About That Social Safety Net…

It isn’t just the relatively recent transformation of the GOP base into a racist cult that  distinguishes  America’s political parties. There are plenty of actual policy preferences that divide today’s Republicans and Democrats.

One of the most significant is their approach to America’s social safety net (such as it is).

Heather Cox Richardson recently quoted Senator John Thune, the second ranking Senate Republican ,for his public confirmation of a Republican plan to hold the needed raise to the debt ceiling hostage– in order to force cuts to Social Security and Medicare.

Thune’s statement is consistent with positions advanced by Florida Senator Scott, whose widely-publicized “GOP agenda” included sunsetting both Social Security and Medicare. Richardson quoted research from 2019 showing that Social Security was a “major” source of income for 57% of Americans–and polling showing that 74% of Americans oppose reducing Social Security benefits. Further evidence of popular opinion: deep-Red areas voted for Medicare-For-All in the recent midterms.

Over the years, Republicans have adamantly opposed virtually all efforts to extend the social safety net–they screamed “socialism” when Medicare was adopted, they vowed to “replace” the Affordable Care Act, and the party’s attacks on Social Security have become increasing vocal. Thanks to gerrymandering, the GOP has been able to thwart proposed expansions of the country’s social safety net, and thanks to its increasing extremism, Party spokespersons have become ever more willing to publicly touch that “third rail” of American social policy.

As regular readers of this blog know, my own policy preferences are very different; research has convinced me that we could combat a number of  the social problems we face by instituting national health care and replacing most of our tattered and under-inclusive social supports with a Universal Basic Income. (My extended argument for the latter is here.)

Since I consulted the UBI research, there have been a number of pilot projects testing the concept. The Washington Post recently reported on several of them in a magazine article titled “Universal Basic Income has been Tested Repeatedly. It Works.” The article is lengthy, and it includes descriptions illustrating the ways in which specific individuals benefitted from participation in one of the pilot programs.

If you just learned about guaranteed income in the past few years, chances are it was from the presidential campaign of Andrew Yang, who got a lot of attention for his proposal that the government offer $1,000 monthly payments to all Americans. But versions of this concept had been circulating for decades among academics and progressive activists. And as the country shut down in the early days of the pandemic, the conditions appeared ripe to try something new, something radical. Pilot programs launched in Los Angeles, in New Orleans, in Denver, but also in historically less progressive cities like Birmingham, Ala.; Columbia, S.C.; and Gainesville, Fla. In March 2020, even a vast majority of congressional Republicans backed a $2 trillion stimulus bill that included unconditional cash payments for tens of millions of Americans. Since then, the Mayors for a Guaranteed Income coalition, which grew out of SEED, has swelled to more than 90 members and three dozen programs; a $15 million donation from Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey helped fund many of the pilots.

Now, though, as the country emerges from the pandemic, the guaranteed income movement sits at a crossroads. The pilot programs have created scores of stories like Everett’s about how a small amount of money led to massive change in a recipient’s life. And a growing body of research based on the experiments shows that guaranteed income works — that it pulls people out of poverty, improves health outcomes, and makes it easier for people to find jobs and take care of their children. If empirical evidence ruled the world, guaranteed income would be available to every poor person in America, and many of those people would no longer be poor.

As the article concedes, however, empirical evidence is not what moves policymakers–not Republicans, certainly, nor certain Democrats beholden to fossil fuel magnates (yes, Joe Manchin, we are looking at you…)

At the end of 2021, an extension of the expanded child tax credit — which was seen by many advocates as a key steppingstone to guaranteed income — was blocked by a Democrat representing the state with the sixth-highest poverty rate in the country.

As the article notes, without a radical revision of our approach to a social safety net,  “America will continue to be home to one of the worst rates of income inequality of any rich nation in the world.”

Rather than recognizing the numerous social problems that are exacerbated by that inequality, today’s GOP remains fixated on eliminating the minimal security measures that do exist, in pursuit of still more tax cuts for the obscenely wealthy. 

And they are no longer pretending otherwise. 


  1. These are the Republicans who have opposed Social Security since FDR got it going in 1935. They just hate to see regular people being helped by our government. It is hard to understand what makes these people tick. I remember my immigrant grandparents say “God Bless Roosevelt” when their little checks arrived in the 1950s. After decades of hard work, they had a little something to live off of. And the Republicans HATE THAT. Sick.

  2. as part of the baby boomer generation, we know all about protesting. Try to take away Social Security and Medicare from us, and DC will see nothing like they have ever seen before!

    I will drive and I have a vehicle that will hold 6 more people.

  3. Well,
    If you look at the campaign buttons for the rollout of social security, Medicare, and the ACA, they’re almost identical! A threat to democracy so to speak. I wrote a paper about this very thing years ago, and the GOP just continues to recycle they’re ignorance, accepting it just gets more intense with each incarnation!

    I suppose in a way you have to admire their tenacity, unfortunately, it’s completely misplaced.

    Their concern is not for society as we know it, it’s for some sort of bizarro world society where they can keep every penny but continue to extort the middle class.

