Karl Marx claimed that all of history is a matter of class struggle. I’m no Marxist, but if we look at Republican economic policies going back to the Reagan era of the 1980s, it is clear that the Republicans have been waging class warfare on behalf of the rich against the rest of us and, so far, they have been winning. In fact, Republicans have gone to such extremes in waging class warfare that they have become a sick caricature of themselves, making Ronald Reagan look like a moderate and Marx look like a prophet.
These economic policies include lowering taxes on the rich, shipping jobs, primarily in manufacturing, to Third World countries, and union busting. The result has been a regressive redistribution of income for more than 30 years, while the economy has grown at a slower rate. The rich have gotten richer, while the rest of us have lost ground. The middle class, which is the heart of the American economy, has been devastated, with many of its members reduced to poverty amid a severe job shortage. The U.S. now has the highest rate of economic inequality in the developed world, at the same level as it was in 1928 on the eve of the Great Depression.
And thanks to Tea Party extremists, there is no letting up in Republicans waging a despicable war on the poor at both the federal and state levels. It has never made sense for anyone to resent people who are worse off than they are, unless they are mean-spirited, bigoted, dishonest or just plain evil. These class warfare attitudes can certainly be seen in bills that recently passed the U.S. House, Michigan Senate and Michigan House Commerce Committee.
The U.S. House, by a virtual party line tally of 217-210, voted to cut food stamps, on which one in seven Americans depend to eat, by nearly $4 billion, a five percent cut. The bill, which is likely to die in the Senate, would allow states to test food stamp applicants for drugs and set work requirements for recipients.
The Michigan Senate, by a 27-9 vote, passed SB 276, which would require people receiving food stamps to participate in community service or other work-related activities to be eligible for assistance. The Michigan House Commerce Committee, on a 12-4 vote, approved HB 4952, which would deny unemployment benefits to anyone who refused to take a drug test required by an employer or tested positive.
Shelli Weisberg, of the American Civil Liberties Union, pointed out that courts have ruled wholesale drug testing without suspicion is illegal. With Republicans claiming that drug testing people on the public dole is good public policy, State Rep. Jon Switalski (D-Warren), noting that legislators are also paid with public money, offered an amendment to HB 4952 requiring legislators to be drug tested. But the hypocritical Republican majority defeated it. Meanwhile, anti-tax activist Bill McMaster said that the bill failed to take into account the legalization of medical marijuana in 2008. It also failed to take into account the fact that drug use among the poor and unemployed is at about the same level as society in general.
The only people eligible for cash assistance are pregnant women and families with minor children, and the average monthly cash assistance payment is $356. Child care is unaffordable at this income level, with an average weekly cost of $171 in Wayne County and $204 in Oakland County for a full-time child care program. Along these lines, state Sen. Vincent Gregory (D-Southfield), said that it didn’t make sense to make a single mother pay child care costs because of state-required community service, and introduced an amendment to SB 276 requiring the Department of Human Services to pay child care costs while parents perform community service. It was also defeated.
HB 4952 now goes to the House floor, while SB 276 will be taken up by the House. These are disgusting pieces of legislation, designed to appeal to the most bigoted segments of the Republican base in the 2014 elections. Both deserve to be defeated.