I have debated since I started this blog whether to directly address the issue of religious beliefs, whether my own or those of other Utahns. For many of us in Utah, our religious beliefs are not easily left out of anything. It's simply too fundamental a part of who we are.Read more
As any viewer of Fox News will tell you, America has become an entitlement nation. This claim is reinforced by example after example of individuals gaming the system or dissected across Fox’s political theater. The right’s fixation on the poor has become so blatant Fox has even come up with a pseudo-correspondent that fuels the misleading perception. Jason Greenslate, or “Food Stamp Surfer”, has been remarkably effective reinforcing the narrative of widespread welfare abuse. In fact, he was even mentioned by Representative Tim Huelskamp (R) on the House floor before a taking a food stamp vote, "You can no longer sit on your couch or ride a surfboard like Jason in California and expect the federal taxpayer to feed you." Hmmm. I’m guessing Representative Huelskamp missed the irony.
The Republican grab bag of anecdotal examples is very effective in creating a “poor are lazy” perception. To many on the right, those who take advantage of entitlements or welfare services are parasitic or morally deviant. This unabashed stereotype is important when justifying their political ideology: Democrats want everyone to live off the government, Republicans want individuals to succeed driven by personal motivation which handouts undermine.
The problem with such logic is demographics paint an entirely different picture of welfare recipients. Did you know that half of food stamp expenditures benefit children? Or that one in five veterans take advantage of the program? Did you know that food stamps represent a minuscule 1.8% of our federal budget or that food stamp fraud accounts for less than 5% of the total program? Such information might change the perception of voters about the role of government which is why “Food Stamp Surfer” becomes the poster child of the Fox News repertoire. Collective data is not personal and unpersuasive. You might not know any of the millions of children and veterans that are supported by welfare but you do know your aunt’s best friend’s sister is sporting a $500 iPhone paid for by the government.
GOP: Dear Kids, 50% of all food stamps go to you. Work harder and stop being moochers.
— Matty Ice (@MattyIceAZ) May 19, 2014
Misinformation about our Nation’s entitlement programs (Welfare, Medicare, and Social Security) is equally exaggerated. Even the word “entitlement” conjures negative connotation driven by ignorance and misunderstanding. Many Conservatives are enraged that we spend 57% of our federal budget on entitlement programs without any consideration to the demographics. Over half of all entitlement dollars are spent on the elderly. Another 20% are spent on the disabled. 18% are spent on the working poor like Walmart employees. In fact, almost $1,000 annually is spent per employee offsetting Walmart’s benefit liability. You shouldn't be thanking Walmart for low prices, Walmart should be thanking you.
So what of the remaining 9% able-bodied freeloaders drawing entitlements? Let’s hang them. I’ll get the tar, you get the feathers. But let's be careful, in our haste to enact fairness and justice we might be punishing a demographic that has equal need for taxpayer’s help. There are thousands of students that are attending colleges and universities while trying to support families. Many are studying for high earning careers as dentists and doctors, easily returning the entitlements being invested today. Even if we do conclude the 9% are actual moochers like Jason Greenslate, we should still resist the urge to throw the baby out with the surfer.
When addressing the growing expenditures associated with the rising baby boom population, little has been proposed by either party. Instead, partisan rancor has been unleashed and misdirection has become the norm. I have several friends who openly blame President Obama for the escalating debt and the growth of entitlement spending behind Baby Boomers. This is incorrect for three reasons:
- President Obama has not signed any law restructuring welfare or entitlements
- President Obama has not signed any law restructuring welfare or entitlements
- President Obama has not signed any law restructuring welfare or entitlements
Even President Obama’s signature legislation, Obamacare, is deficit neutral (CBO) offset by mandates and penalties with no impact to our deficit. Where our anger should be directed is government’s inaction, as the last major change to entitlements was the 2003 Prescription Drug bill. We should be holding the House of Representatives accountable, since the Constitution dictates laws originate in the lower chamber, to generate common sense bipartisan solutions. But herein lies the problem for the GOP-led House. Any changes to entitlement programs that do not include Medicare and Social Security reform are a wasted effort and any successful change will anger core constituents. Trying to repeal Obamacare 50 different times is a much safer play for House members interested in keeping their jobs through the next election cycle.