    When you tend to reject education, when you want to keep the population dumb, when you want to keep the population slaving after meager earnings just to survive, those folks are not looking to get involved in anything but trying to exist. Then the authoritarian control will be complete.

    Out of many one? Liberty and justice for all? Only for the robber barons old and new!

  4. Love you articles. Agree 100%. Eduardo Suplicy is trying to push a minimum universal wage in Brail, very interesting proposal.

  5. I believe the danger lies with the voters who will be losing Social Security, Medicare and other “social” benefit who repeatedly vote the candidates into office who want to take away their benefits. In 2021 the Republican Indiana State Senate lowered the amount of Public Employee Retirement Fund annual income; in this bright red Republican state, how many of those 45,000 public retirees are elderly Republicans who depend on that return of their retirement investment? They include Public Employees, Teachers, Judges, Police Officers, Firefighters, Excis, Gaming & Conservation Officers, Prosecutors and Legislators. Personally, I lost $20.11 monthly which was replaced with the 1% COLA amount of $2.39. When forced to retire early due to disability, I could only withdraw half of my paid PERF retirement funds.

    We can continue placing all blame on the Republicans in office but they didn’t get there without the millions of voters who are keeping and/or replacing them in office. Hoping that by cutting tax rates on the wealthy that promised “trickle down” benefit will start sometime. Maybe when the Democrats accused of coming to take our weapons begins it will result in that “trickle down” effect startup.

  6. When you read that “The Villages” in Florida is a republican stronghold and the neo-fascist DeSantis easily won his re-election over the moderate Democrat Crist you wonder if elderly republicans, and Miami’s Cuban community, grasp that they are voting against their own interest and for a party that is increasingly xenophobic as well. Maybe it is, as I like to say, not the heat, it’s the stupidity.

  7. Just wait until the AI folks perfect the ChatGPT, then I lot of Americans will need a UBI because they wont have jobs anymore.

  8. Jeffrey points out that the GOP “owning the libs” mentality is merely ignorance. Who would vote against their best interest? 😉

    As it turns out, all of us do it who participate in the facades called the US democracy played out in May and November. It’s a painful reality, and cheerleaders will attack this conclusion. However, regardless of the elections, the income and wealth inequality margins continue along with spending increases for needless wars.

    Moscow points this out; all we hear is propaganda, but it’s the truth.

    A worker UBI should have been in place in the 90s before letting corporations build up China. Healthcare should have become universal as well. Why didn’t those happen?

    When you see polls where 70% or 80% of Americans want this, yet our two capitalist parties can’t provide it, we don’t even resemble a democracy or a “democratic republic.”

    Our societal structure morphed into an oligarchy at its inception and has only worsened. All else is propaganda.

  9. My father was a combat veteran of the South Pacific War and a lifetime active member of the AFL-CIO. He witnessed during his lifetime the absolute poverty in mainland China. But he also witnessed unbridled outsourcing of manufacturing jobs to China. He felt part of that was a good thing to allow China to develop and prevent another war.

    What he didn’t believe was the core motive of high end wealth who owned the interests of outsourcing had anything to do with building for peace. Thus, his involvement with labor unions. If we moderated outsourcing overseas, we could sustain capacity in our own country to support real jobs and real wages.

    So what do we witness?

    Profit making from outsourcing to less expensive labor economies, financing political campaigns to those who promise lower taxes of wealth, and further punishment to the unemployed by curtailing social and health safety nets. Call it by whatever political identity you like, but it is raw self dealing White privilege hell bent to protect wealth building 21st Century “castles with moats and drawbridges” out of pure fear of those they are suppressing.

  10. It’s not the voters. It’s the bystanders. If those who don’t vote would take a few hours every other year and vote, they could make a world of difference.

    Thirteen Circuits/Thirteen Justices

  11. Peggy … you are right, but what assumptions do you base outcomes of a general election more in our favor if more people voted?

    >> The major reason why 77 million Americans didn’t cast ballots in the 2020 presidential election was that they were not registered to vote. Approximately 27 percent of all Americans aged 18 years or older, numbering 63 million men and women, had not registered to vote. Those 63 million unregistered U.S. citizens account for 82 percent of those who did not vote in the 2020 presidential election. The U.S. is one of the few countries that requires citizens to register for voting separately from the actual voting. <<. Article published by The Hill on demographics of Americans who do not vote.

  12. Did not mean to bend the arc of debate to all of a sudden discuss voting rather than the politics and policy of social safety nets. I guess requiring presentation of voter registration card before qualifying for social benefits would be repugnant to both the “woke” and the far right. 🤔

  13. I have actually heard people say “I don’t want my tax dollars paying someone to sit at home! Get a job! I’m not going to support you.”

    That’s what needs to be flipped. How do you rewrite that script?

    Anyone that has applied for benefits like Medicaid, unemployment or disability can give you horror stories about the humiliation and documentation you have to provide to get a penny out of the government programs. Universal Income hopefully won’t follow that awful exchange of information for citizens. How can we implement this program without recipient’s losing their dignity in the process?

