GOP policies veer from cruel to absurd

There is a cruelty and viciousness to so many Republican policy ideas.

Cloaked in populist language and blame-invoking finger pointing, the majority of the GOP stumbles consistently to the worst option available.

It’s like Twitter parody accounts have been turned into living, breathing politicians, intent on pushing things just as far as seemingly possible and then pushing some more. Even to the absurd.

Faced with a horrific act of gun violence at a high school in Florida, many Republicans responded that what we need is more guns in schools, not fewer. Arm teachers, President Donald Trump, Gov. Paul LePage and many on the right chortled.

Presidential candidate Donald Trump shakes hands with Maine Gov. Paul LePage at a March 2016 campaign rally in Portland. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

It’s absurd. It’s absurd on the surface. And it’s absurd upon further inspection. Five of my neighbors are educators. They coach the robotics team and cross country skiing; they teach math and science. One is a principal. They are great educators and great members of the community. I trust them with my kids. You can trust them with yours.

They are not gunslingers, Special Forces operators or Secret Service. Instead of giving them a gun, let’s give them a raise, roofs that don’t leak and smaller classes.

Republicans are trying to roll back the voter-approved increase in the minimum wage and create a below-minimum training wage, and they are trying to block low-wage workers from getting health care through Medicaid expansion.

With one hand, they want to suppress wages, on the other they want to deny health care to people who can’t afford it because they don’t earn a living wage.

Soon, Maine is likely to join an illustrious group of other states that includes Arkansas, Kentucky and Indiana that will impose work requirements on people who are eligible for Medicaid.

On Monday, the Trump administration approved Arkansas’ request to add the requirements. Maine’s application is in the cue.

To a lot of folks, asking people to work, volunteer or go to school to receive Medicaid might make sense. Until you read the fine print.

There are exceptions. Parents of young children, pregnant women and people who are unable to work because of a medical condition are exempt, according to The Washington Post. So are people who are being treated for addiction or who have a mental health issue that makes work impossible.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but that’s generally who is covered by Medicaid in the first place, along with people who work but can’t afford insurance because their wages are too low.

The myth of the abled-body slouch lives on. Look, everyone wants to help people who are struggling to find work.

But as Arkansas demonstrates, it’s not really about lifting people off of Medicaid. While the state has been quick to celebrate being able to add the work requirements, they haven’t managed to actually fund job training, which betrays their real intent.

The work requirements are about placing new bureaucratic hurdles in front of people to deny them care, including those who are already working and will now have to prove it over and over again to keep their insurance.

This is politics at its worst. Scapegoating the working families living on the edge.

And the work requirements don’t even save money. According to Roll Call, Kentucky’s plan will cost $187 million in the first six months.

Then there’s SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which provides money for low-income families – mostly parents, people with disabilities and older people – to buy food.

The president wants to replace EBT card benefits with food boxes, while making deep cuts to the food assistance program.

The idea is bad in every way. It will be more expensive. Families will be stuck with what they get instead of what they need. They’ll be pushed further away from fresh food and toward processed foods, which can be less healthy. And it will hurt retailers and grocery stores.

Just dumb.

But I understand why the idea is appealing to the president: It’s dehumanizing and shaming.

And, oddly for self-proclaimed conservatives, the idea makes the argument that the government will make better decisions about what a family eats than mom or granddad will. Shocking, I say! Nanny state, indeed.

There are solidly conservative Republicans who are responsible and reject these cruel intentions. There are a number of them right here in Maine, men and women who stand up for reasonable ideas and against the worst impulses of the fringe.

But more and more, they are isolated as their party-mates drift more toward flat-out meanness and race with one another to see who can be the most extreme.

David Farmer

About David Farmer

David Farmer is a political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s campaign for governor and a longtime journalist. You can reach him at