All spending bills must originate in the House. So when the GOP is complaining about Obama's productivity, please ask what they are doing. — Matty Ice (@MattyIceAZ) May 27, 2014
Even if undermining entitlements fosters partisan opportunities our problems are not disappearing anytime soon. I’m sure my Libertarian friends would suggest a free-market solution. Remember when Medicare was passed in 1965? Only half of our nation’s elderly had healthcare and costs associated with medicine were skyrocketing. The Sixties’ free-market solution was basically a Darwin-driven model. Can you imagine being a 55 year old senior looking for healthcare coverage after being dropped by your company’s insurer upon retirement?
How about charities? Can they fill the void? Based off of IRS data charitable giving (currently $300B) would need to increase three-fold to cover current liabilities. This also assumes every donation dollar is appropriated against entitlements; not building churches, saving rhinoceroses in Africa, or giving to one of Karl Rove’s SuperPACs.
Regardless of any proposed solution the very first step in delivering lasting reform is awareness. Data has become the newest inappropriate four-letter word being replaced with trivial anecdotal examples. But I get it, fully understanding issues takes effort and who wants to waste their time when partisan blogs are like crack to drug addicts (just slap "liberal" on this post so the right can disparage the content).
We need to avoid assuming our best-friend’s cousin scheming the welfare system is representative of millions of Americans looking for help. As Jon Stewart said recently, stop looking for the elusive “Welfare Bigfoot”. Start looking across the street, recognizing that single mother struggling to provide for her child, and be thankful we are in a much better place. Once we understand who it is we are helping, the solutions will become more clear.
When the GOP says entitlements are for the lazy, they are talking about seniors and the disabled where 73% of our entitlement spending goes.
— Matty Ice (@MattyIceAZ) May 28, 2014
Even if Congress passes the Reid-McConnell compromise, however, our problems aren't over.
A short-term continuing resolution and a four-month increase in the debt ceiling staves off default and gets some people back to work, but it doesn't solve the deeper problems we're facing that are hindering American innovation and the investments in human capital that we need for the coming century.
The Farm Bill, passed by the Senate, still languishes in the House, which is more focused on cutting SNAP and on continuing farm subsidies (but under a new program!) than on supporting beginning farmers and funding scientific research to make our farms more sustainable and productive in the long-run.
Immigration reform, passed by the Senate, has also faltered in the House. LDS Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho), received favorable press from across the aisle earlier this year as "the new LDS face of immigration policy." However, he abandoned bipartisan talks in early June, citing the health care law. Although he promised that he would help the House pass piece-meal legislation that could then lead to a full bill, this hasn't happened, in part because of the shutdown pushed by Senators Cruz and Lee. The recent rule-change in the House making it so only Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Virginia) or his designee can bring legislation for a vote makes it much less likely immigration reform happens before the 2014 midterms. (And lest one be tempted to see immigration reform as a "Democrats-only" initiative, remember that the Senate bill won the support for LDS Senators Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Jeff Flake (R-Arizona), no Democrats in any sense.)
The Farm Bill and immigration reform are just two items needed (in addition to raising the debt ceiling and funding basic government functions) to keep our country creaking along. To create solid middle-class jobs and support the next generation of innovators, our nation needs to be doing and building things. This includes restoring funding to scientific research hit hard by the sequester and shuttered during the current shutdown (we're losing important medical data from research mice as long as the government stays shut down). It also includes rolling back the cuts to HeadStart and better supporting early childhood education. And it includes continuing the nation's long investment in supporting entrepreneurs and businesses, which involves programs like the Small Business Administration's loan program.
