Mitt Romney and the “safety net”

Mitt Romney recent quote that he is “not concerned about the very poor” has already been used in all sorts of ways, sometimes unfairly.

The actual quote in context was:

“I’m in this race because I care about Americans. I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs a repair, I’ll fix it. I’m not concerned about the very rich, they’re doing just fine. I’m concerned about the heart of America, the 95% of Americans who are right now struggling.”

While it certainly contains a poor sound byte, it also seems to be a pretty standard attempt to appeal to the middle class, something that almost every candidate for president (including the current one) does. In and of itself, it does not mean Romney does not care for the very poor. While it’s business as usual to trumpet a sound byte, it is best to focus on the substance of what is being said.

It is a valid question to ask what Romney means concerning “fixing” the safety net for the very poor.

Robert Greenstein, founder of the non-profit, non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, writes:

We’re glad the governor is expressing support for a safety net and for fixing it if it needs repair. Yet his own budget proposals would tear gaping holes in the safety net and damage it severely.

Greenstein goes on to show how the Romney budget proposals would make massive cuts in safety-net programs. And while cutting low-income programs, Governor Romney would actually raise taxes on low-income families.

The plan would do so by letting certain tax measures that benefit low-income families expire at the end of 2012 — including measures that reduce marriage tax penalties on working-poor families and help low-income students afford college — even as it made permanent all of the expiring tax cuts for wealthy individuals and abolished the estate tax.

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11 Comments
  1. Michael Russell

    Romney is just saying whatever it takes to get the nomination. He can’t pander to the right in the general election because he will surely lose. He can’t go too far to the enter or he will lose his base and lose the election. Newt, Mitt or Rick make no difference, their policies are all to mean spirited to get them elected. And they have left too many sound bites on the floor to move much to the center should they get the nomination.

    What we are seeing here, I think is the self-immolation of the Republican Right. So I am all for them keeping it going, longer and longer.

  2. J Michael Povey

    Hi there Episcopal Cafe friends.

    I write as a left of center Christian. I am all in favour of progressive politics.

    BUT … I could have read this stuff about Mitt elsewhere.

    I am not very happy that Episcopal Cafe chose to highlight it.

    In my opinion it is a political piece, devoid of any reference to our Episcopal (let alone Christian) tradition.

    In other words (even though I agree with the substance of the article) it’s hard for me to understand why it should be included on Episcopal Cafe

  3. Ann Fontaine

    J. Michael Povey — I think because Jesus said something about caring for the “least of these”??

  4. Kurt Wiesner

    J Michael: I’m glad you responded.

    I put this on Cafe for two reasons:

    1) To comment on the way people have responded to the Romney’s sound byte by saying “Mitt Romney does not care about the poor…look, he said so.” That is deceptive and clearly outside the spirit of what he was trying to say. It’s a literalistic trap opponents delight in instead of discerning meaning. I believe part of our responsibility, as people of faith, is to wrestle with real issues and not resort to promoting unfortunate choices in words.

    2) It is important that Mitt Romney commented that there is a “safety net” for the poor and that he is ready to fix it. That is critical to the Christian mission to care for the poor. His proposed policy, however, does not do this. That is absolutely a conversation Christians are to have.

    Kurt Wiesner

  5. tgflux

    Per usual, I think Jon Stewart had the best take on Mitt’s muff.

    [Paraphrasing]

    “Let’s take this in context, and assume the BEST of what Mitt meant: the very poor have a safety net.

    But you’re still in a net!

    And whether you’re a butterfly, a fish, or a trapeze artist, you DON’T want to be in a net.”

    Word!

    JC Fisher

    …who’s in a kindness-/patience-of-family net. With its own insecurities. :-S

  6. John B. Chilton

    Romney’s was of expressing himself created the kind of gaffe moment that is seized upon and, in general, is a distraction from meaningful debate. My first reaction (and it is still one of my reactions) is that all our politicians pander to the middle class, and focus their message toward the middle class. As I’ve thought about it more I’ve realized that is in part because so many of the poor and near poor think of themselves as middle class. And you can say the same of those that most of would really aren’t middle class.

