Yesterday, Rep.-elect Allen West (R-FL), who has risen to national prominence amid controversy over his disparaging views of Islam, progressives, and multiculturalism, appeared on Meet the Press. In the process of explaining why we should permanently extend the Bush tax breaks for millionaires – a move that would add $830 billion to the deficit over the next ten years alone – West made some curious comments about the economic situation in his new home of Washington, D.C. After noting that unemployment is as high as 13 percent in his Florida district and foreclosures are skyrocketing, West claimed that “you don’t see people getting laid off” and “you don’t see anyone suffering” in our nation’s capital:
GREGORY: The — Congressman, the — on the issue of tax cuts, do you buy the president’s argument, “Look, let’s extend those Bush-era tax cuts for the middle class first, then we can come back and do the upper earners, or at least have that conversation”?
WEST: No. I think that we need to extend those tax cuts permanently across the board. Look, I come from a — an area down in South Florida where unemployment is at 13 percent, foreclosures are absolutely high. We are seeing closed upon closed storefronts. But yet, when you walk around here in Washington, D.C., you don’t see people getting laid off, you don’t see, you know, anyone suffering, you don’t see the foreclosures.
West’s comments display an unfortunate lack of awareness of the economic hardships that many D.C. residents experience. Unemployment is low for the upper crust of Washington, including those who populate the halls of Congress — just 4.2 percent for those with a college degree, according to a study by the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute.
However, working-class residents have acutely felt the pain of the economic recession. In Ward 8, which lies just south of Capitol Hill, the unemployment rate topped 28 percent last year, “one of the highest in the nation.” West’s comments about foreclosures are equally misguided, as local blog DCist shows with a video of residents lining up around the block and crowding into the Convention Center to receive free home loan counseling.
It is extraordinarily easy for congressmen like West to arrive in Washington, ingratiate themselves in lobbyist luncheons and the cocktail circuit, and assume that economic hardship somehow passed over our nation’s capital. As a result, it is no surprise that West would argue for permanent tax breaks for billionaires while — in the very same breath — denying the existence of poor people in D.C.
Thankfully, West will not chair the House subcommittee that oversees Washington, D.C. in the 112th Congress. That role will be filled by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), a man who believes that giving D.C. governing autonomy and voting rights is unconstitutional.