Say No to 'More Food Stamps': Newt Gingrich and the Republicans' Anti-Poor Agenda

"More food stamps? Or more paychecks?" Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, one of the Republican Party's best rabble rousers, suggests that's how the GOP should couch the national policy debate in the final four weeks before this November's midterm elections.

According to news website Politico, Gingrich sent a memo to GOP candidates Tuesday suggesting that they frame the election as a "vivid contrast" between the policies of food stamps vs. jobs. In the memo, he links to this recent news of the record 41.3 million Americans receiving federal food aid, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

The Republicans should craft a "closing argument" this way, writes Gingrich: "This year, the House Republican's Pledge to America has set the stage for a powerful, symbolic closing argument for candidates seeking to unseat the left-wing, big spending, job killing Democrats: paychecks versus food stamps."

And so one of the party's loudest voices creates a new Republican agenda: demonizing the poor.

Trickle-Down Economics: The Sequel

It's certainly true that Republicans have been singing the job-creation tune, but their version of the song includes the chorus that repealing the Bush tax cuts for the 4% of Americans who make more than $250,000 a year would be "job-killing." Repeat that as often as they might, it's hard to figure the math that would demonstrate the cause-and-effect relationship this assertion suggests.

In fact, lack of cash in the system is clearly no longer the main problem on the jobs front. Thanks to corporate stimulus, bailout funds and huge corporate cost-cutting measures (i.e., layoffs), companies now hold a record level of cash and equivalents in their coffers, but new jobs are nowhere to be seen. As Bloomberg Businessweek writer Howard Silverblatt puts it: "Given the current profitability level and environment, the risk-reward trade off appears to support their actions, and until that climate of uncertainty clears up, for better or for worse, increased spending and job creation will be difficult to obtain. And as stated, no jobs means no recovery."

So, even if we had not been convinced by the general agreement among economists that "trickle-down" policies don't work, we now have more proof that simply putting more cash into corporate coffers does not lead to more job creation. This can only be more true when applied to individual wealthy so-called "job creators," who would not, after all, be getting more money, but simply paying the same level of taxes they are now if the Republicans were to prevail on this topic. The Congressional Budget Office supports this viewpoint: As CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf stated in February, "increasing the after-tax income of businesses typically does not create much incentive for them to hire more workers in order to produce more, because production depends principally on their ability to sell their products."

A Decade-Long Rise in Food Stamp Usage

The examples given by Republican campaigners are typically of small-business owners making just over $250,000: These job creators, as the rhetoric goes, are just waiting to gain "certainty" so they can hire more people and, based on Gingrich's logic, pay them enough so that they won't qualify for food stamps -- at least $28,668 for a family of four, plus more for employers' contributions for FICA and, we'd hope, health care and other benefits. So, if you were paying $40,000 or so less in taxes, would you spend it to hire someone?

Whether the answer is "no," "yes" or "maybe if it was under the table," the net of this political spin is that the poor are stigmatized as illegitimate members of society -- even as they are becoming a larger and larger portion of it. When one summarizes an election as food stamp recipients vs. job creators, it's easy to see who the angels and demons are. Those who have seized the American dream and hired another human being -- no matter how much money they're making -- wear the halos. Those who have lost their jobs, or are working under the poverty line, and need federal assistance so badly they're willing to suffer the considerable stigma of being a food stamp recipient, get horns and a barbed tail.

As they say, statistics lie just as well as they tell the truth. While food stamp participation has been rising and rising over the past 10 years -- during the majority of which, let's recall, Republicans controlled both the White House and Congress -- so too has the number of recipient households that get some of their income from paychecks. While this number fell during the 1990s, it has increased more or less steadily since 2000 to peak at 40% in 2008, the most recent data available, says a representative from the USDA, which runs the program.

At Election Time, Money Talks

At a time when 41.3 million Americans are receiving food stamps, labeling that key safety net for the economically disadvantaged as the archetype of wrongheaded policies seems -- well, wrongheaded. Of course, as the USDA representative reminds us, "half of them are children." Food stamps are protecting the future of America -- just not the future of the funding sources for those Republican campaign ads.

And therein may lie the very reason Gingrich finds it acceptable to paint food stamp recipients as abhorrent. It's not really the people who elect candidates any more (that is, not "the people" the way I used to define them -- as individual, corporeal bits of flesh, blood and human fallibility that sometimes leaves them hungry): It's the money. Corporations and those who lead them are the ones who contribute to the political campaigns of both major parties, and now, thanks to the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling, run campaigns independently and without scrutiny.

