Only Conservatives Value Work and Other Insights From AEI Safety Net Panel

A couple of weeks ago, the American Enterprise Institute hosted — and provided most of the members for — a panel discussion entitled “How Conservatives Can Save the Safety Net.” My first thought when I got the invitation was, “Well, they could stop slashing it.”

But I decided to find out what those right-leaning — but not radically right-wing — Republicans had in mind. Not, I’m sorry to say, a whole lot that we haven’t heard before. The panel discussion was nevertheless interesting — in part, as a phenomenon.

AEI, as well as some other Republican-friendly organizations — and some decidedly right-wing Republicans like Congressman Paul Ryan — have decided that the party needs rebranding. This is also clearly the case for some Republican Presidential hopefuls.

So we see a lot of effort invested in coming up with proposals — or the makings thereof — that will convince voters the party truly cares about struggling Americans and would do more for them than Democrats.

Whatever the motives, we who lean leftward have good reasons to look for common ground — the likely results of the upcoming elections among them. And the AEI panel, as well as some earlier trial balloons, suggest there is some.

So the most striking thing to me was how the panelists appropriated to conservatives some basic principles that progressives generally share — and at the same time, shifted us into the opposing camp.

For example, Tim Carney, the panel’s moderator, said that conservatives “value work” — a “major division” between them and “the left.” Other panelists seized on the theme.

Work confers “human dignity,” Scott Wilson said, including work “in the home,” i.e., not for pay. Robert Doar, a fellow AEI scholar and champion of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, didn’t expressly disagree, but added, “We want people to engage in the larger society,” clearly referring to the labor force.

Well, who among us would disagree? And who would disagree with Doar when he said that if work doesn’t pay enough to meet families’ needs, we should “provide support?”

The true divide here is Doar’s advocacy for rigid time limits because they “get people to face up to the need to address their own issues.” He’s also a true believer in sanctions, i.e., benefits cuts (or cut-offs) when parents “don’t behave a certain way.”

“We [in the TANF programs he administered in New York] “treat people as having agency,” while “so much of the left treats them as victims,” implying that we’re not “hopeful for human resources.”

I don’t suppose we’ll find common ground on time limits — or on the notion that dispensing benefits should empower caseworkers to coerce people into behaving however they’re told to.

But saying we don’t recognize the value of work or the multifarious capacities of parents who’ve perforce turned to welfare will hardly promote a conversation on issues of common concern.

One surely ought to be the shortage of decent-paying jobs that people without a college education and/or high-level skills can qualify for — and the relatively little money that most TANF programs spend on “work activities” like job training.

Also that “support” Doar refers to for parents who move from welfare to work, but can’t afford basic living costs, which, for them, include work-related expenses like transportation and child care.

Scott Winship, the lone non-AEI panelist, flagged another (not unrelated) issue. “Upward mobility has basically stagnated,” he said. But, he continued, “liberals overstate parental income” as a factor in the next generation’s chances of moving up the income scale.

Versus what factor(s) he didn’t say. Nor why we should discount the research showing that children born at the bottom of the scale tend to stay there — or pretty near. But might there be factors we could converge on?

For example, he mentioned efforts to move more people into — and through — college. “Preparedness is a problem,” he said. That’s surely the case, though costs also limit both the “into” and the “through.”

Another potential basis for conversation — yes, I know this may surprise you — is marriage. Panelists, as well as some other conservative scholars, have seemingly taken to heart the research showing that marriage promotion programs don’t work.

And they recognize, as one said, that many means-tested programs “unintentionally penalize marriage” because when two people who both have incomes marry, their household income will, in some cases, reduce or altogether eliminate their benefits.

Does this mean that conservatives would support the President’s proposal to make the temporary mitigation of the marriage penalty in the Earned Income Tax Credit permanent? Not a peep from the panelists.

Nor specific answers to what they think conservatives should do about any of the other issues they teed up.

Lots of interesting back and forth. But much of it, I felt, was exploring ways Republicans could talk so as to persuade doubting voters they really do care about the (less than) 47% who don’t earn enough to owe federal income taxes — and that Democrats are a bunch of clueless bleeding hearts.

Hence the deliberately — and misleadingly — divisive rhetoric. Disappointing, especially from an organization that claims to pursue its ideals “without regard for politics.”


