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.