According to the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey released on September 22, for too many people in Kentucky’s 5th District, 2010 was not a good year: nearly 27 percent of the district’s more than 175,000 people lived in poverty, including 34 percent of children and more than one in four women. Nearly 20 percent of the district’s constituents had no health insurance.
You might think that the good news for residents of the 5th is that their congressman, Republican Hal Rogers, has enormous power and influence over Congress’s spending decisions as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.
You’d be wrong.
The widespread pain of his constituents didn’t stop Rogers from voting to cut food stamps and healthcare for those same women and kids. It didn’t stop him from voting for the “cut, cap and balance” proposal that would have cost this dangerously weak economy another 700,000 jobs. Nor did it stop him from voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act, despite the fact that the only positive sign on the insurance front is the declining rate of uninsured young adults ages 18–24, now that they can stay on their parents’ plan thanks to healthcare reform.
Rogers did manage to cast a “yes” vote for new tax cuts for millionaires though.
For his callousness to the suffering of his own constituents, and voting in direct opposition to their needs, Rogers was named to “The Terrible Ten” in Congress by Half in Ten, a national campaign to reduce poverty by 50 percent over the next ten years.
“Its a question of accountability,” says Melissa Boteach, manager of Half in Ten. “These ten members represent districts and states with some of the highest poverty rates in the country, and yet have voted for job-killing budget bills and deep cuts to our nation’s safety net. Its a mismatch too stark to be ignored.”
Rogers has company in the Terrible Ten that hails from the Bluegrass State—Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who feigns a genteel manner as he votes time and again to gut our government’s assistance to poor people and the dwindling middle-class. Rounding out the group are: Republican Congressmen Blake Farenthold (TX), Mike Rogers (AL), Steve Pearce (NM) and Paul Gosar (AZ); and Republican Senators from the two states with the highest child poverty rates—Jeff Sessions and Richard Shelby of Alabama, and Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker of Mississippi, where 27 percent and 32 percent of kids live in poverty, respectively.
What the Terrible Ten and their kind would have you believe is that we waged a war on poverty and poverty won, and that we can no longer afford safety net programs due to the budget deficit.
But the fact is between 1964 and 1973 poverty fell by over 42 percent, and by 25 percent from 1993 to 2000. More recently, the US Census Bureau reports that the earned income tax credit kept 5.4 million people from falling into poverty, unemployment insurance 3.2 million and food stamps (SNAP) 3.9 million.These are just some of the measures that we know work to prevent poverty.
The argument that we can’t afford what in many cases are life-saving programs is nonsense. It’s a matter of choices: do we invest in affordable housing, or a mortgage interest deduction on vacation homes? Do we throw 700,000 women and children off of WIC—which provides nutritious foods to low-income pregnant women, new moms, babies and at-risk children under 5—to pay for less than one week of tax cuts for millionaires?
“We do have choices in how we balance our budget,” says Boteach. “How we do it is really about values. We should be focusing like a laser beam on job-creation, and protecting the most vulnerable in deficit reduction.”
In that regard, President Obama’s recent jobs proposal is good policy: in addition to infrastructure investments in our schools, roads and bridges, it continues jobless benefits for long-term unemployed people. It also creates subsidized employment opportunities for low-income workers, building on what worked in the TANF emergency fund that was widely supported on a bipartisan basis by governors across the nation; and the payroll tax cut puts money in the hands of working families who need it.
Sure, there is an argument to be made that the president’s proposal is too little too late. But when you look at the Terrible Ten, and the positions of power that they hold, you see the kinds of flat-earthers that those who would act humanely are up against.