Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION

GOP should rethink ideas on moocher class

  • Print

As Republicans gather this week in Tampa, Fla., to nominate Mitt Romney for president, they will try to tilt the national mood-o-metre toward limited government, individual liberties and free markets.

These are the estimable principles that have animated Republicans for generations. It’s the tea party with the rough edges sanded down. Or is it?

As we listen to Republican candidates and voters across the country, we hear something less admirable: carping about people who are on government support. Some speak disparagingly of them as the "moocher class" for paying no federal income taxes while getting food stamps, government health care and unemployment checks.

President Barack Obama, the plaint goes, has gutted the 1996 welfare-reform law’s work requirements. Television ads for Romney and stump speeches by his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, promote the Obama-ruined-welfare-reform idea daily. Radio talk-show hosts and conservative bloggers refer to Obama’s call for higher taxes on the rich as a war on the productive class. Smart executives accuse Obama of being a closet socialist, siphoning off their money to give to the slackers.

To all of the above, the moocher class — this election year’s agitprop — is the country’s biggest problem. It’s not. By claiming that it is, Republicans do a disservice to the party and to the national debate.

The United States in fiscal 2012 will spend about $210 billion on food stamps, unemployment insurance and welfare. Add in Medicaid and the tab swells to about $485 billion. Still, it’s small beer compared with the $1.3 trillion the U.S. will spend on Social Security and Medicare alone. Include $700 billion for defense, and the moocher class’s bounty looks even smaller.

And that doesn’t account for the ample government benefits — farm subsidies, oil and gas allowances, and other corporate welfare — many moocher-class critics get, or the tax breaks for mortgage interest, employer-provided health insurance and charitable contributions.

The moocher-class mythologists forget the U.S. just went through its worst recession in 75 years, and that unemployment has exceeded 8 per cent for almost four years. The U.S. is on the verge of having a permanent jobless class made up largely of middle-age workers whose occupations have been destroyed because of automation and globalization.

The moocher fabulists also ignore data showing that U.S. incomes have stagnated for a decade, and that inequality has skyrocketed. The top-earning one per cent of households now bring home about 20 per cent of total income, versus about 10 per cent in 1970. Recent studies conclude that upward mobility is easier in Europe than in the U.S. So much for Republican nightmares about the U.S. becoming a European-style welfare state.

The Pew Research Center reported last week that the U.S. middle class just experienced a lost decade, shrinking for the first time since the Second World War. Its median household income fell 4.8 per cent to $69,487 in 2010 from an inflation-adjusted $72,956 in 2001. Median wealth (including retirement savings and home values, minus debt) tumbled an even greater 28 per cent, to $93,150 from $129,582, largely because of the housing crash.

Another party shibboleth is that Obama’s stimulus spending shifted wealth from "makers to takers." It’s more accurate to say that the stimulus — by most economists’ reckoning, required medicine — was a giant earmarking exercise that sent tax dollars back to the districts of lawmakers in both parties. Without it, an economy that shrank 6.3 per cent in 2008 would have fallen into an abyss.

At any rate, increased federal spending under Obama isn’t the major cause of the deficit. Nor are the Bush-era tax cuts and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, as Democrats believe. As a Bloomberg Government study shows, the rise in the deficit — from an average of 1.9 per cent of gross domestic product in the pre-crisis years (2005 to 2007) to 9.3 per cent of GDP post- crisis (2009-2011) — is almost entirely due to the economic decline, which drove down tax receipts and pushed up spending on unemployment, food stamps and other support programs.

Lastly, it’s incorrect to say Obama undermined welfare reform. Temporary Aid to Needy Families, as it’s formally known, is a $16.5-billion block grant to the states, only 40 per cent of which goes toward benefits. In July, Obama invited states to apply for waivers that would give them greater flexibility to design programs that promote employment, while relieving them from some paperwork requirements. If granted, states would still have to move adults into jobs within two years and cap lifetime benefits (usually five years). Anyway, don’t Republicans normally applaud block grants that come with fewer federal strings?

Instead of worrying about the rise of a moocher class, Republicans would be better off thinking up ways to improve the standard of living for the next generation, and making sure the benefits of economic growth are more widely shared. That means vastly improving education and transportation, on which the private sector depends. It involves figuring out how to control health-care costs and means-testing Social Security and Medicare so the wealthy receive less and pay more. It means reconfiguring our system of national defense.

It also means a change in mindset. The party can’t cling to the one solution — tax cuts — that has been its cure-all for decades. Yes, we all love tax cuts, but they benefit mostly the rich. Besides, federal income taxes are at the lowest level since the 1950s.

At a time when the U.S. can borrow for 10 years at about 1.6 per cent, and when 12.8 million people are unemployed (and eight million more part-timers would prefer full-time work), we would be out of our minds not to borrow and spend to fix problems and give the economy a kick in the pants. A serious, long-term austerity diet can follow later.

At this moment in U.S. history, leadership doesn’t require shrinking government immediately, but seeing that Big Government doesn’t remain permanent. The moochers — and some of them may be waving Romney-Ryan signs in the convention hall — would love to work with the party on that.

— Bloomberg News

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Total Body Tune-Up: Farmer's Carry

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A baby Red Panda in her area at the Zoo. International Red Panda Day is Saturday September 15th and the Assiniboine Park Zoo will be celebrating in a big way! The Zoo is home to three red pandas - Rufus, Rouge and their cub who was born on June 30 of this year. The female cub has yet to be named and the Assiniboine Park Zoo is asking the community to help. September 14, 2012  BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
  • PHIL.HOSSACK@FREEPRESS.MB.CA Winnipeg Free Press 090528 STAND UP...(Weather) One to oversee the pecking order, a pack of pelican's fishes the eddies under the Red River control structure at Lockport Thursday morning......

View More Gallery Photos


Do you agree with the sale of the Canadian Wheat Board to foreign companies?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google