Right-wing media have seized on comments made this week by Democratic Rep. Chaka Fattah, suggesting that Fattah “admit[ted]” that Democrats are expecting voters to back them in the fall in exchange for “handouts” and “protect[ing] their government-aid gravy train.” These attacks are yet another example of conservative media attempting to gin up outrage over programs designed to help struggling Americans.
During a discussion on the April 24 edition of MSNBC's PoliticsNation about House Majority Leader John Boehner's recent comment that Democrats have a one-in-three chance of reclaiming the majority, Fattah said in part that “people who are unemployed, they're not going to be voting for the party who wants to cut their benefits, cut access to food stamps, cut job training.” From PoliticsNation:
FATTAH: President Obama is right, we need to continue to invest. That's why our GDP is up, and that's why we've got 35 months of private sector job growth. We are headed in the right direction. Unemployment continues to drop, and those people who are unemployed, they're not going to be voting for the party who wants to cut their benefits, cut access to food stamps, cut job training. The idea that Republicans are trying to help those who are unemployed is nonsense. And I think on this Election Day, those who have a job can credit the administration for stabilizing our economy, and those who don't know that this administration is trying to put them to work.
The Washington Examiner picked up Fattah's comments in an April 25 blog post, claiming that Fattah said that “unemployment could actually encourage people to vote for President Obama in order to secure welfare benefits such as food stamps.” The Fox Nation later republished the Examiner post under the headline, “Democrat: Unemployed Will Vote for Obama to Keep Their Welfare”:
The conservative blog Gateway Pundit highlighted Fattah's comments and claimed that it's “all about the handouts,” while The Blaze claimed that Fattah “openly admit[ted] that some voters are supporting President Obama because he's the most likely to protect their government-aid gravy train.” And an April 26 Big Government post added:
In other words, Fattah believes Americans who've been conditioned to live on Democrat handouts will certainly continue to vote for the Democrats. The last thing they'd do is vote for those rascally Republicans who want to rein in spending and encourage people to strive, once more, for some semblance of personal responsibility.
Conservative media have repeatedly accused the Obama administration of "bribing" voters, and this latest round of echoes that theme. But the programs mentioned by Fattah -- the food stamp program, known as the Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, and jobs training programs -- are hardly a “gravy train” that discourages unemployed Americans from “striving” for “some semblance of personal responsibility.
In fact, SNAP is an effective program for “reducing food related-hardship” that has lifted millions out of poverty and greatly assuages concerns of food insecurity for those no longer in the workforce as well as children and seniors. This month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported that SNAP benefits reduced “prevalence, depth, and severity of poverty” from 2000-2009. The USDA has also noted that 30 percent of SNAP households in 2010 were in the workforce.
Additionally, job training programs, such as those President Obama endorsed in 2011, are designed to meet the demand of “manufacturers ... scrambling to find enough skilled workers.”
In the MSNBC interview with Rev. Al Sharpton, Fattah noted that Republicans want to “cut access to food stamps.” Indeed, according to an April 17 Associated Press article, House Republicans proposed cutting SNAP benefits by $34 billion over the next decade. Additionally, the GOP is pushing rule changes that the Obama administration says would “force 3 million people off food stamps next year by tightening rules that require most recipients to have no more than $2,000 in savings.”
Moreover, according to February 9, 2011, CBS News article, House Republicans' 2011 budget plan aimed to give "$2 billion less to jobs training programs than Mr. Obama would."
SHARPTON: Joining me now is Congressman Chaka Fattah, a Democrat from Pennsylvania. Thanks for being here tonight, Congressman.
FATTAH: Thank you for having me again.
SHARPTON: Now, I don't know if you're a betting man, Congressman, but what do you think about Boehner's one-in-three odds of keeping the House?
FATTAH: Well, look, I look at it almost like a one-two punch. You know, Jon Huntsman said on your network today that he compared the GOP to a Communist Party in power in China, and that they were locking people out who had moderate or contemporary ideas. They've been trying to push the country back to another century, I think. You know they want to get rid of -- Newt says, let's get rid of child labor laws. Santorum wants to do away with birth control. They want to cut away at union and collective bargaining rights.
And you point out that they think $35 for food stamps to get through a week is being overly generous to those who have lost their job by no fault of their own. So, you know, I think that the reason why the Republican Party, the brand, is polling as poorly as it did during the Clinton impeachment era is because they don't seem to be relevant in the daily lives of American citizens --
SHARPTON: Now --
FATTAH: -- who are facing real challenges.
SHARPTON: It is really appalling. When you look at Father Thomas Reece, he wrote a letter, Father Reece did, to Representative Paul Ryan, slamming his budget, signed by 90 Georgetown faculty. He writes, quote, “he claims his budget is based on Catholic social teaching. This is nonsense; his budget has a devastating impact on programs for the poor.” And when you look at Ryan's plan, how it deals with the poor is that it hurts the poor is -- $3.3 trillion, Congressman, in cuts to low-income programs. Medicaid, SNAP, Pell Grants, job training -- and they wonder why they get a bad image?
FATTAH: Well, look, we've got a conservative who is the leader of Britain. He comes out today and says, look, he wants to invest in a smart grid, he wants to do light rail and high-speed rail as a way to create jobs. They tried cutting, and their economy went in a hole.
President Obama is right, we need to continue to invest. That's why our GDP is up, and that's why we've got 35 consecutive months of private sector job growth. We are headed in the right direction. Unemployment continues to drop, and those people who are unemployed, they're not going to be voting for the party who wants to cut their benefits, cut access to food stamps, cut job training. The idea that Republicans are trying to help those who are unemployed is nonsense. And I think on this Election Day, those who have a job can credit the administration for stabilizing our economy, and those who don't know that this administration is trying to put them to work.