One Response to Only Conservatives Value Work and Other Insights From AEI Safety Net Panel

  1. zoom314 says:

    Repubs/baggers would time limit and cut current SSI benefits, probably in half, I don’t know how much Ryan wants to cut SSI in His 2015 budget, but like all His past budgets, they are heartless, Repubs/baggers like Rep Dave Camp(R-MI, Chairman) won’t allow any bill to be voted on in the House Ways and Means Committee if the bill has anything remotely to do with making any Social Security program better, that’s why H.R.1601 the Supplemental Security Income Restoration Act of 2013 has and is still in Committee, unvoted on, there is a petition for that bill and the Senate bill(S.2089) with 94 signatures so far, but I fear that’s for naught. Ryan wants to be the next Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. This bill would only reform SSI’s rules, which date from 1972, it does not increase benefits at all, since that would be an appropriations bill which can only originate in the House. the savings limit is @ $2,000.00($3,000.00 for couples) and hasn’t been changed since 1989, the proposed limit under this bill is $10,000.00($15,000.00 for couples), there is a MYTH that some have spread, that raising the limit will only encourage more people to sign up for SSI, that is FALSE, people who are otherwise Medically Qualified will spend any money they have down to under the $2,000.00($3,000.00 for couples) limit and then get SSI(that’s how I got SSI), another MYTH is that the medical qualifications is too weak and must be updated, problem is ‘Death within 1 year or not expected to improve beyond 1 year’ can’t be improved upon, not in this reality at least and is also FALSE. I own a single wide mobile home that I live in that is in the desert, it needs a new a/c system, I got an estimate once, the new replacement would cost $6,000.00 and My gas heater’s blower is busted, I’m hoping the park will keep its word and fix the gas heater(they decided to stop the transfer of the mobile home into the parks name, but want Me to leave the mobile home here if and when I leave, since I can’t put the mobile home on its own land cause of a change in state law after 2007, all single wide mobile homes not already on their own land are now considered captive park models, so moving it is out of the question, plus I don’t think I could afford a rental higher than $450.00 a month, My current rent is going from $320.00 a month down to $215.00, $215.00 is space rent only and I’ve been paying $320.00 a month since sometime in 2011, that changes on October 1st 2014 to $215.00). Forget about moving something like this, as to move the mobile home from NV to CA in 2006 and to do setup cost Me about $7,000.00 to do and that didn’t include the building permit that the County required. So a $10,000.00 limit would come in very handy, as it stands now if I had $2,000.01 in the bank, I’d have to give the SSA $1,754.80, since by their rules, they would have made an overpayment to Me and want the $1,754.80 back, that $1,754.80 is 2 months worth of benefits of $877.40 a month in 2014($721.00 from SSI and $156.40 from the CA SSP, State Supplemental Payment, SSA manages the whole benefit), that is all I get in CA, I and other SSI recipients who live in CA can’t get Food Stamps(SNAP) cause of a disagreement between the USDA/SSA and the State of California on who should get SNAP benefits, CA wants to give SNAP to people who live on their own(can’t be that many of the 1.3 million SSI recipients who live in CA, not on what an SSI recipient gets, I’m lucky in that regard, though I’m not getting rich off of SSI, though some delusional people(who should be locked up in My opinion), think to the contrary), the USDA said no to this idea and so no one in CA who gets SSI, gets SNAP benefits at all. Oh and I am severely disabled due to accident, age and surgery that made things worse for Me, I’m 54, so I’m not able bodied anymore, My only company is a 6yr old cat, a B&W Maine Coon cat(she’s over 90% Black, the rest is white fur), She’s 16lbs and has feet 2 fingers wide, sorry I can’t post a pic here, She is on FB though, I was lucky enough to get Her 4yrs ago, $10.00 and the cost of about 10 gallons of gasoline is what it cost to get Her out of a shelter, She even sleeps with Me and of course She has an automated litterbox that has 8oz of tire weights on the rake(otherwise the rake would get stuck in the up position on the way back to the starting point, a design flaw I’ve read, most are encouraged to use a a silicon lubricant like Liquid Wrench on the rails, I don’t like that idea, the stuff is messy and I’d rather not use it, that’s why I came up with the tire weights, they stick on the back of the rake), I use corn based cat litter that is flushable, a multiple cat formula since My cat is big and that’s what I can buy locally(it’s in a Red/Black 8lb or 17lb bag, I buy the 8lb bag), as that is what the litter box manufacturer wants used, at least no trash bags are required for the cat litter.

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