"The message was clear [in 1996] that the welfare programs were entrapping people, demoralizing recipients, and that this was bad for them, not just bad for the U.S. Treasury, but bad for the recipients themselves," Sessions says. "What we need to do now is to ask ourselves: 'Have we drifted back into dependency mode?' The answer is yes. And can we lift ourselves out again? Yes."The way to "lift ourselves out of dependency mode" is, of course, to cut all the programs that poor people depend on, the effects of which Sessions is exaggerating to a degree that might be hilarious if the stakes weren't so high. Now, if you look at the actual outcome of welfare reform, what "lifting ourselves out of dependency mode" meant was, in fact, more families falling into deep poverty:
In 1995, Aid to Families with Dependent Children lifted out of deep poverty 72 percent of the children who otherwise would have been in households earning below half the federal poverty line. By 2005, AFDC's successor, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, lifted just 21 percent out of deep poverty.People got kicked off the welfare rolls, and states declared it a success. But the number of families with children living in deep poverty soared. Forget all that, though. Jeff Sessions says that blaming poverty and unemployment on Democratic policies is "a better message than 'We’re cutting welfare simply because we want to save money.'" In fact, Sessions says, "It’s the right message." Okay, it likely is a better message for Republican electoral chances than "let them starve," but is is the right policy?
With cash assistance having been cut to the bone in 1996, what we're talking about now when we talk about the safety net is food stamps (which Sessions has argued in favor of cutting, also on moral grounds) and Medicaid and health care for kids and heating assistance and so on. And for all Sessions' talk of people being entrapped and dependent, remember that an awful lot of people who live in or close to poverty and rely on food stamps and other government assistance programs do have jobs, many of them working full-time. When Sessions argues against all this dependency, he's talking about the workers, not about the companies that employ them, but the fact is that Walmart and McDonald's and a whole lot of other huge, profitable corporations are dependent on taxpayer dollars to make up the difference between what they pay and what their workers actually need to feed themselves and get even the most rudimentary medical care. When someone working as many hours as they can get at Walmart goes on food stamps, taxpayers are in effect helping the company out with payroll, whether or not they ever even shop at Walmart.
Sessions says that, to shift the blame and build support for slashing the safety net, Republicans should tell the people affected that "'We know why you’re having a hard time getting a pay raise. We know why your raises are falling behind the inflation rate. And the reason is that we’ve got flawed economic leadership.'" Well, no argument on the flawed economic leadership, but as for why people are having a hard time getting a raise or are falling behind inflation, the minimum wage hasn't gone up since 2009—a pretty damn direct explanation for why many people's nonexistent raises are falling behind the inflation rate—and more than 13 million people would get a raise if Congress voted to increase the minimum wage to $9.00 an hour. And it's Sessions' own party, the Republican party, standing in the way of increasing the minimum wage. That's not government spending, it's not dependency, it's making it so that a full-time job pays enough to lift a family of two out of poverty. But that very anti-dependency policy doesn't factor in the big moral case against Democratic economic policies project Sessions is embarking on—because it's just another Republican attempt to trick voters into embracing the same old policies they've long rejected.
If Jeff Sessions is serious about reducing dependency on government assistance, raising the minimum wage would be a great way to go. Sessions isn't serious about that, but tell Congress to pass President Obama's proposed increase to the minimum wage anyway.