Saturday, February 24 , 2018, 8:52 am | Fair 41º


Mark Shields: Republican Party Takes Hard Right Turn on Food Stamps

During the sometimes-heated contest for the Republican 1996 presidential nomination to oppose President Bill Clinton, eventually won by Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas, one unsuccessful GOP candidate, publisher-editor Steve Forbes, spent $38 million of his own fortune to urge a flat tax and the abolition of the federal tax on capital gains and dividends. Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas, a card-carrying conservative who also failed to win that 1996 nomination, rebutted Forbes' tax cuts with an argument based on equity: "It's not fair to say that people who work with their head or their hands ought to pay taxes, but that people who earn their living with capital ought not to."

Forbes' position, which is closer to that of most contemporary Republicans, had its origins in the horse and sparrow theory of economics that emerged in the late 19th century. John Kenneth Galbraith, the renowned liberal economist, explained it this way: "If you feed the horse enough oats, then eventually some will pass through to the road for the sparrow."

In today's Republican Party, Gramm would be shunned as some closet socialist who wanted to tax society's most valuable citizens, the "Productive Rich." But the party's hard right turn was on cruel display when House Republicans voted to cut $39 billion from food stamps over the next decade, and to have 3.8 million Americans cut from food stamps next year.

This past week, the Census Bureau announced that 15 percent of Americans are living in poverty at the same time — not coincidentally — when 14 percent of Americans are receiving food stamp assistance.

Let us not forget that three out of four households receiving food stamps include a child, a person over the age of 60 or a disabled person. Wouldn't you agree that it's past time we told these 6-year-old freeloaders that their free ride was over? After all, the food stamp benefit is a lavish $4.50 a day.

As Dole, a man whose candor frequently got him into political trouble, bluntly put it: "There are no poor people's PACs (Political Action Committees)."

Among the citizens who qualified for food-stamp assistance last year were 5,000 Americans serving on active duty in the U.S. military defending their nation. They are able-bodied. They are working. And they, like a lot of civilians, need our help to feed their families.

We know because we have been told in campaign speech after campaign speech that the United States is a Christian nation, that each of us is a child of God and we are each our sister's keeper. While I continue to be moved by both the words that Pope Francis speaks and by the sermon he lives — and sincerely believe that if he had been pontiff five centuries ago, there would have been no protest for Martin Luther to lead — my favorite Christian social thinker remains Stephen Colbert, who wrote: "If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn't help the poor, we either have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we've got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don't want to do it."

It's up to each of us.

Mark Shields is one of the most widely recognized political commentators in the United States. The former Washington Post editorial columnist appears regularly on CNN, on public television and on radio. Click here to contact him, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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