Marco Rubio Says Farm Subsidies and Hurricane-Disaster Funds Should Not Be Federal Programs. Really. [Updated and typo-corrected.]

For a senator who likes to hold himself out as the future of the Republican brand, Marco Rubio has come up with a remarkably retrograde contribution to the party’s chorus of phony empathy for the poor: Let the states do it.

All anti-poverty funds should be combined into one “flex fund,” he said in a speech on Wednesday, and then given to the states to spend as they see fit. He actually believes that states will “design and fund creative initiatives” to address inequality.

Rubio Demands States’ Right to Ignore the Poor, David Firestone, New York Times, Jan. 9

The last seven days were Marco Rubio’s lucky week.  And not just because the media-declared frontrunner for his party’s 2016 presidential nomination collapsed as a viable candidate even for local dog catcher, should he need a job by the next presidential election. And not because he was smart enough, unlike some other prominent Repubs and pundits, to recognize how breathtakingly offensive the Bridgegate events are across the political spectrum, and to simply demur from comment.

But also because he gave his big speech on poverty on the very day that the bridge scandal broke nationally, and diverted media and the public’s attention from the speech.  A speech that was, in substance, ridiculous.

Firestone notes some highlights from the speech:

“Washington continues to rule over the world of anti-poverty policy-making, with beltway bureaucrats picking and choosing rigid nationwide programs and forcing America’s elected state legislatures to watch from the sidelines,” he said. “As someone who served nine years in the state house, two of them as Speaker, I know how frustrating this is.”

And:

“It’s wrong for Washington to tell Tallahassee what programs are right for the people of Florida,” Mr. Rubio said. “But it’s particularly wrong for it to say that what’s right for Tallahassee is the same thing that’s right for Topeka and Sacramento and Detroit and Manhattan and every other town, city and state in the country.”

After thinking about this for a few minutes–I read the Firestone piece this morning–I’ve concluded that Rubio is onto something.  I, too, think it’s wrong for Washington to tell Tallahassee what programs are right for the people of Florida. The programs I have in mind aren’t the one’s he’s talking about, but they are nonetheless federal programs that assist certain Floridians.  Such as Floridians who have large financial interests in the sugarcane industry.  And Floridians who live in areas hit every few years with devastation from hurricanes.

A key difference, of course, between programs such as farm subsidies and natural-disaster assistance, on the one hand, and the Medicaid and food stamps, on the other, is that the latter are “federalism” federal-state-partnership programs in which states opt into program and the federal government and the states share the costs, with the federal government paying the far greater share.  Non-federalism federal programs that provide financial assistance to certain constituencies–including wealthy farmers, the sugarcane industry, owners of beachfront properties, and small businesses in hurricane country–are funded entirely by the federal government.

But Rubio’s complaint isn’t the manner in which these programs are funded. Instead, it is that people in Florida and Kansas, unlike those in Michigan, California and New York, who can’t afford enough food and who are ill but have no access to medical care don’t really need enough food or access to medical care. He does, of course, want the federal government to continue to pay the states large amounts of  money.  He just thinks there should be no strings attached.

It’s particularly wrong for the federal government to say that what’s right for Tallahassee is the same thing that’s right for Topeka and Sacramento and Detroit and Manhattan and every other town, city and state in the country. But it’s right for the federal government to continue to give money to the states without determining how the money should be spent.  And particularly right for the federal government to say that what’s right for Tallahassee is the same thing that’s right for Topeka and Sacramento and Detroit and Manhattan and every other town, city and state in the country when doling out farm subsidies, as long as the federal government continues to recognize that what’s right for Florida is huge subsidies to the sugarcane industry.

So, folks, what other federally funded programs do you agree with Rubio and me should be funded by the federal government but should actually not be federal programs?* The Comments section awaits.

And how many of you share Firestone’s and my dismay (so to speak) that the self-styled standard-bearer for future of the Republican Party hasn’t noticed that, whatever else the effects of Obamacare, the law as it has played out spells the end of new federalism-funded social-safety-net programs?  It does, of course, leave intact the non-federalism federal social-safety-net programs, such as farm, logging, and oil-and-gas-industry subsidies.  The Koch brothers need not worry.

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UPDATE: In a blog post this morning discussing the Republican Party’s decades-long campaign to institutionalize in American society the demeaning of ordinary workers as unworthy of respect, Paul Krugman highlights Rubio’s take on whether a raise in the minimum wage is important: “Raising the minimum wage may poll well, but having a job that pays $10 an hour is not the American dream.”

Krugman writes:

In a sense, he’s right: if the American dream means getting rich, then $10 an hour isn’t living that dream. But most people aren’t and won’t get rich. Raising the minimum wage would mean higher incomes for around 27 million people; in many cases the gains would amount to thousands of dollars a year, which is really a lot in low-income families. So what are all these people, chopped liver? Well, yes, at least in the eyes of the GOP — or maybe make that chopped losers.

Actually, making a living wage is exactly a central part of the American dream, and while a wage of $10 an hour isn’t really a living wage, it comes substantially closer to one than does $7.25 an hour.  Which may be why it polls well.

*Sentence typo-corrected to insert the key word “not,” inadvertently omitted from original post. 3:08 p.m.

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