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Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association, a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media, and a professor of communication studies at Whitworth University.

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Save the economy by ending welfare to Republicans

Posted by James McPherson on February 16, 2009

Democratic strategist Paul Begala, in a piece for CNN, offers a suggestion that if taken to its logical conclusion might actually save the American economy: We should stop giving away money to the people–generally Republicans–who say we should stop giving away money.

Begala specifically addresses Mark Sanford, a vocal critic of the economic stimulus plan despite the fact that he is the governor South Carolina, a state that has been “a ward of the federal goverment” probably since slavery ended there. The nonprofit Tax Foundation estimates that South Carolina takes in $1.35 for every dollar it pays in federal taxes. And though we might quibble about the exact numbers, there is no doubt that the states that are most heavily Republican tend to suck in money–or, as some conservatives might term it, to engage in theft–from more progressive states that pay more in federal taxes than they get back.

Besides South Carolina, the welfare queens include  the red or usually red states of Alaska (what, you let Sarah Palin convince you that the oil up there made that state self-reliant–ha!), Arizona (maybe John McCain should pay more taxes on his houses), Alabama, Arkansas, both Dakotas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

There also are a few Democratic states on the list, but then Democrats almost all favored the stimulus plan. It is true that the numbers are a few years old, so some of those states may now be paying their own way–but with the way the economy has slammed the states, it’s more likely that they’ve become bigger bums than they were before. On the other hand, a minority of states–including Barack Obama’s Illinois, Joe Biden’s Delaware, New York and California–are subsidizing those conservative deadbeats elsewhere.

Since conservative critics think we should stop spending, the solution is obvious: Let’s stop giving them our money. The bank bailout was an obvious mistake, since most bankers are Republicans. But we should also stop giving subsidies to farmers, most of whom seem to be welfare-opposing conservatives. And it should be safe to assume that anyone who voted for Republican (or for Democrats who oppose the stimulus bill) automatically wants to forgo any stimulus benefits.

Wow, I’m feeling richer already. Of course I live in Washington, one of those states that’s been helping out most of the rest of you for a long time. Unfortunately, as Begala suggests about Sanford, it’s tough to wean a conservative off of welfare, “because for all his rhetoric about hating federal spending, he can’t wait to get his hands on our money.”

Thursday update: In a critique mostly of Sean Hannity, Huffington’s Bob Cesca points out that we’re all “socialists”–and that even the most fervent dittoheads are unlikely to be turning down any money.

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14 Responses to “Save the economy by ending welfare to Republicans”

  1. Mike S. said

    Hey,

    The fact that SC gets 1.35 returned for every dollar of taxes paid and NJ “only” 61 cents doesn’t really mean squat. In fact, NJ may very well get far more federal money in total dollars but because it has higher population and pays more income tax to boot, it look like it isn’t getting its fair share.

    Trust me, NJ is getting its fair share and then some. Why don’t you look at the total federal expenditures for each state and then let’s see what it looks like.

  2. Grady Locklear said

    I’m glad you pointed this out, although I have to disagree with the logic in your penultimate paragraph.

    “And it should be safe to assume that anyone who voted for Republican (or for Democrats who oppose the stimulus bill) automatically wants to forgo any stimulus benefits.”

    Republicans who voted against the stimulus might not be against stimuli – they just don’t like this particular plan. Maybe they’d vote for a (more) revised version.

    It’s even more of a stretch to say that just because someone voted for a Republican that they automatically support everything that politician supports.

    Still, I note the sarcasm in your writing, I’m very turned off by the hypocrisy in those state governments, and I totally get your point.

  3. James McPherson said

    Grady, of course you’re right that I was being facetious. I actually wasn’t crazy about the stimulus bill overall, and have no problem with some individuals and states “subsidizing” others. That’s what makes a society work.

    Mike, you make a good point about how statistics can be interpreted in various ways, though I don’t understand why you imply that the federal tax rate would be any higher in New Jersey than in South Carolina. Regardless of which way you figure it, however, some states obviously have cause for complaint. Folks in Jersey might argue that if they have more people to serve, they should get more money to serve them.

