Is the Conservative Agenda Serving Latinos?
SOURCE: AP/Rob Carr
Latinos will head to the polls in less than two weeks to decide who gets their vote. On the issues they care about—the economy, education, health care, and immigration—conservatives have not supported key legislation and have often stood in the way of progress.
Moreover, on September 23, House Republicans issued their “Pledge to America,” a 48-page document that outlines their governing philosophy should they win the majority in the upcoming elections. The pledge was the result of a “listening tour” across the country and based on ideas solicited from the American people. Yet upon closer inspection it seems that the needs and concerns of Americans of Latino heritage were not included.
Is the conservative agenda really in line with the Hispanic community’s needs? Based on an analysis of conservative positions on issues that matter to them the answer is a resounding “no.”
The Republican “Pledge to America” strikes Latino communities from multiple economic fronts. It generates higher unemployment while cutting or even eliminating programs that help those out of work. Moreover, the Republicans’ tax policies would ultimately increase our federal budget deficit by $200 billion by 2020 and increase growth in federal debt while providing very few benefits to most Americans. And their calls to repeal Wall Street reform will once again make Latinos a favored target of predatory lenders.
Cuts across the board that would increase unemployment
The pledge calls for a return to “pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels” of spending. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities states that achieving this goal would require a 20 percent across-the-board spending cut throughout government agencies. Such spending cuts during a weak economy would cause a large contraction in demand, which could push the economy into a second recession.
Data show that recessions are particularly hard on communities of color. They also create disproportionately higher levels of unemployment for these communities, Latinos included. Drastic cuts in spending would only increase the already high rate of unemployment in the Latino community—12.4 percent compared to a national unemployment rate of 9.5 percent.
Eliminating emergency programs
Cuts would likely need to be made to important emergency programs to meet the pledge’s goal of cutting $100 billion in spending. These programs are keeping the economy afloat and providing necessary assistance to the Latino community.
For instance, substantial cuts or outright elimination of the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program would need to be made. This program boosts demand by providing benefits to individuals who have been out of work for longer than 26 weeks and have exhausted their regular state-provided unemployment insurance or UI benefits.
The average length of unemployment is currently 33.6 weeks, so communities with higher rates of unemployment—such as Hispanics—will feel even more pain from these spending cuts. And without these benefits many Latino small business owners—who are already concerned about sales—would see even less business because the unemployed will have no money to spend.
Adding to future deficits
Conservatives’ broader economic ideas on tax policy, for example, aren’t any better. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Republican candidates such as Connecticut’s Linda McMahon have stated that they will only support a tax cut if it includes the top 2 percent of income earners—an income bracket for which Hispanics comprise only 0.9 percent. The cost of tax cuts for this income bracket is $830 billion in future deficits over 10 years.
Most economists agree that tax cuts for wealthy families do not stimulate the economy because these families save their extra money instead of spending it. Proposing such a tax cut is bad policy that benefits the few at the expense of the many.
Taking away protections from predatory lenders
Republican House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) says he wants to repeal the Wall Street reform bill, and California Republican Senatorial Candidate Carly Fiorina has proposed that the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau be entirely defunded.
These aren’t sensible policies. A new study by Professor Douglas Massey of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University shows just how terrible predatory lending was for communities of color before the financial crisis. According to Massey, “predatory lending aimed at racially segregated minority neighborhoods led to mass foreclosures that fueled the U.S. housing crisis.” Massey found that “living in a predominantly African-American area, and to a lesser extent Hispanic area, were ‘powerful predictors of foreclosures’ in the nation.”
Defunding the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau—which would police consumer abuses in the financial system—would leave communities of color susceptible to continued predatory lending practices.
In short, congressional Republicans offer no meaningful vision for how to address the economic challenges facing the Latino community such as high unemployment and poor job growth. And they want to take away key protections that would put the personal finances of Latino households at risk.
Poverty data released by the U.S. Census Bureau in September revealed that in 2009 one in seven Americans—and more than one in four Latinos—lived in poverty last year.
Yet the word “poverty” is noticeably absent in the “Pledge to America.” Communities of color, particularly Latinos, should be very concerned that the pledge lacks a comprehensive plan to reduce poverty. Last year, one in three Latino kids (33.1 percent) lived in poverty, and Latinos overall experienced the largest jump in poverty of any ethnic or racial group, from 23.2 percent to 25.3 percent.
A plan that would increase poverty rates
Not having a plan to tackle poverty is bad enough. But the pledge’s policies would actually exacerbate poverty for everyone, including Latinos.
One of the pledge’s most disturbing ideas is a proposed hard cap on discretionary spending. This would result in massive cuts to programs like nutrition assistance for vulnerable pregnant mothers and newborns, Head Start, and Pell grants. These cuts would hurt all struggling Americans but disproportionately Latinos.
