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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Republican Ideas Wreck the Economy, But Still Popular

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To any thoughtful observer of politics, one of the biggest frustrations is watching is just how politically popular some really bad ideas can be.

A perfect example is Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to freeze tuition increases within the University of Wisconsin System for four straight years.*

No one can blame students and parents all over the state for welcoming any relief at all from the absurd, unsustainable rise in the cost of a college education.

But, sad to say, the virulent hostility of Walker and legislative Republicans toward what was once one of the best universities in the country isn’t good for anyone smart enough to know defunding higher education is a really bad idea.

Walker, one of the few prominent politicians in the country without a college degree, presides over the most anti-education, anti-university state government in Wisconsin history.

Walker made the deepest education funding cuts ever in Wisconsin and helped drive away respected educational leaders in Madison, Milwaukee and throughout the system.

The excuse for the Republican hostility: The university has done what any financially responsible business does.

Instead of going flat broke, it keeps unspent cash reserves on every campus to withstand the worst financial calamities. And, boy, is the Walker administration a financial calamity for education.

This is a perfect example of right-wing Republican ideology sabotaging Walker’s own success.

Well-funded, first-class universities are major economic drivers providing innovative research to launch and expand brand-new industries with fast-growing, good-paying jobs for graduating students.

There’s a direct connection between Walker gutting university funding by hundreds of millions of dollars and freezing tuition and the fact that Wisconsin has one of the worst jobs records in the country.

The same goes for Walker’s destruction of public employee unions. The huge hole Walker blew in our economy with wage cuts and layoffs statewide drastically reduces consumer spending, slowing hiring and growth of Wisconsin businesses.

But with Walker’s economy inflicting so much financial pain all over the state, you have to be pretty sophisticated to realize a tuition freeze can ultimately hurt university students instead of helping them.

Hint: Reducing university budgets reduces financial aid to low-income students, of which there are many more in low job-producing states.

 

Tax Cuts for Wealthy Don’t Help

Of course, the all-time bad idea Walker has made the centerpiece of his administration is that cutting taxes helps everyone.

It’s really difficult for even the most articulate politicians to explain to ordinary voters how cutting taxes can be a bad idea.

But when the majority of Walker’s tax cuts routinely go to the very wealthy, those tax cuts further widen the gap between the super-wealthy and everyone else at a time when the top 10% already earn almost half the income in America.

Voters might even be starting to understand that.

The latest Marquette University poll on the race between Walker and Democratic challenger Mary Burke was taken at a particularly favorable time for Walker, when news of his latest tax cuts were all over the media.

Yet approval of Walker’s job performance dropped to an even split—47% approval and 47% disapproval. Even more telling, asked if Walker “cares about people like you,” a majority, 51%, said he did not, while only 43% thought he did.

If only millionaires and billionaires were surveyed, Walker should have gotten close to 100%.

Perhaps the best illustration of how the Republican philosophy of tax cuts above all else would ultimately devastate the lives of most ordinary Wisconsinites is Congressman Paul Ryan’s House budget.

Ryan completely eliminates the Affordable Care Act with coverage for pre-existing conditions and subsidies for the millions who just signed up. He also guts Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps and other nutrition assistance, low-income energy assistance, Pell Grants and other college assistance, consumer protection and stock market and banking regulations.

All that wreckage is to create even more massive tax breaks for the super-wealthy, giving these super-wealthy an estimated $265,000-a-year federal tax break.

The pathetic $100 working folks may get from Walker’s tax cuts would be lost among all the state and federal benefits destroyed.

So is it possible for an opponent like Burke to overcome simple-minded campaign slogans based on really bad ideas like top-heavy tax cuts that make millionaires richer and working people poorer?

Sure, it is. Good ideas can be pretty popular too, especially when they benefit most people instead of just the wealthy few.

Ideas like: Raising the minimum wage to a living wage. Reducing repayment of student debt to a manageable percentage of a graduate’s income. Targeting tax cuts to working people who need them instead of rich people who don’t.

You know, all the ideas Republicans like Walker and Ryan regularly oppose.

In fact, all the social progress we’ve ever made in this country has come as a result of good ideas crowding out bad ones.

* The original column incorrectly stated "two" years.