Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The simple reason Republicans don’t have an answer on the minimum wage

Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

"The typical pattern for Republicans on minimum-wage increases is to hold out for a while, sometimes even a few years, then acquiesce," writes Ramesh Ponnuru at Bloomberg View. But he thinks there's a better way. In particular, he thinks there are better policies Republicans could propose that would help the same people.

One, he says, would be expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit, "an earnings subsidy that targets poor households much better than the minimum wage does and poses no threat of destroying jobs."

There's only one problem: Republicans oppose expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit. In fact, they're trying to cut it.

The most recent Republican budget lets a stimulus-era boost in the EITC to expire and, on top of that, includes huge cuts to the part of the budget (the "income security budget function," for wonks) that houses the EITC.


Meanwhile, President Obama and the Democrats do have a position on the EITC. They want to increase it, just like Ponnuru suggests. But they have not found Republican partners to help them pass the increase through Congress.

Ponnuru obviously doesn't answer for the Republican Party. But he does understand them pretty well. Which makes his column a bit odd. At no point does he mention that pretty much the entirety of the Republican Party is on record, within the last few months, voting to cut the EITC and refusing to join Democrats in their effort to expand it.

Of late, the Republican Party is trying to figure out how to show they care more about people in and near poverty. That's led to a lot of good ideas about policies Republicans could support if they want to help people in or near poverty. In particular, it's led to a lot of praise for the EITC.

The problem is that the Ryan budget has put almost all Republicans on record cutting spending on those policies. This has placed Republicans and their allies in a really difficult position. That includes Ryan himself, who recently told Buzzfeed's McKay Coppins that he shouldn't have to answer for the budget he's written:

"I've got two roles," he says. "I'm chairman of the House Budget Committee representing my conference ... and I'm a House member representing Wisconsin doing my own thing. I can't speak for everybody and put my stuff in their budget. My work on poverty is a separate thing."

There can be a tendency among Republican reformers to write or talk as if the problem is that the Republican Party has somehow just missed all these great programs that would show the American people they really care about the poor. But the GOP's problem is harder to solve than that: they're on record trying to cut almost all those programs, and the main cutter is also the guy who's trying to present himself as the GOP's new face on poverty.

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