America’s Dilemma: Teachers or Food

Remember that important NYT story from early this year describing the growing number of Americans whose sole income consists of food stamps?

About six million Americans receiving food stamps report they have no other income, according to an analysis of state data collected by The New York Times. In declarations that states verify and the federal government audits, they described themselves as unemployed and receiving no cash aid — no welfare, no unemployment insurance, and no pensions, child support or disability pay.

Their numbers were rising before the recession as tougher welfare laws made it harder for poor people to get cash aid, but they have soared by about 50 percent over the past two years. About one in 50 Americans now lives in a household with a reported income that consists of nothing but a food-stamp card.

Well, months after that report came out, some genius in the Obama Administration, according to a very shrill David Obey, proposed offsetting funds to keep teachers in the schools by cutting food stamps. Said genius wanted to cut these people’s only safety net so Arne Duncan could go on privatizing our schools.

The secretary of Education is whining about the fact he only got 85 percent of the money he wanted .… So, when we needed money, we committed the cardinal sin of treating him like any other mere mortal. We were giving them over $10 billion in money to help keep teachers on the job, plus another $5 billion for Pell, so he was getting $15 billion for the programs he says he cares about, and it was costing him $500 million [in reductions to the Race to the Top program]. Now that’s a pretty damn good deal.

So as far as I’m concerned, the secretary of Education should have been happy as hell. He should have taken that deal and smiled like a Cheshire cat. He’s got more walking around money than every other cabinet secretary put together.

It blows my mind that the White House would even notice the fight [over Race to the Top]. I would have expected the president to say to the secretary, “look, you’re getting a good deal, for God’s sake, what this really does is guarantee that the rest of the money isn’t going to be touched.”

We gave [Duncan] $4.3 billion in the stimulus package, no questions asked. He could spend it any way he wants. … I trusted the secretary, so I gave him a hell of a lot more money than I should have.

My point is that I have been working for school reform long before I ever heard of the secretary of education, and long before I ever heard of Obama. And I’m happy to welcome them on the reform road, but I’ll be damned if I think the only road to reform lies in the head of the Secretary of Education.

We were told we have to offset every damn dime of [new teacher spending]. Well, it ain’t easy to find offsets, and with all due respect to the administration their first suggestion for offsets was to cut food stamps. Now they were careful not to make an official budget request, because they didn’t want to take the political heat for it, but that was the first trial balloon they sent down here. … Their line of argument was, well, the cost of food relative to what we thought it would be has come down, so people on food stamps are getting a pretty good deal in comparison to what we thought they were going to get. Well isn’t that nice. Some poor bastard is going to get a break for a change. [emphasis original]

As a reminder, here’s David Dayen’s summary of the squabble between Obey and Duncan.

One of [the amendments in the war spending resolution] included this social spending money, comprised of:

$10 billion for an Education Jobs Fund, $4.95 billion for Pell Grants, $701 million for border security, $180 million for innovative technology energy loans, $163 million for schools on military installations, $142 million in additional Gulf Coast oil spill funding, $50 million in emergency food assistance, and $16.5 million to build a new soldier processing center at Fort Hood.

You can read the full summary from David Obey of the Appropriations Committee here. There were some underlying provisions from the Senate war supplemental that appropriated funds to disaster relief, victims of Agent Orange, mine safety, the oil spill, and other areas.

This money in this amendment is entirely paid for through rescissions in various programs, and actually reduces the deficit by $439 million. But in order to pay for the education jobs fund and save 140,000 teachers, House appropriators dipped into $500 million of the Race to the Top fund. Arne Duncan has been sitting on $4 billion dollars in stimulus money for over a year so he can bribe states into changing their education policies. In the meantime, state budgets are in absolute crisis and hundreds of thousands of teachers could lose their jobs. The deficit scolds want things paid for, so House appropriators proposed taking just a sliver of that $4 billion Duncan is hoarding, to apply to the education jobs fund. The most important possible “reform” right now for public schools is for them to have teachers. If you’re going to use “unspent stimulus money,” Race to the Top is a good place to start.

But this doesn’t meet with Duncan’s cunning plan, so the White House threatened a veto of the bill if that amendment passed. In their statement of Administration policy, they wrote:

H.R. 4899 also contains $800 million in rescissions from education reform programs—programs that will help schools upgrade their standards and instruction so as to better prepare more students to succeed in school and in life.  The Administration is more than willing to work with the Congress to pursue fiscally responsible ways to finance education jobs; however, these rescissions undercut programs that have already received applications from more than three dozen States.  It would be short-sighted to weaken funding for these reforms just as they begin to show such promise.  The Administration urges the House to include education jobs funding in a version of H.R. 4899 that does not rescind education reform funding.  If the final bill presented to the President includes cuts to education reforms, the President’s senior advisors would recommend a veto.

