With all this talk of helping the middle class, both parties ignore the poor

Whenever there is a contentious issue between the two dominant political parties, the Democrats and many Republicans immediately depict their positions as better for the middle class.

Below you’ll find a few of the thousands of quotes which put the middle class front and center in the recent “fiscal cliff” confrontation. I place “fiscal cliff” in quotation marks because the term hides the true battle between those who want to continue starving government and the economy so that the rich can pay historically low tax rates and those who want to return the country to the firm and equitable financial footing it had before the Reagan revolution by making the rich pay their fair share. If the “fiscal cliff” negotiations were really about the deficit and if the deficit were really so important, our leaders would have let us fall over the cliff, which was erected a few years back to enforce deficit reductions. But in fact both sides realize that government support of the economy is important.

Here, then, is a sprinkling of quotes on the “fiscal cliff” in which the “middle class” is evoked as if it were a magical incantation:

  •  “We’ve stopped that middle-class tax hike”/ President Obama
  • “Our first and foremost priority is protecting the middle class”/House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi
  • “President Obama sold out the Middle Class for the wealthy.”/Tony Katz, a political columnist
  • “The decline of the middle class threatens our ability to fund health and retirement programs, to maintain a safety net for the most vulnerable and to invest in our future.”/an AARP newsletter
  • The most recent negotiations saw a massive grassroots effort that successfully protected Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits and investments in the middle class.”/Minnesota Representative Keith Richardson
  • ‘This deal is the right move to protect America’s middle class families, who were facing a New Year with higher taxes, and to prevent two million Americans from losing their unemployment benefits.”/Service Employees International Union president Mary Kay Henry
  • “Thus far, negotiations suggest that the fight for the middle class in the fiscal cliff ring may in fact be a draw.”/Sharon Poczter in Forbes

If you review media coverage of the presidential election campaign, the last debt ceiling deadline and the debates on the government stimulus, aid to college students and healthcare reform, you will consistently find this same focus on meeting the needs of the middle class, especially byDemocrats.  Republicans will often focus on one part of the middle class—small businesses—in an attempt to tie the interests of the middle class to those of the wealthy.

My question: what about the poor—those who need the help of society?

No one seems to want to help the poor very much, and Republicans like Santorum, Gingrich, Bachmann and even Romney constantly demonize them.

To those who say that what we should want to do is  lift people out of poverty into the middle class, my answer is—help the poor then, not those already in the middle class.

Certainly the Democrats are interested in protecting and expanding programs for the poor, but their rhetoric always puts the concerns of the middle class first and foremost.

We can see the poor getting the shaft in the “fiscal cliff” compromise. The working poor may not pay income tax, but they do pay payroll tax, which will go up by two percent, ending the temporary cut instituted two years ago. Our elected officials were extremely and profoundly concerned about making sure that the income tax increase did not affect the middle class, but cared not a whit about keeping money in the pockets of the working poor by agreeing to keep the two-percent decrease in payroll tax in place for those earnings less than $40,000 or $50,000 a year. Another solution would have been to remove the cap on income that is taxed for Social Security. Removing the payroll tax cap would have had the double benefit of 1) allowing the poor to keep pumping money into the economy by spending the payroll tax cut; and 2) providing funding for the Social Security system during the “Baby Boom” years, when the large number of retirees compared to workers will burden the system.

But while thoughts of helping the poor may have entered the minds of Obama, Biden, Pelosi, Reid, Boehner, McConnell, et. al., the idea of actually helping them never crossed their lips.

That’s what’s called business as usual.

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