Many of these programs serve Latino children and youth, 92 percent of whom are U.S. citizens and our future workers and taxpayers. For instance, 42.1 percent of all participants in the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program for pregnant women, infants, and children are Latinos. And more than one-third (36 percent) of participants in Head Start—a program that provides comprehensive education, health, nutrition, and parent involvement services to low-income children and their families—are of Hispanic or Latino origin. Over one-third of Latino undergraduates received Pell grants to help pay for their postsecondary education.
Slashing these programs would do very little to reduce the deficit—and may even add to it over the long term. The Center for American Progress Action Fund’s Half in Ten project recently released a report showing that much of our long-term debt problem is due to “ill-advised tax cuts of the previous decade, which overwhelmingly benefited high-income groups.” These are exactly the tax cuts that the pledge seeks to extend indefinitely.
In contrast, the nondefense discretionary spending conservatives intend to cut has actually declined as a percentage of gross domestic product over the past few decades. This type of short-term spending also can make an enormous dent in child poverty through programs such as nutrition assistance, housing vouchers, and child care subsidies. Not dealing with child poverty has costs: The Half in Ten paper underscores that over the long run child poverty alone costs the U.S. economy more than half a trillion dollars a year in lost productivity and associated health and criminal justice expenditures.
Investments in programs such as WIC, Head Start, and child care represent cost-effective discretionary spending that can help relieve the child poverty disproportionately affecting Latino kids. As noted above, failure to make necessary investments now could actually limit future economic productivity and worsen the fiscal outlook of states and the federal government.
The pledge to slash discretionary spending while racking up $830 billion in more debt from tax breaks to millionaires is bad for low-income families, bad for Latinos, and bad for our economy.
Latino students’ academic achievement rates are persistently low. Consider these dire statistics: Less than 20 percent of Hispanic 4th, 8th, and 12th graders are on grade level in reading. Only 56 percent of Latinos earn a high school diploma. And of these high school completers only 64 percent matriculate to college.
These translate to poor adult outcomes—lower-paying, low-skill jobs and an inability to move into the middle class. If Republicans are serious about improving America’s future then raising Latino students’ academic success rates should be at the top of their to-do list. Again, however, the pledge doesn’t mention education. And education policies that benefit Latino students are few and far between.
Calls to eliminate the Department of Education
Some Republican Senate candidates want to abolish the federal Department of Education, the agency responsible for administering millions of dollars in grants to schools in Latino communities. More than a half dozen Republican Senate candidates, including West Virginia’s John Raese, Kentucky’s Rand Paul, and Nevada’s Sharron Angle have called for eliminating or significantly shrinking the Education Department.
Cuts to Pell grants and DREAM Act opposition
The pledge proposes severe cuts to discretionary spending, including several educational programs that support student success. One of the most detrimental would be a $5 billion decrease in the Pell grant program that allows many low-income Latino students to afford college. Republicans have also managed to stall the DREAM Act—which would have helped 65,000 undocumented students go to college—by refusing to vote in support of a motion that would have brought the act to a vote in the Senate.
This country’s economic future depends on the academic achievement of today’s students—no matter what race or ethnicity. Increasing the number of Latino students ready for college and a career should be part of any policymaker’s agenda. A lack of policy objectives—or worse, policies that hurt Latino students—is unconscionable and undermines America’s economic progress.
The House Republicans’ plan embodied in the pledge seeks to repeal health care reform. And it will do nothing to address the lack of health insurance, lack of access to preventive and primary care, and language and cultural barriers that Hispanic families face in accessing the care they need.
Hispanics have the highest uninsured rates of any racial or ethnic group within the United States. The percentage of people of Hispanic origin without health insurance coverage also is increasing every year. In 2009, 32.7 percent were uninsured, an increase of 1.26 million people over the previous year. For Hispanics ages 18 to 64 the uninsurance rate was 41.5 percent.
The pledge will not improve access to health insurance coverage for Hispanic Americans
The pledge offers no plans to expand coverage to those who cannot afford health insurance. It seeks to repeal Medicaid expansions, financial help to small businesses struggling with the costs of employee coverage, and the tax subsidies that will help working families purchase coverage through health insurance exchanges.
House Republicans claim that they will make it illegal for an insurance company to deny coverage to someone with prior coverage on the basis of a preexisting condition, eliminate annual and lifetime spending caps, and prevent insurers from dropping coverage just because someone gets sick. But they never mention that all of these protections are already enacted in the Affordable Care Act, or ACA, which they want to repeal.
The Republican “Pledge to America” will not improve access to a primary care provider and usual source of care
Half of Hispanic Americans do not have a regular doctor, compared with only one-fifth of white Americans. Almost half of low-income Hispanics lack a usual source of care. A primary care provider and a facility where a person receives regular care substantially improve health outcomes. The ACA’s emphasis on primary care will particularly benefit people of color, especially those who live in areas that are currently medically underserved.
The pledge seeks to repeal provisions in the ACA that will boost primary care capacity and workforce, establish more school-based clinics and more community health centers targeted to the needs of the communities they serve, and develop and expand the medical home model for Medicare and Medicaid patients. Medical homes—health care settings that provide patients with timely, well-organized care and enhanced access to providers—are associated with a reduction in health care disparities for adults and better access to preventive services.
