Last night, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) joined Jon Stewart on the Daily Show to tout his latest book, “Now or Never: Saving America From Economic Collapse.” Noting DeMint’s penchant to blindly hack at the federal budget, Stewart said Republicans offer “no differentiation between money that is squandered and invested.”
Stewart pointed to Head Start, a program that promotes the school readiness of low-income children, as an example of an effective federal program that the GOP repeatedly threatens to cut. DeMint agreed that “preschool is important,” but that the fundamental problem with these programs is that they “don’t cure poverty,” but rather “subsidize it” by making low-income Americans “dependent on the government”:
DEMINT: The problem we have is from the federal level, it’s very hard to do things well. I mean, you don’t find too many federal programs that are working…When we politically manage the programs, the money is not distributed well and there’s no evidence — I mean we spent trillions trying to help poverty in America. But we don’t cure poverty, we subsidize it when we make people dependent on the government and make it harder for them to get up the ladder.
DeMint’s argument is entirely false. Today, 46.2 million Americans live in poverty and shell out a significant degree of their income to pay for basic needs like electricity, housing, and food. In 2008, 50.3 percent of poor households with children reported that they were unsure whether they could provide a meal each day. But census data revealed that safety net programs were instrumental in keeping vulnerable Americans afloat. The school lunch program saved 1.1 million Americans from poverty. Housing subsidies saved 2.6 million, and food stamps kept 5.1 million Americans above the poverty line. By ensuring that struggling families can afford basic needs, these programs protect and bolster the economic security needed to help Americans “get up the ladder.”
DeMint seems to prefer the negative stereotypes that paint vulnerable Americans as “dependent” and unwilling to work. Perhaps that’s why 70 percent of the cuts in his zealous deficit reduction plan target these safety net programs and place a “disproportionate burden on low-income groups.” Of course, as Stewart pointed out, simply allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire would virtually erase the deficit while sparing these vital programs. But for DeMint, that’s simply out of the question.