Nevertheless, the conservative pushback is strong:
- The House Republican budget proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., would transform Medicaid into a block grant and cut Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Program spending almost in half, as a share of GDP, in the next 20 years. “Cutbacks might involve reduced eligibility … coverage of fewer services, lower payments to providers or increased cost-sharing by beneficiaries—all of which would reduce access to care,” CBO concluded.
- House conservatives have demanded changes in eligibility and $16 billion in cuts in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food-stamp, budget over the coming decade, a primary reason the farm bill remains stalled in the House.
- High-profile Republican governors, like Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Nikki Haley of South Carolina, Rick Scott of Florida, and Rick Perry of Texas, are leading a national movement against the provisions of the Affordable Care Act that would increase Medicaid payments to the states.
- The House and Senate Republican tax bills debated in recent weeks kept the George W. Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans intact but slashed the refundable Earned Income Tax Credit and child tax credit and a higher-education tax credit, which had been boosted for some 25 million working-class families in the 2009 economic-stimulus act. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., called the credits “spending items … that failed.”
Romney’s antiwelfare ad is just one slice of an ongoing conservative media campaign to characterize the beneficiaries of social-welfare benefits as relatively comfortable—if not fat and lazy—consumers of America’s material gifts. “Poor Americans are healthier than the rich of previous generations,” wrote Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., in the National Review last fall. “The average poor household has a car, air conditioning, two color televisions, cable or satellite TV, a DVD player, and an Xbox.”
“To the extent that poverty impacts health, much of it can be attributed to behavioral factors,” Paul said. “Obesity rates are significantly higher among the poor than the general population.”
“When is it going to end? Is the upper 49 percent going to have to continue to carry everything in this country?” exclaimed Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, during debate on the Senate tax bill this summer.
“Almost half of Americans pay no federal income tax at all,” griped Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, in the House debate. “What we need are more taxpayers, not more taxes” on the wealthy.
In the House and Senate debates, the Democrats noted how the conservative attack on the social-welfare programs is being waged in conjunction with an embrace of greater tax cuts for the very wealthy, in a nation where income inequality is a rising issue.
Nor are Republicans as critical, in general, of the Pentagon budget—which itself has more than doubled in the last 10 years and is far bigger now than at any time during the Cold War. If reducing debt and deficits is a vital national goal, the Democrats asked, shouldn’t all Americans contribute fairly?
“My God, can we do any more to help the wealthy in America than what our Republican friends have done?” asked Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass.
At this point, the Republicans continue to portray themselves as compassionate conservatives, making their arguments in the rhetoric of economic opportunity. As the American economy struggles to recovery from recession, they should be aware of the danger of becoming too strident and of attacking poor people instead of wasteful programs. Going overboard makes them look unfair, and fairness is an American tradition—even in today's politics.