The Cato Institute, funded by a who’s who of right-wing billionaires, big-money polluters, and corporations looking to preserve tax loopholes, is once again attacking assistance for the elderly, disabled & working poor. Here’s how Cato’s scam works: They assume every possible recipient takes 100% advantage of every possible benefit available to them. This is self-evidently stupid: If recipients were making as much as Cato laughably claims, their income would be too high to receive many of those same benefits.
But does that stop right-wing media from parroting Cato’s nonsense? Of course not! Fox, Rush Limbaugh, and a litany of other talking heads were among those uncritically repeating Cato’s claims. Not mentioned: That Cato and its extremist allies are totally fine with billions in annual taxpayer handouts for oil and coal polluters, corporate tax dodgers, and wealthy dead people.
As the Center on Budget & Policy Priorities reports, Cato is engaged in Mitt Romney’s 47% class warfare, trying to paint disabled veterans and working single parents as moochers:
The claim behind these critiques is clear: federal spending on entitlements and other mandatory programs through which individuals receive benefits is promoting laziness, creating a dependent class of Americans who are losing the desire to work and would rather collect government benefits than find a job.
Such beliefs are starkly at odds with the basic facts regarding social programs, the analysis finds. Federal budget and Census data show that, in 2010, 91 percent of the benefit dollars from entitlement and other mandatory programs went to the elderly (people 65 and over), the seriously disabled, and members of working households. People who are neither elderly nor disabled – and do not live in a working household – received only 9 percent of the benefits.
Moreover, the vast bulk of that 9 percent goes for medical care, unemployment insurance benefits (which individuals must have a significant work history to receive), Social Security survivor benefits for the children and spouses of deceased workers, and Social Security benefits for retirees between ages 62 and 64. Seven out of the 9 percentage points go for one of these four purposes.
Why is making up phony numbers so critical to Cato? Because the social safety net is America’s favorite example of how progressive government programs can solve problems. Social security, SNAP (food stamps) and Medicare not only save the old, sick & poor from starvation and fatal illness, they’re extremely cost-effective.
Making up phony numbers is also important to rallying the GOP’s angry white male base. As Duncan Black once put it at Eschaton:
I like the inclusion of Craig T. Nelson saying, “I’ve been on food stamps and welfare, did anybody help me out? No.” Because I think that quote really gets to the true core of [BS] mountain. One can never be quite sure how much conservatives believe their own [BS], but my longstanding theory is that they believe there’s some secret super generous welfare system that only black people have access to. When they had hard times, got their government handouts, their government handouts sucked. But the blahs are out there buying their t-bones and driving their cadillacs, so they must be getting the really good welfare. Nobody helped poor Craig out, because the food stamps and and welfare sucked. They don’t understand that this is because food stamps and welfare do suck.
The reason that spending on many of these programs has gone up is that conservative economic policies and out-of-control deregulation crashed the economy, driving up unemployment and forcing more families to turn to government assistance. Even for people who have jobs, declining real wages and benefits mean it’s harder than ever to make ends meet.
If we really want to help workers get off government assistance, we should demand businesses pay their workers a living wage. Take action to show your support for raising the minimum wage closer to a fair level.