When the government is shut down, we can't even fix what's obviously wrong, like the government's procurement procedures for information technology.
We need our nation open for research, for education, for business, so we can discover, learn, and innovate. When we focus on taking our country "back" we lose sight of what makes it great, of people working together, sharing ideas, and figuring out how to make it so the members of the next generation--all of them--can have equal opportunity to learn, to be healthy, to pursue happiness. Shutdown governing is a no-good way to run a country.
I am not a big fan of using scriptures in these kinds of discussions (it reminds me too much of the Bible-bashing green missionaries sometimes do), but considering this comes from a "declaration considering governments and laws in general," I found this apt:
"We believe that every [person] should be honored in [their] station, rulers and magistrates as such, being placed for the protection of the innocent and the punishment of the guilty; and that to the laws all [persons] owe respect and deference, as without them peace and harmony would be supplanted by anarchy and terror; human laws being instituted for the express purpose of regulating our interests as individuals and nations, between [one] and [another]; and divine laws given of heaven, prescribing rules on spiritual concerns, for faith and worship, both to be answered by [us] to [our] Maker."
We mortals are fallible and imperfect, so the laws we make will be fallible and imperfect. But we have a duty to study laws and their impact, to improve them so they better serve our sisters and brothers, our fellow citizens and residents, to "[regulate] our [respective] interests." Such is the stuff of life in a democratic republic. Re-opening offices and paying our bills, while crucial for staving off further economic turmoil, is the bare minimum of our duty, and the beginning of the work ahead of us.
(Image courtesy of Joe Heller at the Denver Post.)
One of the great, unsung projects is Health & Human Services' Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. In addition to working on responsible fatherhood and anti-obesity initiatives, it hosts trainings to provide faith leaders with evidence-based resources on public health issues, including mental health.
On September 17th, they're hosting a one-hour webinar for faith leaders on suicide prevention. From the release:
"The HHS Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships and the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention’s Faith Communities Task Force present this webinar for faith leaders who are often on the front line for people (and their families) dealing with spiritual, mental, or emotional distress or illness. Studies show that persons in need are more likely to go to a faith leader than a therapist, at least initially. Moreover, faith communities, through their traditions and teachings and also their commitment to care for one another, are resources for people (and their families) dealing with distress or illness. Local faith leaders are also often connected to wider community resources that can be of help. Therefore, faith leaders play an important role in addressing this preventable public health issue that affects the lives of millions of people each year. Over 38,000 suicides (2010) and one million suicide attempts (2009) create ripple effects among families, friends, co-workers, and communities.
"This webinar will provide information that faith leaders need to know in suicide prevention (e.g. warning signs, how to help). It will also offer ways faith leaders can help educate their communities about suicide and mental health issues and provide support for persons whose loved ones have completed or attempted suicide. In addition, it will help faith leaders understand and strengthen the resources they have in their own faith tradition that promote mental and spiritual health and/or can help in suicide prevention."
As we Latter-day Saints are all faith leaders of one sort or another, if you want to watch the training, sign up here, and please pass it along to anyone you think might be interested. These webinars tend to be excellent, evidence-based trainings, and sadly under-attended. So if you want to know more, sign up!
When I got married at the tender age of 22, I was politically informed, wanting to get more involved, and attracted to the good I saw in both major parties. Although I wanted something that fit with every single one of my Mormon values, I understood that both parties also had their drawbacks, and that the accomplishment of political good requires the building of diverse coalitions. My top priority: public policies that would help young people settle down and establish families. When I moved from Utah to Florida and the DMV asked for my party registration, I told them "Republican."
Being a Latter-day Saint in mid-00s, I watched the career of Governor Mitt Romney with great interest. And I was absolutely fascinated with MassCare. Using the power of the free market to help everyone get insurance while also guaranteeing a basic level of access to medical care, supported by Mitt Romney and Ted Kennedy? This will help families, not just those starting out, but all families. Go Governor Romney!