    Regardless, even using your chosen metric, it looks to me like Jersey may be getting cheated. For the record, for the last year that figures were available, New Jersey got less federal money back than a number of states, including Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, Texas and Virginia. You can see numbers for every state at http://www.taxfoundation.org/research/show/22685.html. Thanks for the comments.

  4. Mike S. said

    Using my metric the country NJ receives 58 billion dollars from the Federal govt and South Carolina gets $32 billion. Per capita it is higher in South Carolina, but what justifies NJ getting nearly 100% more than South Carolina in total expenditure.

    Is it that they pay more in so they should get more out? If you support progressive tax and spend policies, then this should be an issue at all. Richer states should be paying more into the pot to help poorer states out.

    I would like to thank Paul Begala for bringing up the inherent unfairness to progressive tax policy. If what everyone is saying is that states should get back exactly what they pay then who really needs the federal government to process it for us?

    Finally, the actual federal payments to states is for all federal expenditures, including fed employees, park service, fdic, etc. This amount is not necessarily direct aid to the states, or what some may refer to as welfare. Not sure this data is really well suited for this discussion.

    Finally, what is not being discussed is the amount of total fed expenditures that exceeds the total fed receipts, or in other words the defict. The point of Mark Sanford was not whether his state or any other benefits from the largess of the federal government but that the largess needs to be addressed, that spending more money when there may be cheaper ways to stimulate the economy adds to the deficit and the tax burden of future generations. Ultimately this will be bad for everyone’s economy.

    This point should not be lost on any of us, regardless of whether you live in a state that is net positive or not.

  5. Mike S. said

    One additional point:

    Federal expenditures include Social Security checks to retirees so age of the states population will have an impact on the calculation. I wouldn’t think Begala is suggesting Seniors in South Carolina shouldn’t be getting their checks, is he?

    I think he chose a weak statistic to make his point. He just may not be that smart.

    Finally, New York received $144 billion dollars in 2005. There must be alot of old people there.

  6. James McPherson said

    “Richer states should be paying more into the pot to help poorer states out.”

    I agree, even if it does make me a tax-and-spender.

    “If what everyone is saying is that states should get back exactly what they pay then who really needs the federal government to process it for us?”

    I don’t think anyone is actually saying this–except as a rhetorical means of trying (perhaps not entirely successfully) to make a bigger point about hypocrisy.

    “The actual federal payments to states is for all federal expenditures, including fed employees, park service, fdic, etc. This amount is not necessarily direct aid to the states, or what some may refer to as welfare. Not sure this data is really well suited for this discussion.”

    True enough, and as your next comment notes, the money also includes Social Security. I think it also includes military-related funding. Some states are better suited for military bases (and for other federal projects), and some politicians are much better at bringing home pork (Democrat Robert Byrd being perhaps the best, though Republican Ted Stevens was pretty good before he got a bit too greedy), whether their states are deserving or not.

    “Spending more money when there may be cheaper ways to stimulate the economy adds to the deficit and the tax burden of future generations.”

    I would agree–like I said above, I’m not a big fan of the stimulus plan–IF you had said “there are cheaper ways,” rather than saying “there may be cheaper ways.” As far as I know, no one on either side has offered anything better. As Begala points out, Sanford fell into the GOP mantra of tax cuts, which a number of economists have pointed are not particularly effective at stimulating a bad economy (and if they were, why didn’t the Bush tax cuts prevent the current mess?).

    As to your point about a lot of old people in New York, having just visited there for the first time I can vouch for the fact that there are a lot of people of all kinds. But of course there’s also the fact that, as the financial capital and the biggest city in the country, and a city that has already been attacked twice by terrorists, it probably gets (and probably deserves) more Homeland Security money than anywhere else.Thanks again for contributing to the discussion.