    There’s of course worse than no point in the Cafe covering Romney’s statement as a gaffe. But there is a story here for the Cafe and its readers. What would the safety net look like under Romney’s proposals? Skimpier than what we have now. It is about the least of these, which is what having TEC presence lobbying in Washington on these issues is about.

    What is needed is a long run budget fix that involves greater tax revenue. And if we’re going to be talking about real money that will mean higher taxes on most Americans, including the middle class. And I don’t see any of our politicians willing to tell us that because they do they won’t get our vote.

    Had Romney been a bit quicker on his feet he’d have also said that he “cares about” mobility, getting more people out of poverty. Naturally he’d add that being from the private sector he knows how to do that, how to create opportunities, and ready people for work. But I’m afraid if it was that easy it would have been done already.

  7. LGMarshall

    ….”we have a safety net there”. Mitt Romney.

    Yup. We do. In fact the poor, are lined up to collect in kind, about $60,000 annually. They enjoy, free Education, free Health, free Social, free Economic, free Judicial, free Infrastructure, Free County Services.

    btw: You’re welcome! :-)

  8. Josh Hoover

    It seems to me that all the hay that has been made of this quote misses a far more telling issue. How can a candidate for any national office look at the camera and say, “if it needs a repair?” In the midst of huge parts of the safety net being repealed, how can anyone have any doubt that there are gaping holes?

  9. Paul Krugman had a good column on Romney’s remarks yesterday. He wrote, in part:

    “So we do need to strengthen our safety net. Mr. Romney, however, wants to make the safety net weaker instead.

    “Specifically, the candidate has endorsed Representative Paul Ryan’s plan for drastic cuts in federal spending — with almost two-thirds of the proposed spending cuts coming at the expense of low-income Americans. To the extent that Mr. Romney has differentiated his position from the Ryan plan, it is in the direction of even harsher cuts for the poor; his Medicaid proposal appears to involve a 40 percent reduction in financing compared with current law. ”

    And also:

    “Still, I believe Mr. Romney when he says he isn’t concerned about the poor. What I don’t believe is his assertion that he’s equally unconcerned about the rich, who are “doing fine.” After all, if that’s what he really feels, why does he propose showering them with money?”

  10. Sarah Lawton

    As far as I have read, none the respondents to Romney’s statement — even when addressing it in context — have pointed out that he grossly underestimates the extent of poverty in the United States today (“I’m concerned about the 95% … who are right now struggling”).

    The rate of Americans living in poverty, defined as $22,350 annual income for a family of four, is over 15% and has climbed during the recession even as the government is cutting back, especially at state and local levels. So the safety net is fraying just as more people are falling into it. 15% is not a small group and one hopes he doesn’t really assume these folks are doing just fine (they really aren’t).

    Also, the so-called struggling middle class is certainly not 95%. Something like 15-20% of Americans are upper-middle class and there is the infamous 1% or so that is wealthy. So the struggling middle class–many of whom are what we used to call working class–is probably more like 60% or so, depending on definition of “struggling.” Quite a large and signficant group, yes. But it is so easy for our leaders to obscure for what (and for whom) they stand by appealing to the “middle class.”

    Current GOP policy ideas, including the ones espoused by Romney on the campaign trail, are not friendly at all to the struggling middle class (or working class). Though, ironically, “Romneycare” in Massachusetts was fairly helpful to folks in that strata, as hopefully the ACA will be nationwide when it is implemented.

  11. tgflux

    Is that the FOX “News” li(n)e, LGM? That Constitutional rights like public school education and trial-by-jury are part of an “At Our Long-Patient Discretion” safety net?

    Everybody pays, LGM. Sales taxes, payroll taxes, gas taxes, user fees of all kinds. There’s NOBODY getting a Free Lunch. Spare us the snarky, entitled “You’re welcome!” ‘tude.

    JC Fisher

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