What they actually wanted was the same bill the Senate passed so they could easily get their precious war money. And they wanted the maximum amount of shock-doctrine funds to force untested “reforms” on public schools nationwide.

That sort of gives you a good idea of why David Obey is so shrill. (Make sure to read DDay’s update if you haven’t already.)

But take one more step back to put this fiscal choice in larger perspective. This squabble broke out over the war supplemental. Which means we were, as a country, really considering cutting the food allowance to those suffering in this recession in order to keep some teachers on the job, all while we appropriate $33 billion to fight around 350 al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

  1. BoxTurtle says:

    America’s Dilemma: Teachers or Food

    We could keep both if we were willing to give up Afgahnistan, excessively rich banks and bankers, and allow drug reimportation.

    Boxturtle (I would also suggest a hefty tax on Robocalls and robocalling equiptment)

  2. barne says:

    We’re overpaying for health care by about ONE TRILLION DOLLARS . . . EVERY YEAR.

    That’s the biggest pickpocket hand in our wallets, by far. Stop this version of theft, and we’re set.

  3. earlofhuntingdon says:

    We’re in Afghanistan to keep the war machine on the road. That $33 billion flowing toward those who own it is just the stream of monthly payments. The men, women and materiel, those who suffer and die on both sides, the destruction wreaked in the process are vented exhaust gases. The fuel comes out of that rapidly-shrinking strategic reserve known as tax revenue.

    The haves are determined to keep their decrepit, finned and flagged Cadillac shining and on the road, no matter how much maintenance it requires, no matter how much tax revenue it guzzles, no matter how many pedestrians it hits along the road to progress, democracy and freedom.

  4. jimhicks3 says:

    The last paragraph in Obey’s interview;

    “I think the more important thing was what was my biggest failure. I think our biggest failure collectively has been our failure to stop the ripoff of the middle class by the economic elite of this country,and this is not just something that happened because of the forces of the market.
    Sounds like a ‘Commie’ to me :)

    • emptywheel says:

      Oh yeah, thanks for noting that. I meant to point it out.

      I sort of wonder what parts of the interview they cut–because I’m not sure how you get from Obey saying you have to do TARP but then saying the biggest mistake is not holding the banksters accountable. Mind you, that’s where many of us are too. But I’m really curious how Obey explained it.

  5. Peterr says:

    This squabble broke out over the war supplemental. Which means we were, as a country, really considering cutting the food allowance to those suffering in this recession in order to keep some teachers on the job, all while we appropriate $33 billion to fight around 350 al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

    The disconnect between DC/Wall Street and the rest of the country is truly amazing, isn’t it?

    What passes for a “pretty good deal” in DC is slightly different than it is around my neighborhood.

    • PJEvans says:

      I’m not sure they’re even in the same universe as us. any more. I sure don’t recognize the world they seem to live in.

  6. BayStateLibrul says:

    I didn’t realize how deep Scott Horton digs …

    He quotes Tolstoy…

    “Human beings are like rivers—the water in all of them, and at every point, is the same, and each of them is narrow at one point and swift at others, wide at some points, calm at others, clear at some points, cold at others, muddy at some points, warm at others. And so it is with humankind. Each of us bears within him the potential for all human qualities, sometimes manifesting one quality, sometimes another, and often enough he does not seem himself at all, manifesting no change.”

    Everyday is a dilemma.

    The balance (our potential) has sure shifted to guns, like old coastie says..


    • spanishinquisition says:

      Actually it’s more like no bullets , no bread since this is tied to the war bill. Obama wanted to cut food stamps so that his chickhawk self could bomb goatherders in the middle east.

  7. greenwarrior says:

    remind me again why i voted for obama?

    it’s no fun hating a democratic president or hating what the government of my country does to others. i often wind up rooting for the other guy. it’s a really strange feeling.

    • bobschacht says:

      remind me again why i voted for obama?

      Does the word “McCain” ring a bell? Would you really rather have him running the show?

      I am not happy with Obama; but I remember what it was like to have a Republican in the White House.

      Bob in AZ

      • spanishinquisition says:

        “I remember what it was like to have a Republican in the White House”

        Yeah, the indefinite dentions, the attacks on Social Security, the corporate welfare to the drug companies – clearly we’ve had change we can believe in since Obama got into office.

