I know it's been awhile since I've been blogging regularly -- I blame summer vacations, administrative responsibilities, and the onerous task of manufacturing consent. But jeez -- apparently it's been so long that since I last blogged, US Rep Tim Murphy (R-South Hills) has morphed into a champion of the poor.
Stranger still, he's doing so by voting against funding their health benefits.
Yes, that's right. In Congress this week, Murphy voted against a bill to help states pay the bills for education and healthcare for the poor. The measure, which President Obama signed on Tuesday, will provide Pennsylvania with $668 million to help pay for Medicaid benefits, and another $388 million to save the jobs of K-12 teachers. Most Republicans voted against the measure, most Democrats -- including those from our area -- voted for it.
Why would Murphy vote against a measure bringing more than a billion dollars to his state? Be assured that it's not because he's a heartless Republican. No, it's because he cares too much:
The Majority holding power in Congress only offered a choice between cutting food stamps or cutting healthcare for the poor. The burden is placed on the backs of those already weakened by poverty ...
It is outrageous that in midst of a recession with 15 million Americans unemployed and families struggling to make ends meet, that we are taking funds meant to help the needy to balance state budgets. Expecting the poor and our children to bear that burden is totally unacceptable, insensitive and cruel.
Everyone agrees that for the sake of our children’s education we don’t want teachers placed into the unemployment line. But it is unacceptable to cut the food stamp program to pay for teacher retention. There are alternatives to pay for these priorities and I stand ready to work with my colleagues on this issue.
Oh, those heartless Democrats! Are they really forcing poor people to choose between medical care and food? That's what we have Republicans for!
Murphy is referring to the fact that in order to pay for this additional spending, Democrats have promised -- at least on paper -- to cut food stamp spending. In 2014. And they have indeed caused an outrcry among advocates for the poor as well as progressive politicians (David Obey, Democrat of Wisconsin, called the cutbacks "plain wrong.")
Under the bill, effective March 31, 2014, food stamp benefits will return to the levels that individuals would have received under pre-Recovery Act law. This modification is estimated to save $11.9 billion over ten years. House Democrats will work to restore this funding before the cuts are implemented in 2014.
First, note the date. Murphy charges Dems with taking food from the mouths of the poor "in the midst of a recession." But the cuts won't go into effect for nearly four years. And Democrats are hoping to restore funding before they ever take effect.
Considering that Dems could lose control of the House this fall -- that is a gamble with poor people's health. It's bad policy. But as Pelosi's statement makes clear, the extra food-stamp money being cut would never have been available in the first place if it weren't for the Democratic economic stimulus bill passed in 2009.
And I probably don't even need to point this out ... but Murphy voted against the stimulus act in the first place. (He did so, again, because he cares too much: "Our nation cannot afford massive spending in areas that do not directly lead to job creation, but instead grows government at a time we should reduce spending in order to avoid future tax increases.") In other words, he originally opposed the increased food-stamp spending he professes to be so concerned about today.
And what of Murphy's hopes of finding "alternatives to pay for these priorities," and his concern that the burden "not be put on the backs of those already weakened by poverty"? There's actually a really simple alternative: Roll back George Bush's tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans. Hike rates on capital gains. Restore the tax on seven-digit inheritences. Problem solved. Right?
Wrong. Surprise, surprise -- Murphy doesn't want to burden THEM either.
The specter of a huge $683 billion tax increase is on the horizon if Congress does not extend or make permanent the lower taxes that American families and workers now have. By 2011 American families will see higher taxes on income and investments, the child tax credit cut by $500, and the return of the marriage penalty tax. Small businesses would see higher taxes on equipment purchase and the resurrection of the hated Death Tax.
Murphy, like most Republicans, favors making premanent Bush-era tax cuts -- which the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has found benefited the wealthy. The "Death Tax" also predominantly benefits the children of the wealthy. So while he professes to be worried about the burdens on the poor today, he's all about protecting the perogatives of the wealthy.
To my eyes, the whole food-stamp cut looks like a bit of accounting gimmickry anyway. Democrats are paying for increased spending today by promising cuts in spending down the road ... cuts they flatly admit they hope not to make. And presumably the only reason they are going through this charade is they want to avoid being accused of defict spending by Republicans. Republicans like -- surprise! -- Tim Murphy:
I will also support legislation that stops the tax, spend and deficit culture in Washington that is so pervasive in the powers that run Congress, and is hurting our economy and jobs.
Political hypocrisy is nothing new, of course. What sets Murphy apart is how good he is at it. His ability to have it both ways on issues like this one -- or on "Buy American" provisions in the stimulus bill -- is a key part of his political success. Democrats have a hard time toppling him, at least in part, because he's so good at sounding like a Democrat. Even when he's voting against them.
ADDED: The campaign of Dan Connolly, the Democrat running against Murphy in the upcoming election, has fired off this statement:
Yesterday, Tim Murphy voted for multinational corporations that ship jobs overseas and against critical funding that will create or save the jobs of teachers, police officers and fire fighters here in Pennsylvania. The legislation, passed almost exclusively with Democratic votes was paid for by closing loopholes in the foreign income provisions of the tax code which gives corporations incentives to outsource American jobs.
Tim Murphy has been voting in lock step with the Republican leadership in Washington against the interests of the people of southwestern Pennsylvania. In November Pennsylvania voters will give Tim Murphy his pink slip so that he can go work with the corporate interests he so prefers the company of.