Mitt Romney's Policy Proposals Reflect Lack of Concern For Poor — And Middle Class

February 01, 2012 1:44 pm ET — Jamison Foser

On CNN this morning, Mitt Romney declared that he is "not concerned about the very poor." That may seem like a stunningly out-of-touch statement coming from a quarter-billionaire who wants to be president, but Romney has been pretty clear about this all along.

Romney's tax plan, for example, would give those who earn more than $1 million a year a 14.5 percent increase in after-tax income, while those earning less than $20,000 would see their after-tax income go up less than 1 percent. That's the tax plan of a candidate who is far more concerned with lining the pockets of rich people like himself than with the ability of the very poor to afford food and shelter. (Romney's tax plan suggests he isn't very concerned about the middle class, either: People earning under $100,000 a year would get an increase in after-tax income of less than 4 percent — less than one-third the increase Romney and his fellow millionaires would get.)

Romney's budget proposals demonstrate even greater disregard for the very poor — and the somewhat poor, and the middle class. In his speech in Florida last night, Romney promised that as president, "without raising taxes, I will finally balance the budget." But balancing the budget while enacting his tax policies and increasing defense spending — another Romney promise — is only possible via massive cuts to programs that poor and middle-class families rely on. 

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Romney's plan would require cutting every program, including Social Security and Medicare, by 21 percent in 2016 and 36 percent in 2021. If Social Security were excluded from cuts, Romney would have to cut everything else, including Medicare, by 30 percent in 2016 and 54 percent in 2021. And that would have a devastating impact on America's poor and middle class, as CBPP explained:

  • Medicare would be cut by $153 billion in 2016 and $1.4 trillion through 2021.  Achieving cuts of this size solely through reducing payments to hospitals, physicians, and other health care providers would threaten beneficiaries' access to care. Thus, beneficiaries would almost certainly face large increases in premiums and cost-sharing charges.
  • Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) would face cumulative cuts of $946 billion through 2021. ... [I]t would leave 34 million people uninsured who would have gained coverage under health reform.
  • Cuts in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program) would throw 10 million low-income people off the benefit rolls, cut benefits by thousands of dollars a year, or some combination of the two. These cuts would primarily affect very-low-income families with children, seniors, and people with disabilities.
  • Compensation payments for disabled veterans (which average less than $13,000 a year) would be cut by one-fourth, as would pensions for low-income veterans (which average about $11,000 a year) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits for poor aged and disabled individuals (which average about $6,000 a year and leave poor elderly and disabled people far below the poverty line).

Elaborating on his lack of concern for the poor, Romney said: "[W]e have a very ample safety net and we can talk about whether it needs to be strengthened or whether there are holes in it, but we have food stamps, we have Medicaid, we have housing vouchers, we have programs to help the poor." But Romney has a policy agenda that wouldn't strengthen those programs — it would tear even larger holes in the safety net.

And, no, Romney won't be able to enact those cuts without badly hurting beneficiaries: Government programs like food stamps and Medicaid are extremely efficient, with the overwhelming majority of spending going to benefits and services. So Romney would enact dramatic cuts to programs that help poor kids and seniors and disabled veterans pay for food and health care — and use the savings to give millionaires like himself a huge tax cut. That isn't someone who is merely "not concerned" with the poor and middle class — that's someone whose policy agenda is actively hostile to the poor and middle class.

Maybe that shouldn't be surprising. Take a look at how Romney described his teenage revelation about the poor during his 1994 Senate campaign:

Heading to the first campaign stop of the day on Wednesday, Mr. Romney was asked about his two and a half years as a Mormon missionary in France. "I was 19," he said. "I had lived a privileged life. I learned how different life was for those who are poor. I learned being poor, you can have joy and fun and have a wonderful life."

Having grown up "privileged" — the son of a wealthy auto executive who served as Governor of Michigan and Secretary of HUD — Mitt Romney spent two years among people whose "shared bathroom was just a hole in the floor," according to an August 7, 1994, Boston Herald article. And what he took away from that experience was "being poor, you can have joy and fun and have a wonderful life." 

That's true, of course. It's also true that being so poor you have to use a hole in the floor as a shared bathroom, or have to decide between food and medicine, or can't afford a winter coat for your kids can be an absolutely brutal existence, and one that is difficult to climb out of without help. If Romney had learned that lesson about "how different life was for those who are poor," he might not be so quick to cut funding for food stamps and health care in order to give himself, and his fellow super-wealthy, a massive tax cut.

As Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, George Romney understood the system was rigged in favor of the rich:

George Romney, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, suggested today that part of the "housing subsidy" going to middle and high income groups be repealed and the revenue channeled into rebuilding the slums.

"Maybe we ought to repeal part of the right to deduct the interest rate from the income tax return to bring home to middle income and affluent families that they are getting a housing subsidy," Mr. Romney said. "Maybe that [money] ought to be earmarked to meet the problems of the slums." [...]

[Romney's press secretary] said Mr. Romney had become increasingly concerned about the fact that while most Americans are "pretty well housed," the "plight of the poor is getting worse every year." [New York Times, 10/24/69]

That basic situation, in which the wealthy benefit from subsidies and preferential government treatment, often without recognizing it, and the plight of the poor — and middle class — gets worse, hasn't changed. What has changed is that now the Romney who wants to be president is more concerned with helping the rich than the rest of the country.