        • bobschacht says:

          And an economy that they ran into the ditch.

          Would you rather entrust health care reform to them?
          Or financial reform?
          Or response to the oil volcano?

          I’ll still vote for the lesser of two weevils, but I’d rather not have to vote for weevils.

          Bob in AZ

        • spanishinquisition says:

          The “them” seems to be the same regardless of whether they have a D or R next to their name. To go through your list one by one:

          * Would you rather entrust health care reform to them? – Let’s see, when Bush was in power he did a comparatively modest health care reform and he did it by cutting deals with PhRMA and generally rewarding the corporations. Now Obama and the Democrats after campaigning that was everything that was wrong with DC and the Republicans, the Democrats went and did what Bush did, just on a much grander scale. This is nationalized Romneycare derived from a model from the Heritage Foundation.

          * Or financial reform? – Yeah, financial non-reform being championed by the Rubinites who got rid of Glass-Steagall and we’ve still got Ben Bernanke as Fed Chairman. I’d expect these types of non-reforms regardless of who is running things – heck, as an added bonus to this non-reform, SARBOX got gutted. So if you think Sarbanes-Oxley was bad and that public companies should get more loopholes while still having TBTF, by all means cheer this non-reform.

          * Or response to the oil volcano? – You seriously think Obama outsourcing everything to BP is actually something in his favor? You really think Obama talking up BP and saying he’s going to protect BP is something that he should be praised for? Obama’s response to the oil volcano is about as bad as it could be.

        • captjjyossarian says:

          The healthcare reform looks a lot like the Heritage Foundation plan from the 1990’s.

          Financial reform is being done by the same crowd that pushed for financial “modernization” in the late 1990’s. The Robert Rubin crowd.

          And the Gulf Oil Disaster is Obama’s Katrina.

          Any difference between the twin evils of R’s and D’s seems rather superficial to me at this point in time.

          And the bigger question is where are they taking us?

          As far as I can tell, thier pace may vary but they are both headed in the exact same direction. If their destination is the same then choosing between R’s and D’s is not a choice at all.

          So in our present circumstance, the logic of “the lesser of two evils” seems like a fallacy to me. I’m not going to say that voting doesn’t matter but the logic of “the lesser of two evils” falls short as a yardstick.

          Granted, my elected officials are Himes and Lieberman, pretty close to the bottom of the barrel. There’s very little to inform me that Himes is somehow better than the Republican Chris Shays who he replaced.

        • OldFatGuy says:

          Come on now. We have had one serious, revolutionary change.

          All the times that W and The Dick were shitting all over the U.S. Constitution, I never once heard them take it to the heights of claiming the Prez can off American citizens at will.

          Obama made Cheney blush with that one.

          That’s some serious change right there, IMO. Assassinating American citizens without any due process. Yessir, that would be under Article , um, Section…., um Amendment…., um. Damn, where was that in the Constitution again???

          It must be there, right? A Democratic President wouldn’t shred the document even more than a Republican one, right? Right???

      • greenwarrior says:

        i actually dislike obama more than i did bush. and i like the policies he’s visited on us even less than i liked what bush did.

        • marymccurnin says:

          I agree. We knew what to expect with Bush. He was an entitled legacy. He was not a deep thinker. We knew that killing people thrilled him. With Obama we quickly learned he would push the Bush doctrine past the point that any Republican could. Obama lied. He is a manipulator. But in the end I think he is as weak as George II. A tipping point is building. My fear is that is will tip into fascist violence and not populist reform.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          I think that’s exactly right, not overstated a bit. The haves are ready for this to tip into violent behavior, what with the considerable federalization and militarization of local law enforcement, and the adaptation of battlefield and international “intelligence” gathering techniques to domestic policing.

          As with the class warfare insiders are engaging in, middle America isn’t fighting back or preparing to; as insiders know, they are having trouble hanging on and in feeling guilty (for themselves and their children) that they are unlikely to be able to. When the latter feeling sinks in, is accepted as the state of play in America, and when people feel they have little else to lose is when the trouble may start.

          Getting even to that point inflicts enormous pain on middle Americans – its happening right now – never mind the pain and suffering that would follow if the situation were allowed to worsen. Avoiding that is something we’re trying to work on in this marketplace of ideas called FDL. Hopefully, it will help and encourage readers to work in their own neighborhoods and empower Jane, EW and others to have a positive affect on a larger stage.

