exceptions. One of those exceptions is funding for assistance programs for some of the poorest Americans. Some of those budget lines are cut from 50% to 75%! In a Republican Congress that will almost certainly make tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans permanent when they return from a break, and for Republicans who want to repeal the estate tax, which only affects multimillionaires on up, and for one indicted Tom Delay to say there is "simply no more fat to cut from the budget" (apparently this is the only fat they found), simply saying that I am outraged doesn't cut it.

Democrats in the Senate, led by Tom Harkin, pleaded with the Republican leadership to call for an amendment to return funding for assistance programs for the poorest Americans before midnight last night. But, of course, this could not be done since the House had already adjourned and Representatives were already out of town. It is mindboggling to me how they could do this. Over 4 million children will be affected as of today, who count on funds for after-school programs and assistance to their parents to make ends meet. But many of the poorest Americans don't vote, so screw them...the Bill Gates of the world can enjoy the additional hundreds of millions of dollars they get from the various tax cuts over the past five years. I guess this is fair and right in some minds, but I cannot at all understand it. In particular, I cannot understand how certain leaders who claim to be 'compassionate' can allow the trend for increased numbers of children who live in poverty to continue like this. In the richest nation in the history of the world, 1 in 5 children live in poverty. Many of their parents are the types who may actually deserve to live in those conditions, but the victims are their kids. I'll bet many more of their parents are the working poor, trying to make ends meet by working multiple minimum wage jobs. From my days in the Chicago Public Schools, I know this is the case. I don't know the ultimate answers as to the best way to create an environment where the working poor have a better opportunity to move themselves out of these conditions, but something new has to happen...the kids are the victims, and are born into a world where the odds of making something of their lives are small. With leadership like we currently have, the odds have just been reduced even more.

By the way, poverty rates are up for the 4th consecutive year. It is currently at 12.7%, with some 37 million Americans living in such conditions. Keep in mind that the poverty level is set at $19,127 for a family of four. How they come up with these levels is beyond me, but I cannot imagine what it must be like trying to support a family with two kids on such a income. It is a different world than anyone in Congress can imagine, at least those on the right who voted to cut community service block grants for the poorest of the poor.


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mark said...

Hey Von,

I'm not sure what NPR said but poverty rates under Bush has been lower than poverty rates under Clinton, despite a growing population whose increases are disproportionately composed of very poor immigrants.

It is true that poverty rates have gone up in 2004 but Bush's *peak* rate of poverty is still lower than the Clinton-Gore's *mean* rate. See for yourself:

The Clinton administration enjoyed a decrease in overall poverty during its administration, mostly due IMHO to very low rates of unemployment. Under Bush poverty rates have stabilized and I would not expect them to shrink again until unemployment goes lower and/or immigration is modestly cut ( we are at a historical peak right now).

NPR is not, BTW, a reliable or impartial source for putting issues like this into context. It's a liberal version of FOXnews with better elocution.

Chris Beem said...

I think it's worth noting that while your statement about the peak and mean poverty rates of Bush and Clinton's respective tenures is true, it is also perhaps misleading.

Bush had the benefit of arriving in office with the poverty rate the lowest it had been in almost 20 years. since then, the rate has steadily increased under his leadership (4 consecutive years, as Von said).

On the other hand, when Clinton came into office, the rate was at a solid 15%. Over the course of the Clinton presidency, the poverty rate fell a total of 2.4% start to finish, and after 1993, it fell EVERY YEAR for the remainder of his presidency.

In order to fairly evaluate the evolution of the poverty rate, I think it is always important to consider initial conditions :)

vonny said...

hey mark,

I've seen similar numbers as Chris, and he summed up my view on it as well. Regardless of who had smaller real numbers, census data shows the rate has been increasing.

What upsets me is the stop gap bill. Using the poor in this manner isn't right, particularly because of the number of children it affects. Just the fact that 20% of American children live in poverty is mind-numbing to me. There has to be something we can do to give these kids some sort of chance to make something out of their lives. Ensuring the same type of educational experience as wealthy suburban kids is probably the best and most doable thing we will ever be able to do, but you are aware, as well, of the phenomenal cost and difficulty (especially political) this presents. We could do it if we wanted to, but when do you think that will ever happen (when the working poor vote in mass..probably never...)?

Glad you got out to golf, mark, and give my best to Mrs. Zen. I have to run because Kat's mom is staying over night.

mark said...

True. But Bush also inherited an economy that was just hitting a recession in the last quarter of 2000 which is where poverty rates tend to rise the fastest. Clinton inherited an economy that had already passed the trough of the recession and resumed positive GDP growth. ;o)

Such comparisons will never be perfectly apple to apple of course as the economy is continuous and dynamic while presidential administrations are finite. Moreover getting excited about statistical changes of two-tenths of a percentage point in an 11 trillion dollar economy of almost 300 million people is an example of NPR spin, not a serious discussion. We have far more important economic problems on our plate.

mark said...

Hey Von,

Give my best to Kat and the kids ! We'll have to try to get together soon before the holiday bustle starts.

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vonny said...

I know it is easy to dismiss changes in poverty rates of tenths of a percent, but keep in mind 0.3 percent is nearly one million people. It is significant for them.

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