As the 2008 primaries got underway (in 2007...) I looked for someone on the Democrat side who looked like they would approach health care with the same pragmatism and grip on reality. I eventually settled on that new senator from Illinois with the funny name, and I sent off for the bumper stickers seen above: one on the right, and one on the left. (Much to the amused bewilderment of my neighbors and ward members for some time to come.)
Fast forward: Gov. Romney lost his primary. But that guy from Illinois won the general election, and then he did an interesting thing: he took the basic structure of Gov. Romney's plan (originally developed by the far-right Heritage Foundation) and turned it into a system for the whole nation. I was overjoyed: my wife and I would always, always be able to purchase health insurance, the options would be clearly laid out, and all plans would include basic care: all crucial things for families.
And like any policy proposal, the opposing side (in this case, the congressional Republicans) had issues with the law, but instead of working to make it better, they fought it, and continue to fight it. Despite all the campaign talk about strengthening and defending families, Republicans in Congress and in Washington are trying to break one of the biggest things that will help mothers and fathers raise their kids, work, and provide.
And then this week. Oh, boy. Top Republicans have unveiled their plans . . . not for campaigning against the law, or making it better, but doing what they can to make it fail. Reuters reports:
"With the Obama administration poised for a huge public education campaign on healthcare reform, Republicans and their allies are mobilizing a counter-offensive including town hall meetings, protests and media promotions to dissuade uninsured Americans from obtaining health coverage."
"Dissuade uninsured Americans from obtaining health coverage." Wow. I have issues with how health insurance is generally run, and the new law doesn't fix everything I see wrong, but to actively tell people not to buy the insurance that will help them stay healthy or recover when they're sick or injured . . . As a historian, it's easy for me to get cynical as so much of what happens is a repeat of things that have happened in the past, but this, this is a new one.
Men and women in their 20s hear a lot about how they need to settle down, marry, and have kids, and generally speaking, this is what many of them want to do. The main reason many of my fellow youngsters don't: jobs are tough to come by right now, by which I mean real jobs with benefits, ones where a parent can earn enough to support a family. This is a crisis for small-c conservatism, where family formation and the continuance of society into the next generation is (I'm pretty sure) priority number 1. So what's FreedomWorks, that bastion of right-wing activity doing?
"The group is designing a symbolic 'Obamacare card' that college students can burn during campus protests."
I ended my membership in the Republican Party a few years ago, and even though I'm chairing an organization called LDS Democrats of America, I still want our representatives and thinkers in both parties spending their time working on supporting families and individuals and making our communities stronger. I had some hope, with the Senate taking a commonsense approach to immigration a few weeks ago, that we were getting there. Looks like we've still got a ways to go.
Many Mormons reading this might be thinking the Mormon Church believes marriage is between a man and a woman (well it does now anyway. If you remember, it used to be a man and women). Certainly that appears to be the case if you look at canon and statements made by Church leadership in terms of what we as Mormons should practice.
That said, I don’t recall canon or Church leaders anywhere or anytime telling politicians how they should make law.Read more
In the aftermath of any mass shooting in the U.S., an all-or-nothing rhetoric about guns typically infects the public discourse regarding what ought to be done to prevent such tragedies in the future. In many communities, inhabitants are warned that the government has a hidden agenda seeking to ban all future gun sales and intends to confiscate privately owned firearms. “Obama wants to take your guns away,” we are warned. Far too many Americans have accepted the all-or-nothing gun law paradigm, and believe that any attempt by government to place even the most modest of restrictions on how guns are acquired, what firearms can be sold publicly, and where they are carried, as an egregious intrusion on a supposedly inalienable right.Read more
What would you say if I told you that our nation had a program that:
1. Pumped $1.73 into the economy for every $1 spent. (According to Moody's.)
2. Has an error-rate that's at all-time low and a program budget where over 95% of all money spent goes directly to helping families.
3. And is incredibly good at responding to economic downturns, mitigating the impact of recessions and other set-backs on child health and development, which helps reduce the cycle of poverty?
