As Michael A. Fletcher of the Washington Post reminds us, after Katrina (well, to be precise, weeks after Katrina), Bush talked a good game about ending poverty:
“All of us saw on television, there’s . . . some deep, persistent poverty in this region,” he said in a prime-time speech from New Orleans’s Jackson Square, 17 days after the Aug. 29 hurricane. “That poverty has roots in a history of racial discrimination, which cut off generations from the opportunity of America. We have a duty to confront this poverty with bold action.”
As it happened, poverty’s turn in the presidential limelight was brief. Bush has talked little about the issue since the immediate crisis passed, while pursuing policies that his liberal critics say will hurt the poor. He has publicly mentioned domestic poverty six times since giving back-to-back speeches on the issue in September. Domestic poverty did not come up in his State of the Union address in January, and his most recent budget included no new initiatives directed at the poor.
Six times! Fletcher further notes:
Bush has used the bully pulpit of the presidency not to marshal a new national consensus for fighting poverty but to make the case for cutting taxes along with domestic programs. He has never publicly discussed the growing crisis of young, uneducated black men, whose plight has worsened in the past decade even as the economy has generally flourished, according to a recent spate of academic studies.
Meanwhile, his Office of Management and Budget has sketched scenarios that envision deep funding cuts in an array of programs that aid the poor, including housing assistance, food stamps, Medicaid, community development grants and energy assistance. Budget officials minimize the significance of those projections, saying that they are rarely enacted and that expenditures for many poverty programs have increased sharply since Bush took office.
“Does he often talk about poverty? No,” [Press Secretary and former Fox News anchor Tony] Snow said. “There hasn’t been a direct discussion of poverty, but he is focused on eliminating the barriers that stand in the way of people making progress.”
President Bush’s tax cuts, which were recently extended until 2010, save those earning between $20,000 and $30,000 an average of $10 a year, while those earning $1 million are saved $42,700.
Meanwhile, under his watch, the number of Americans living below the poverty line at any one time has steadily risen. Now 13% of all Americans—37 million—are officially poor. And currently, 46 million Americans are uninsured—a 15% increase since Bush came into office in 2000.
Bush has dedicated $750 million to “healthy marriages” by diverting funds from social services, mostly child-care. Bush has proposed cutting housing programs for low-income people with disabilities by 50%. I could go on and on.
And don’t think that it’s just the poor getting screwed. As Kevin Drum discusses over on his site, the middle-class are getting the shaft as well.