Last week, as Americans celebrated Hanukkah and prepared for Christmas, President Obama was engaged in a bitter blame game. Just hours after House Republicans voted to commence negotiations with the Senate over differing payroll tax measures, the White House sent out a scathing email. “This is not a game,” they said.
With a simple mouse click, a familiar countdown clock appeared on your screen (you know, the same type used by the media and numerous sporting events). It also asks a pointed question: what does $40 mean to you? In case you have problems answering, they suggest “forty dollars buys a tank of gas or a fridge and pantry full of groceries.”
Before going any further, it is important to understand why the Obama administration (and the reelection campaign) is pushing this message. They desperately want “a sub-faction of one party in one house” to dismiss what $40 means to some struggling families. They desperately want to distract from their economic failures, and pinpoint blame on “tea party extremism.” We will not allow their desperate and blatantly political desire to place blame to succeed; nor should we be detered from noting how fast-and-loose they are playing with the facts.
First, the “fridge and pantry full of groceries” claim.
For many families, creativity and thrift are par for the course; and for them, $40 can go a long way. But by and large, unless you have a mini-fridge and a shoe-box-sized pantry, their claim is absurdly false and divorced from the real world, in which food prices are rising sharply.
Look no further than the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). While there are a lot of variables (state, income, family size, etc.), food stamp benefits regularly exceed several hundred dollars per month. And in some cases, well beyond that.
If $83 a month ($40 every two weeks) is enough to buy “a fridge and pantry full of groceries” then current food stamp levels are excessive (to say the least). On the other hand, if food stamp levels are not excessive, then the $40 claim is just another example of Washington hyperbole.
How to reform SNAP and other welfare programs is for another time, but the point is that the White House’s political rhetoric is completely divorced from reality...and someone needs to point that out. (Oh, and insert your own $4 arugula joke here.)
Second, the “tank of gas” claim.