Republicans in Congress have tied an extension of the payroll tax cut for working families to ending unemployment benefits and food stamps for millionaires. Asking the wealthy to prove they’re hard up before giving them benefits might seem like a wild card in the debate, like an odd thing to bring up at this point, but Rachel argued last night on the show that there’s a reason Republicans want to start means-testing now, and it’s not austerity:
We have certain entitlements in this country that have been around for generations and remained intact – Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance. These are programs that work politically in part because they apply to all of us. They are for all Americans.
When you’re 65, you get Medicare. You get Social Security. When you lose your job, if you have paid into the unemployment insurance program, you get unemployment insurance.
You are by definition entitled to these things, and these things have been a huge success in the story of America. They are our social safety net. They have kept people out of poverty. They have kept food on the table. They’ve allowed us to retire one day instead of working our entire lives until we die.
But the thing about them is that they are entitlements. And that is as important to what they mean to us as Americans as it is to their political survival. You get these things if you’re rich or if you’re poor. We do not discriminate by class. As Americans, we get them.
But when you try to change those programs so instead of benefiting everybody, they just benefit, say, poorer Americans, you set the stage to break those programs apart because the right has come up with really great politics for making the rest of the country resent programs that only serve poor people. So, suddenly means testing unemployment insurance. That may
seem like a throw-away line in a Republican proposal. That`s not a real
problem, why are they working on that?
Well, it is a way to dismantle that as an entitlement – to make us think of unemployment insurance as something that only applies to poor people.
And once you convince voters that a program is only for the poor, then it’s easier to convince everyone else to whittle it away.