The poor aren't paying for the campaigns, so it's OK to use them as scapegoats when you trumpet your "closing argument" for the 2010 election. Newt Gingrich may realize this ad hominem argument is a logical fallacy: If it works, no one will care.

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If you take a blood test for a job, you should be required to take a blood test for food allotment/stamps. Fact, many drug addicts sell their monthly food stamps but Social Services refuses to drug test anyone. It can be random and think of the money saved for the deserving people who put in the system many years ago. I am tired of emailing my Congressman with a simple solution. I don't want to hear about privacy either. I believe this idea to be fair and helpful. There are people who can no longer work or find work because of age, just to mention a few thoughts.

January 28 2011 at 8:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This is very disconcerting: Ms Gilbert is called a "features writer" which would suggest that news, not opinion, is her bailiwick. This is clearly, however, editorial/opinion writing. I first encountered this as a mobile feed which contained no author name and made it look like a news article, which it clearly is not. Opinion is fine but it should be more clearly presented as such.....

October 14 2010 at 1:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The best election money will buy!

October 13 2010 at 9:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It's called "economic darwinism" Newt. Trickle-down didn't work 30 years ago and it isn't going to work now. The vast majority of people who must use food stamps would not unless they had to.

October 11 2010 at 4:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to varns's comment

I'm convinced that most corporate types are wealthy Republicans and despite having the wherewithal to hire people, they are holding back hoping to prolong the recession thus to affect the outcome of the election. My prediction: if the Republicans win control of the House and Senate, you will see a whopping increase in employment and within a time-frame that would preclude its being affected by any changes in fiscal policy. I'm amazed at the ability of the Republicans to get poor and middle-class Americans to vote against their own best financial interests. Has it been so long that no one remembers their "contract on America"? If you're buying their latest warmed-over rhetoric, shame on you for not paying attention.

October 07 2010 at 4:15 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Yeah to the RiGHT is where we are headed in November because even though they hate GW and the GOP it is better to steal than be stolen from .Ehhh Most of these knuckle headed liberals running the country that would dare plunder us all into the 18th century over Marxist promises need to get back on board the greed machine and learn to work for a living and NO HAND OUTS ! We are headed for trouble I might add, , .

October 07 2010 at 4:14 PM Report abuse -4 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to ajgorm's comment

PS> Newt wants his face printed on food stamps as a reminder of where we are headed as a nation all out war. The slithering newt. Does Jeb Bush have a chance now ? PROTECTIONISM is alive and not in America YET

October 07 2010 at 4:22 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

Newt, Walk a few miles in someone's else shoes before you have the reight to say how they should live. Voters have a really short memory get caught up in sound bites by ex-polititions who get paid now for controversial speeches, Palin is earning millions doing this and now Newt wants the same. Remember the 2004 sound bites about no kids left behind and returning religion back to schools and america, it got another term for Geo.W, How did that work, two wars unpaid for and the economy and pensions, 401 in the crapper. Remember "W"'s plan tp privatize Social Security by investing in the stock market that was Newt's and repubs plan How did that work out? God help us if they bring back the same old group with their tired old message!

October 07 2010 at 4:14 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Gingrich finds it acceptable to paint food stamp recipients as abhorrent, but let him be in that position and he will sing a different tune. But for the GRACE of God, there go I.

October 07 2010 at 3:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Delores's comment

Dolores, you obviously didn't read what Gingrich said. He said: "GIVEN A CHOICE, most people would rather collect a paycheck than collect foodstamps. Dolores, if you disagree with that statement then you are a self-admitted socialist.

October 07 2010 at 10:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

50% of small business owners are in that top 200,000 to 250,000 dollar group! Tax small business more and continue to bailout the too big to fail along with the unions! On top of that let the estate tax go back to what it use to be again another hit on small business! After the first million in you assets the government get 55% of anything above that in the estate. Small business has not added jobs since all of the recovery and taxes are up in the air!

October 07 2010 at 3:18 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

The government should include toliet paper and soap in their food stamp programs. They are items that are needed and keep our environment clean. When someone is out of work, or not making enough money to live, they shouldn't be penalized because they have to use newspapers in the crapper, or go around stinky and dirty.

October 07 2010 at 3:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply