Democrats in Congress have scored plenty of political points with attacks on the wealthy. And now some Republicans are going after government benefits for rich people, too, though a lot more gently, Politico
“We need to quit providing quite so many benefits to people who don’t need them,” Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told the news service.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Rep. James Lankford, R-Okla., have introduced bills to prevent millionaires from receiving unemployment insurance. Coburn also wants to reduce farm subsidies for the wealthy.
Coburn says government data show that that millionaires garnered more than $18.6 million in unemployment benefits in 2008, and rich farmers took home $49 million in subsidies. The Senate has overwhelmingly passed his bills on unemployment and farm benefits.
Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole, a member of the Budget Committee, likes the idea of ditching unemployment compensation for the rich. “One, it’d play to people’s sense of fairness, that this is just fundamentally wrong,” he told Politico. “And second, once you do those things, you really do see the bigger problem is not just a very few wealthy people or a very few abusers, although we ought to deal with those people. It really is basically the systems that aren’t fiscally sustainable.”
The GOP budget that passed the House this year would restrict Medicare payments for the wealthy, and some legislators are looking at doing the same with Social Security. For example, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, seeks a co-sponsor for a bill that would impose a means test for Social Security, cutting payments to rich senior citizens by up to 50 percent.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has repeatedly called for means-testing of benefits for both Social Security and Medicare.
“It’s the symbolism,” Chaffetz told Politico. “There’s room for that in other areas. It’s not going to solve all of our nation’s woes. Where I differ from the president: I don’t believe we’re just one good tax increase away from prosperity in our nation.”
While the GOP proposals obviously won’t eliminate the government’s debt woes by themselves, their sponsors say they fit with Republicans’ goal to cut waste.
The Republican efforts may be good politics as well as good policy. A recent New York Times/CBS News poll found that almost 70 percent of the public believes Republican policies are biased toward the wealthy.
Coburn is ready to strike more benefits available for millionaires. “I’m going after everything everywhere,” he told Politico.
“The larger question is whether we ought to be means-testing a lot of our federal programs,” Georgia GOP Rep. Tom Price, another Budget Committee member, told Politico. “And I think that the American people believe that their hard-earned taxpayer dollars ought to be going only to those programs that are actually necessary. Any income-based program we need to take a real serious look at whether or not all of them ought not to be means-tested.”
To be sure, not every Republican is eager to see an axe taken to benefits for the wealthy. “I’ve got to see the bills. So much of it is in the nuance,” Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks told Politico, reflecting the view of many Republicans. “My general feeling is that we need to get away from this class warfare thing.”
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