The pledge will not provide better preventive health services
Older Hispanic Americans have higher incidences of certain chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and arthritis than the rest of the U.S. population. Twenty-one percent of Hispanic elders have diabetes compared to 14.3 percent of non-Hispanic whites. They are also much more likely to be hospitalized for diabetes due to poor diabetes control. And they are far less likely to receive pneumonia or flu shots or participate in cancer screening services.
The pledge will do nothing to improve this. It includes a promise to repeal ACA provisions that will enhance preventive care and remove the co-payments and deductibles for approved preventive services such as immunizations, screening for colorectal cancer and diabetes, and mammograms.
The Affordable Care Act, meanwhile, makes significant advances for Hispanics’ health coverage, quality of care, and access to health care services. It represents an important milestone toward the ultimate goal of eradicating racial and ethnic disparities in health and health care in the United States.
The pledge represents a devastating rollback of much-needed changes to our nation’s health care system—a step backward that will ensure that communities of color continue to receive poorer care and live in poorer health than the rest of the nation.
Latinos, like all Americans, are concerned about the economy, jobs, and education. But polling shows that Latino voters are paying close attention to how policymakers discuss immigration and studying their proposals for reform. In fact, recent polling shows that immigration reform is a top priority for this fast-growing demographic of new voters.
Immigration reform has long been a bipartisan issue where clear thinking Republican leaders like John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsay Graham (R-SC), and former President George W. Bush have supported sensible reform.
Unfortunately, in the past year many in the Republican Party—including those who supported reform previously—have abandoned realistic reform aimed at fixing our broken immigration system. Instead, they have adopted a myopic mantra of “enforcement first,” or, worse yet, moved the debate far to the right with support for the infamous draconian immigration law (SB 1070) passed in Arizona last spring amid calls for changing the Constitution to repeal birthright citizenship.
Immigration reform stalled
Sen. Graham had been the sole Republican working with Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) on a bill to reform our nation’s dysfunctional immigrant system. But in late April he withdrew his support for comprehensive immigration reform, citing the need to “prove to the American people we can secure our border.” Since then, Republicans have, in unison, hidden behind the mantra of “border security first” and refused to negotiate a comprehensive solution.
Senate Republicans put the brakes on even modest reform measures
In September Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) tried to secure the votes to begin debate on a defense authorization bill (S 3454). Reid made clear his intention to offer as an amendment to the authorization bill the DREAM Act, a bipartisan measure that offers a discreet number of qualified undocumented students the chance to apply for legal status.
Unfortunately, DREAM and the entire authorization bill fell prey to the unprecedented, uncooperative, and partisan environment in the Senate. The entire Republican caucus and two Senate Democrats blocked consideration of the DREAM Act by refusing to vote against advancing the authorization bill onto the Senate floor.
Dueling immigration bills introduced in September
Lead Republicans like Sens. John Kyl and John McCain (both from Arizona) were once again challenged to stand up for Latinos earlier this month when Sens. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced a comprehensive immigration reform bill (S 3932). The bill includes a set of border security benchmarks that must be met before undocumented immigrants can register, undergo background checks, pay back taxes, learn English, and go to the back of the line to be eligible for permanent residency. This too was met with hostility and the introduction of a counter enforcement-only bill (S 3901) by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT).
Arizona and “anchor babies”
Meanwhile, Republicans at the state and local level like Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and Arizona State Sen. Russell Pearce have put undocumented immigrants in the crosshairs. Efforts are underway in the Grand Canyon State to significantly reduce its undocumented immigrant population using the “attrition through enforcement” strategy and to unconstitutionally deny citizenship to American-born children of undocumented immigrants—who are sometimes derogatorily referred to as “anchor babies.”
The Republican leadership is on board with these proposals despite the Department of Justice’s lawsuit to invalidate the Arizona immigration law and the clear unconstitutionality of denying citizenship to U.S.-born children. In fact, Sens. Jim DeMint (R-SC) and David Vitter (R-LA) tried to block the Obama administration from participating in lawsuits against Arizona’s SB 1070.
“Pledge to America” misses the mark—again
It should come as no surprise that the pledge is no better for Latinos on immigration. It only views immigration through a national security and enforcement lens without offering a serious, comprehensive, bipartisan proposition to a complex problem.
It calls for “operational security of the border,” ignoring the fact that years of enforcement have done little to decrease the levels of illegal immigration. Further, the document promotes Arizona-like measures by calling on state and local officials to enforce immigration laws.
Latinos are the second-largest population in the United States and the fastest-growing segment in our nation. As such, their concerns and interests should matter to those seeking their votes. The conservative agenda and its priorities are out of step when it comes to the key issues for this community. Those aspiring for the Latino vote should take note and offer serious and realistic solutions to tackle the urgent challenges facing our nation.
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