  14. seems thune is paid to work this scam out. i was living in the dakotas when Sen Tom Dashel had thune run against him. the loacl farm broadcasterWNAX, was recently bought and a new age of radio war on the liberals started. (early 90s) prior to that election Sen Dashel wrote and supported the best farm bill that covered farmers and ranches from loses due natl disasters and market greed. thune has never stood for anything but the division of its citizen. that sation WNAX yankton was a daily listen for me from the late 80s to get market news and etc local stuff. then the change came, all of a sudden thune was republican and he was soft in his vague spiel about issues, but never touched the farm bill or recognized who was doing best for the Dakota farmer/rancher. but the radio station did. now there was talk from this station about liberals and welfare and who gets what. it was like a 180 from day one, thune was the change. Sen Dashel lost, and thune made the upper right hand seat the first year. since then,like station like KFYR a Fargo based station airing limbaugh and his ilk in afternon prime time. the slant was spin,and its station today is still a rightwing fox subscribed asswipe compared to its origianal roots. farmers here today see socialism as some sort of greed, while the likes of trump showered the farmers here with about $100 an acre for covid no questions asked PPP grants. all paid votes. if the idea thune wants to screw with soc security,seems like the abortion issue. the rise of the citizen may not get him tossed in a blood red state like south dakota,but maybe get some lazy voters to notice their needs being harmed.
    republicans have no plan or platform to sell on retirment,none.you cant sell a plan if theres no plan to relace it. selling a public/private form of retirment,is far fetched when you allow greed god dimon or mnuchin to even breathe on it. past exploits from these two,never got them a day in jail for directly being involved in fraud and mismanagement that costs millions of people billions of lost money(money that disapears.). pushing this issue will only get everyone mad. go figure,the goverment has guarenteed that retirment. wall street like FTX,guarentees money disappears and will never be found again.
    except maybe in some off shore bank under dimons name.. time to hold accountable those who screw the people,not screw the people who do the work,and honestly earned it. only the goverment can be compelled to hold this sacred trust. thune shows he cant be trusted, he cant even stand on aplatform of supporting retirement except hi$.

  15. Aging girl:
    i heard that alot,expecially here in the dakotas,, but, everyone i know is working,everyone.

  16. Norris, I make no assumptions, but I will make one now, since you insist. The more people vote the higher the Democratic votes goes. If we assume that most of that 82% are no information voters, that means they are better informed than the FAUX news watchers. Just give them the LWV candidate responses if they want information. I can’t be sure of the outcome, but I would seriously love to see what would happen, wouldn’t you?

  17. I and my employers have paid SS insurance premiums for more than 5 decades. Medicare premiums are deducted from SS payments every month. These are not entitlements. It is insurance.
    I get really angry when I hear stupidity like Thune and Scott spew. The fact that FL and ND voters continue to vote for people who would like nothing better than to steal those insurance payments and give them to the private sector non-fiduciary financial industry to continue the steal.

  18. I and my employers have paid SS insurance premiums for more than 5 decades. Medicare premiums are deducted from SS payments every month. These are not entitlements. It is insurance.
    I get really angry when I hear stupidity like Thune and Scott spew. The fact that FL and ND voters continue to vote for people who would like nothing better than to steal those insurance payments and give them to the private sector non-fiduciary financial industry to continue the steal is beyond my understanding.

  19. I have paid into Social Security since the age of 14 (had to appear before a judge to obtain permit to work under age). Employers communicated that Social Security was an earned benefit you claim upon retirement. Never thought of it as a hand out.

  20. I wonder about the GOP’s war on your existing social safety net (such as it is). I suspect part of it is religious, that if you didn’t earn enough, it’s your fault, and god is punishing you. But I think mostly it’s about workers. It’s why they attack unions and universal health care, too. For their wealth to continue to be secure (in their minds, at least), the workers must be constantly disciplined, desperate, and beholden. So, they must attack anything that might empower workers. UBI is another program that would empower workers, so it must not be allowed.

  21. I also began working at age 14. I wanted my own spending money instead of an allowance. Allowances can be taken away, and wages cannot. I and my employer paid Social Security on those wages of $.40 an hour. Yes, it was an insurance program, NOT an “entitlement” with its odor of some kind of handout. The Repubs have been trying to get their hands on that insurance money ever since Social Security was instituted. Same situation with Medicare. Call it what you will, these programs allow American citizens to live decently after years of working. I’m old now, but I still vote, and woe to anyone who tries to take away Social Security or Medicate.

  22. As above, since the inception of Social Security the GOP, and it’s wealthy supporters have wanted to
    end it. The current iteration of that group, crazed iteration, May want it more than ever. Their reason for
    existing is to corner ALL the wealth they can, give it to the already wealthy, in exchange for expected
    permanent power. They just want MORE!

  23. Jan two; I was 15 when I began working at a real job with a paycheck. I remember complaining to the owner of the pharmacy with a lunch counter where I worked about all of the money taken from my check; he told me one day I would be very glad those taxes had been put safely away for me. I’m 85 and am very glad I am getting the return on my labors. I didn’t know anything about the tax exemption for children my parents claimed but I learned about it the hard way. The exemption at that time was $600.00 per child, I earned $612.00 one year and my parents made me pay the the taxes they owed because they couldn’t claim me as an exemption.

Comments are closed.