      • trademarkdave says:

        I am not happy with Obama; but I remember what it was like to have a Republican in the White House.

        We’ve got one now.

  8. transparait says:

    Obama’s quite a little scumbag alright. I regret I ever voted for the punk.

    Absolutely disgusting.


  9. transparait says:

    reply to bobschacht @17.

    Same shit , different pile.

    Fired up? Ready to go? Cut some food stamps? Lick some corporate ass?


  10. Mile23 says:

    The unfortunate thing about this is the way the narrative has been predicated. If you talk about saving food stamp programs, you just want to ‘redistribute wealth.’ If you talk about ending the occupation (it’s not a war any more) of Afghanistan, then clearly you ‘side with the terrorists.’

    The problem here is that insane people have determined what stories we can tell about ourselves. Karl Rove gets to fill in the blanks.

    I think what needs to happen is that everyone who posts comments to ‘blogs needs to file to run for President.

  11. transparait says:

    Posted this quote yesterday, Larue writhed in ecstasy. Seems to hit the nail on the head.


    “There is no “clash of civilizations.” There is a clinically dead civilization kept alive by all sorts of life-support machines that spread a peculiar plague into the planet’s atmosphere. At this point it can no longer believe in a single one of its own “values”, and any affirmation of them is considered an impudent act, a provocation that should and must be taken apart, deconstructed, and returned to a state of doubt. Today Western imperialism is the imperialism of relativism, of the “it all depends on your point of view”; it’s the eye-rolling or the wounded indignation at anyone who’s stupid, primitive, or presumptuous enough to still believe in something, to affirm anything at all.”

  12. Oval12345678akaJamesKSayre says:

    America’s choice in November 2008: war monger A or war monger B.

    America has gone insane with its stupid endless costly wars on drug users, Afghanis, Iraqis, Pakistanis and the flora and fauna of the Gulf of Mexico.

    Heck of a job, insane America…

  13. onitgoes says:

    Let them eat cake…

    I agree about the potential for citizen violence and a facist response to it. All one has to do is listen to snippets of RushGlennBilloetc to see that their in goal is to pit one segment of the population against the other, and assign blame to dfh progressives + poor people wherever possible.

    Too many citizens are easily distracted, or ignorant, or out of touch and really don’t get/see who’s really ripping them off. And too many citizens are quite content to rah-rah for War Inc in the misguided belief that it’s “necessary.” What they don’t see is that the overal militarization of our nation… as in ongoing and extensive use of National Guard for many reasons. Not great. Good luck to us all.

  14. applepie says:

    Well, here is just another example of how far along we are in, or how deeply we are in the midst of, the great collapse of America and the rise of the post-empire militarist state, as overseen by a ‘progressive’ Democratic admin.

    Now, tomorrow’s news: Bill Gates, and his pup Arne Duncan, want to put surveillance cameras in public school classrooms to monitor teacher adherence to a war economy curriculum (what he terms ‘best practices’.)

    Teachers unions must engage in a series of escalating job actions if they want to save themselves and public education. Do we have the backbone?

  15. RetAZED says:

    What is not being discussed here is why Obama & Duncan are fighting so hard to keep money for RTTT. They will probably be able to do more to destroy public education than any Republican ever could. This is about expanding Charter Schools and busting Teacher’s Unions. Somehow Bill Gates and Wendy Kopp (Teach for America)have become the decision makers and we are putting the NCLB testing on steroids.

  16. R.H. Green says:

    It has been a hard hot day, and this thread is depressing; not inappropriate, just depressing.

    I will add a thought for us to consider with regard to the discussion of the results of the 2008 vote. Things had already been fixed when our choice was reduced to McSame vs Osame. We need to be more effective in keeping our options open (Dean, for example). The question of how to do that, and how to get it done in time for 2010 is more pressing than whining about such things as that horrid BP and it’s profligacy. What I’ve been weighing is with-holding my vote when it’s held hostage by bad choices. I don’t mean not voting, but turning in a ballot that does not register a vote for either of the non-choices. What about you?

  17. b2020 says:

    “Arne Duncan has already cost teacher jobs by holding back $3.7 billion for a year and a half to try and entice more desperate states to change their policies.”

    This one case alone should see doubts in the minds of those who insist that the Obama administration is incompetent on getting their policy choices implemented, and to cowardly to rock the boat. It might be a race to the bottom, but if they really want something, it is usually something noxious – like Pharma money for re-election ads – and they will play hardball to get it.