  7. Beachy said

    Go for it! I have to laugh because everyone knows that Republicans have jobs. We pay our taxes (unlike Barry’s cabinet).

    So, I say – implement this. The majority of people on welfare rolls are democrats (or would be if they would bother to register to vote).

    What a stupid article. Duh.

  8. Mike S. said

    ” As far as I know, no one on either side has offered anything better. As Begala points out, Sanford fell into the GOP mantra of tax cuts, which a number of economists have pointed are not particularly effective at stimulating a bad economy (and if they were, why didn’t the Bush tax cuts prevent the current mess?).”

    Sanford’s suggested plan would be cheaper and more likely to succeed. The idea that the government must do something will only lead to Porkulus II. Until the govt says that’s all it is going to do, limited private investment will occur.

    Bush tax cuts is not what created this mess. Liberals want to distort the economic record for political reasons. Tax cuts helped restart the economy after the Clinton recession and 9/11 economic slowdown. Tax revenues were higher than anytime in history after the tax cuts.

    What is the major cause of the problem is pro-consumption economic policy, including the printing of money to fund the govt deficit and the setting of low interest rates to encourage borrowing and spending. This led to the housing bubble. With everyone and their unemployed uncle being able to buy a house with no money down, thanks to Fannie Mae adn Freddie Mac, the country raised housing prices to an unsustainable level. Pop!

    Tax cuts in an of themselves were not the cultprit. Neither was this idea of unregulated markets. It was, in fact, govt intervention in the housing market that led to much of our problems. Fannie Mae, previously the mortgage market watch dog brought sub-prime loans to main street.

    The problem we’re in rihgt now is that anything we do, tax cuts or spending are going to add to the deficit right now. Given the choice, I think reducing taxes for 5 years, even extending the bush tax cuts would be the way to go. At the same time, the govt should reduce spending so as to not raise the deficit any further. Can’t find a commerce secretary, get rid of the entire department.

  9. James McPherson said

    “The Clinton recession”? According to the Bush administrations own figures (which it finally acknowledged after letting conservative talk radio yammer on for a few months about a supposed Clinton recession), the recession to which you’re referring began about two months after GWB took office–giving him the rare distinction of overseeing the beginning of two separate recessions (of course even Barack Obama may not be around long enough to see the end of this one). There were no recessions during the Clinton years, part of why I consider him to be the most successful pseudo-Republican president of recent years.

    “The problem we’re in rihgt now is that anything we do, tax cuts or spending are going to add to the deficit right now.”

    That’s for sure, and of course there was a record surplus when GWB took office. And while I agree with you that Fannie, Freddie and their Democratic supporters share the blame, I think you’re underestimating the role of deregulating financial markets in contributing to the collapse.

    Of course we’re not even talking about the stupidest and most expensive Bush boondoggle, the Iraq War. Without the money and attention paid to that ongoing misadventure, perhaps the Bush administration, Congress and the news media might all have dealt better with the impending financial crisis.

  10. And while we’re thinking about the (industrial) economy in general and deficits in particular, here’s one for the record books: The current U.S. deficit is about $10.5 trillion, which is considerably more than all the world’s currency and all the gold ever mined, combined. That leaves us with two choices: (1) Pay off the debt (ha ha, not in our grandchildren’s lifetimes, working 24/7) or (2) default. I’m guessing we’ll take the same path as the former Soviet Union, Argentina, and all the others.

  11. […] most online pornography). And as the Huffington Post reports, the new stimulus bill, like the tax system in general, rewards red state porkers the most. As I’ve noted previously, one way to fix the economy […]

  12. […] to make Idaho (where support for its own residents is an embarrassment) into a welfare case (like most Republican states, Idaho takes in more federal tax dollars than it pays, about 20 percent more in this case), the […]

  13. […] ironies surrounding the event stem from the fact that conservatives typically benefit more from taxes than do liberals, the fact that untold numbers of today’s protests (including the […]

  14. […] Save the economy by ending welfare to Republicans […]

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