David Brooks Invents "Growing Consensus" to Help the Poor

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Jan. 17 2014 9:30 AM

David Brooks Invents "Growing Consensus" to Help the Poor

In a curious column today, David Brooks asserted that Republican Party politicians are deeply concerned about the welfare of poor Americans and that if liberals would just stop being mean to rich people the country could come together and help the poor:

There is a growing consensus that government should be doing more to help increase social mobility for the less affluent. Even conservative Republicans are signing on to this. The income inequality language introduces a class conflict element to this discussion.

Brooks no doubt has better connections to the world of conservative politics than I do, so perhaps he'll write a follow-up column detailing some elements of that consensus. Poorly sourced as I am, I'm left to read hazy tea leaves. Like for example, suppose the Republican Party caucus had the opportunity to write a detailed budget framework laying out its view of how federal spending should be reshaped over the medium- and long-term? Fortunately, it turns out Republicans did exactly that offering what they describe as "a contrast in visions" rather than a consensus.

Dylan Matthews devised a helpful summary chart:


This budget turns out to have a really interesting property. To the extent that spending programs are targeted at helping poor people, the House GOP budget cuts those programs more severely than the programs that are less-targeted at the poor. That's not a decision that's driven by thinking about the appropriate overall level of government spending. It is true that the GOP wants to spend less overall. But they also want to specifically redistribute the spending so as to be less helpful to the poor.

At the same time, Paul Ryan wants to reform the tax code in a way that "would likely result in a huge tax cut for the very wealthy."

So at least on its face, it doesn't seem to me that there is a consensus on helping the poor that's being disrupted by a controversy about the rich. It is true that Republicans think one major problem in America today is that the highest-earning Americans don't have enough take-home pay. And it is true that the GOP view on this is impelling them to propose a budget that reduces spending on middle-class entitlement programs. But it's also true that Republicans want to cut spending on low-income people much more drastically than they want to cut spending on middle-class people. We saw that with Ryan's budget, we saw it with the House GOP proposal to cut food stamps, and we saw it in Mitt Romney's campaign proposals.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.


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