The program in question: the Supplemental Assistance Nutrion Program. (More about who uses it, why they use, and fraud rates can be found here.) It is extraordinarily good at doing what it was designed to do: help children, the elderly, the disabled, and the working poor stay food secure, meaning they don't get to the point of malnutrition. Despite a reputation for fraud and abuse, fraud rates are very low and keep getting lower.
The House Committee on Agriculture has advanced a version of the Farm Bill that cuts over $20 billion from SNAP over the next 10 years. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that this would eliminate benefits of 1.8 million people per year, including 200,000 children who would no longer automatically qualify for the school lunch program.
The push to cut SNAP comes from Representative Stephen Fincher, Republican of Tennessee, who received $3.5 million in direct payments for his farmland between 1999 and 2012, including $70,000 in the last year, which is roughly equivalent to the maximum annual SNAP benefits for 12 working families. (This gets to another major problem with the 2013 Farm Bill: both the House and Senate are repealing the direct payments program, where the identity of major recipients is a matter of public record, in favor of an expansion of the funding and eligibility for the crop insurance program, whose beneficiaries are anonymous.)
The members of the House Committee on Agriculture reportedly traded Bible verses over these cuts and our responsibility towards the poor. This led Rep. Fincher to share Matthew 26:11 ("The poor you shall always have with you") and 2 Thessalonians 3:10 ("The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat") as evidence that "The Bible says a lot of things."
Last month, Rep. Fincher stated, "The role of citizens, of Christians, of humanity is to take care of each other, but not for Washington to steal from those in the country and giving it to others in the country."
[caption id="attachment_684" align="alignleft" width="169"] Granary at Welfare Square
(Courtesy, Wikimedia Commons)[/caption]
This reminds me of discussions in LDS circles, where feeding the hungry is recognized as a very good thing to do and SNAP (often referred to as food stamps) is sadly depicted as an evil, over-reaching government program. We are very focused on taking care of our hungry Latter-day Saints, either through the official Church welfare program, or through member-led efforts, and we conduct targeted humanitarian relief efforts for others around the globe. This is great, but the Church isn't our only community.
The United States is also a community, wherein we elect legislators and executives who have the sworn duty to "preserve, protect, and defend" the Constitution, which itself was created to "insure domestic tranquility," "promote the general welfare," and "secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity." We pay our taxes, one of the responsibilities that comes with the rights of citizenship or residence, with the intent that our representatives will use this money towards these goals. Helping working families, the elderly, and, above all, children, receive the food they need to avoid acute hunger is crucial for them to secure the blessings of liberty. As Appleton, Wisconsin has discovered, good food can make all the difference.
During the 2012 election, the LDS Newsroom worked overtime to educate the public on what Mormons believe. A highlight was the publication of the editorial Modern and Mormon. I love its emphasis on the importance of both faith and reason and our need to ask questions, to pursuing truth, and to "seek after" anything that is "virtuous, lovely, of good report or praiseworthy." The Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Program (SNAP), a praiseworthy program "of good report," is in danger of major cuts that will cripple its ability to feed the hungry and short-circuit the cycle of poverty. If you want SNAP to keep doing the job it's doing so well, let your Congressperson and Senators know that you don't want the cuts to happen. While you're at it, remind them that the sequester hurt WIC's ability to help moms and babies. We cannot starve our way to recovery.
This is the first in our five-part series titled "Mormonism, Agency, and Politics." In this post we will discuss the importance of agency in Mormon doctrine. In the second we will address Satan's strategy of limiting our agency. In the third, we will address the view that agency can be restricted simply by restricting freedom. In the fourth, we will examine the idea that agency can be restricted by removing differences between good and evil and explore its political implications.
There are few topics in the teachings of the Church that are as central to Mormon doctrine as agency. Our agency is one of the very few things we had in the pre-earth life that we brought with us into this life, and is one of the most important for our eternal progression:Read more