On Inequality, Republicans’ Rhetoric Doesn’t Match Reality
The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) kicks off today. CPAC, organized by the American Conservative Union, gives conservative politicians and pundits a platform to push their extreme agenda. This year, as Republicans are establishing their 2016 messaging and trying to distinguish themselves in the crowded GOP primary field, many expected candidates are feigning concern about the country’s working and middle class.
But the same GOP leaders who are now expressing concern about economic inequality have consistently voted against policies aimed at helping our country’s working and middle class. To kick off CPAC, we took a look at five potential candidates for the 2016 GOP primary and compared the rhetoric to the record.
FORMER GOVERNOR JEB BUSH:
- Rhetoric: Speaking in Detroit a few weeks ago, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush said, “Tens of millions of Americans no longer see a clear path to rise above their challenges. The opportunity gap is the defining issue of our time.”
- Reality: As governor of Florida, Bush opposed an increase in the minimum wage, despite the fact that an overwhelming percent of his constituents – 71 percent – supported it. A decade later, there are still more than 140,000 Floridians who earn less than the minimum wage. Governor Bush also consistently cut taxes for the wealthiest Floridians. Under his leadership, the top 5 percent in the state saw their income increase by 22 percent during his tenure.
GOVERNOR SCOTT WALKER:
- Rhetoric: When he released his budget earlier this month, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker said he feared the American Dream is growing less attainable. “I worry that too many of our fellow citizens feel that dream has become out of reach for them and their families,” he said.
- Reality: Included in the budget that sparked that comment is an increase in employment requirements for food stamps, a move that will likely cut thousands of people out of the program. Walker also opposes the minimum wage and has said he doesn’t think it “serves a purpose” despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
SENATOR TED CRUZ:
- Rhetoric: During a recent panel discussion of potential 2016 contenders, Senator Ted Cruz called for policies that would help left up the middle class – “The people who have been hammered for the last six years are working men and women.” He also dismissed any economic gains that have occurred under President Obama’s leadership.
- Reality: While there’s much more to do to help working Americans, the U.S. economy is undoubtedly getting stronger. And that is no thanks to politicians like Cruz, who said that programs like food stamps are “trapping millions in long-term dependency.” He also voted against raising the minimum wage despite the fact that over 220,000 Texans earn the federal minimum wage and 177,000 earn less.
SENATOR MARCO RUBIO:
- Rhetoric: Last year, in an op-ed on economic inequality, Senator Marco Rubio borrowed language from his progressive colleagues, writing: “Too many Americans believe the American dream is slipping away for them and their children. They see their cost of living rise while their paychecks remain stagnant. They see an economy that benefits stockbrokers but not stock clerks.”
- Reality: Rubio’s actions paint a different picture about his concern for working American families. Last year alone, he voted against raising the federal minimum wage and against the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would help close the gender wage gap. Rubio also voted to pass the Ryan budget, which would have cut $1.5 trillion from Medicaid funding and $125 billion from Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps, funding.
SENATOR RAND PAUL
- Rhetoric: In response to Obama’s State of the Union this year, Senator Rand Paul said, “Income inequality has worsened under this administration, and tonight President Obama offers more of the same policies — policies that have allowed the poor to get poorer and the rich to get richer.” And at CPAC last year, Paul said the GOP needs to make it known that “the GOP is the ticket to the middle class.”
- Reality: Paul and his Republican peers have proven that the GOP is not the ticket to the middle class. In 2014, Paul voted against raising the minimum wage to $10.10 just months after he claimed that “virtually all” research shows that the minimum wage increases unemployment, despite the fact that more than 600 economists signed a letter saying the exact opposite.
BOTTOM LINE: CPAC will give conservative leaders ample opportunity to try to appeal to middle class voters through rhetoric, but their records show clearly that they are less committed to helping create an economy that works for all Americans, and more committed to protecting the interests of the wealthy few.
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