Yesterday the Buffett Rule — which would have ensured that millionaires pay at least the same share of their income in taxes as middle-class Americans — failed by a largely partisan vote. But while Democrats failed to move the legislation, they have succeeded in beginning a larger conversation about two competing visions for America.
“I’ve told you where I stand,” President Obama told a crowd at Florida Atlantic University in advance of the Buffett Rule vote. “Now it’s time for members of Congress to do the same.”
Listening to Democrats, the contrast point seems to be an America where Millionaires and Billionaires pay their fair share and an America where they do not. Oddly enough, Republicans might be Democrats’ greatest asset in drawing that ideological distinction by taking that vision one step further.
From here, the conversation about equality pivots from the wealthiest to the most vulnerable. The party that cried “class warfare” in response to the Buffett Rule is now trying to cut federal services for those Americans hardest hit by these tough economic times. House Republicans are introducing a series of cuts to domestic programs, like food stamps, in order to maintain future Pentagon spending without entertaining additional taxes.
According to a Politico report, “An average family of four would face an 11 percent cut in monthly benefits after Sept. 1 and, even more important, tighter enforcement of rules would require that households exhaust most of their liquid assets before qualifying for help.” This means that the long-term unemployed would be forced off the government rolls until they have spent down their savings. These cuts are especially devastating for Latino and Black households, which are particularly vulnerable to food insecurity.
Food stamps, now called SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), made an early debut in this year’s Republican primary race. Newt Gingrich called Barack Obama “America’s food stamp President,” saying that “more people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any president in American history.” That factoid has been debunked, yet the idea that Obama has somehow created an entitlement society, one where our social safety net has become a hammock, persists even in the absence of facts.
Democrats and Republicans agree that our current economic situation is untenable. But when they talk about who needs to shoulder that burden — that’s where their ideas diverge. The economic highs and lows of this week offer a bright, bright contrast between the two parties. By aiming to aggressively cut social programs, including to SNAP, Republicans are making Democrats’ point for them.