Spoiling the poor

October 12, 2005

Along the Gulf Coast, many evacuees hit by Katrina and Rita are still living in shelters, waiting for the temporary housing that President Bush promised by Saturday. Despite Mr. Bush's continued displays of concern - including a nationally televised moment this week helping volunteers build a home for a Louisiana family displaced by Katrina - there is still an enormous disconnect between what's needed in the storm-devastated Gulf areas and what's happening in Washington, where Republicans in Congress want to ax programs for low-income people while fiercely guarding tax cuts for the rich.

The notion of giving a break to affluent taxpayers across the nation on the assumption that it will produce jobs for those who are down on their luck in the Gulf region is more than highly suspect. If this were really about helping workers, then why did Mr. Bush move so quickly to allow federally financed construction projects in storm-affected areas to pay less than prevailing local wages? If the tax cuts have been so effective in stimulating the economy, then why have deficits ballooned and the poverty rate increased?

Congress is now trying to come up with at least $35 billion in savings over five years, an exercise made more urgent - and complicated - by the need to offset the cost of hurricane relief and recovery. In the long run, Congress wants to reduce Medicaid spending by $10 billion, which would surely hurt recipients. Yet Sen. Charles Grassley, the Iowa Republican who chairs the Senate finance committee, offered a sensible short-term proposal to expand Medicaid coverage, at the feds' expense, to all Katrina survivors who are poor, whether or not they were previously eligible. But the administration is opposed. Moreover, it agrees with Congress' intention to cut about $600 million in the food stamp program, even though the transportable food stamps have been especially valuable to hurricane victims on the move.

Mr. Bush and those Congressional Republicans who would spare the rich while trying to wring more savings from programs that serve low-income people should imagine themselves homeless, jobless and hungry - and just say no.

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