From today’s column by E.J. Dionne:
It has long been said that Americans have short attention spans, but this is ridiculous: Our bold, urgent, far-reaching, post-Katrina war on poverty lasted maybe a month.
Credit for our ability to reach rapid closure on the poverty issue goes first to a group of congressional conservatives who seized the post-Katrina initiative before advocates of poverty reduction could get their plans off the ground.
As soon as President Bush announced his first spending package for reconstructing New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, the Republican Study Committee and other conservatives switched the subject from poverty reduction to how Katrina reconstruction plans might increase the deficit that their own tax-cutting policies helped create.
Unwilling to freeze any of the tax cuts, these conservatives proposed cutting other spending to offset Katrina costs. The headlines focused on the seemingly easy calls on pork-barrel spending. But some of their biggest cuts were in health care programs, including Medicaid, and other spending for the poor.
Thus, the budget Congress is now considering would cut spending by $35 billion and cut taxes by $70 billion. Excuse me, but doesn’t this increase the deficit by a net of $35 billion?
Don’t worry, said Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana, one of the leading House conservatives. Cutting taxes for the rich is the best antipoverty program. “I’m mindful of what a pipe fitter once said to President Reagan,” Pence said, according to the New York Times. ” ‘I’ve never been hired by a poor man.’ A growing economy is in the interest of every working American, regardless of their income.”
In other words, the conservatives have moved the conversation to ideas that go back to Calvin Coolidge’s low-tax economics from the 1920s. And they say liberals are the folks with the “old” ideas?
… I was naive enough to hope that after Katrina the left and the right might have useful things to say to each other about how to help the poorest among us. I guess we’ve moved on. You can lay a lot of the blame for this indifference on conservatives. But it will be a default on the part of liberals if the poor disappear again from public view without a fight.