Republicans Working to Improve Lives of the Disabled and the Program That Serves Them

“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” – Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

Of course, that hasn’t stopped anyone. Regardless of entitlement, Washington’s pundit class all too willingly opts for their own facts, skewing debate and muting political discourse as a result. That’s why I was chagrined, though not surprised, to come across a recent article about Republicans’ nonexistent agenda to harm the disabled.

Though I am loath to broadcast his message, here is William Greider opining for The Nation:

Despite their virtues, many conservative Republicans have an unfortunate habit of picking on the weak and disadvantaged, slandering the people least able to fight back. . .

This is a favorite old canard of self-righteous right-wingers. They label these unfortunate people as shiftless and suggest none too subtly that many are faking their injuries and illnesses. The GOP has been pushing this cold-hearted slander for at least thirty-five years, ever since the glorious reign of Ronald Reagan in the 1980s (who remembers Reagan’s imaginary “Welfare Queen” who drove to pick up her welfare check in a Cadillac?).

McConnell-Boehner Republicans are now reviving the Gipper’s big lie, claiming the Social Security system is in crisis because of swollen disability benefits.

Firstly, the “welfare queen” was real. Indeed, her name was Linda Taylor (the title of “welfare queen” was bestowed upon her by the Chicago Tribune, not President Reagan) and her crimes, including kidnappings and potentially murder, were much more nefarious than simply bilking taxpayers to pay for jewelry, furs, and yes…a Cadillac.

But ultimately the welfare queen canard is a sideshow to Greider’s more troublesome claim that Republicans are somehow out to get the disabled. The kernel of truth on which Greider builds his lie is that Republicans do indeed want to reform disability insurance, one of the nation’s biggest, fastest growing, and costliest programs.

There is bipartisan support for the idea of reform. Indeed, without it the trust fund set aside to pay for disability insurance is set to run out by the end of 2016, less than two short years from now.

There is also no dispute about the facts. In 1960, when manual labor was the norm and health care was far less sophisticated than it is today, 0.65 percent of workers received disability payments. Now, 5.7 percent of Americans are in the program. As a result of those trends, the number of workers receiving disability payments doubled in the last twenty years and the program’s costs have risen even more quickly – doubling in just the last decade.

The system as it stands doesn’t work well for anyone. Workers and employers are hurt by bloated rolls because their payroll taxes are used to finance the trust fund. The truly disabled could be hurt because they are the ones who stand to lose if the trust fund goes dry. And the economy in general is hurt by not having able-bodied people participating in the workforce.

In other words, reform isn’t meant to put a target on the back of fraudsters, indeed much of the problem appears due to eligibility, calculation or documentation errors by government bureaucrats. Instead, reform is meant to preserve a system for those who truly need it.

Want further proof that Republicans aren’t some bogeyman out to demean and demoralize the disabled? Here’s The Hill’s Cristina Marcos reporting on a Republican-sponsored bill to stop the disabled from having to artificially empoverish themselves before becoming eligible for government assistance:

The House on Wednesday passed legislation to create tax-free savings accounts for people with disabilities.

Passed by a vote of 404-17, the bill known as the ABLE Act is intended to help Americans with disabilities pay for the associated expenses, including medical costs and finding employment. Twelve Democrats and five Republicans voted against the measure.

The Senate companion bill has 74 co-sponsors, indicating that it would pass easily in the upper chamber.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.), the measure’s sponsor, said establishing savings accounts for people with disabilities would help them grow their money in a similar way as retirement accounts, like an IRA or 401(k).

“It will bring peace of mind to millions of American families who live with disabilities every day,” Crenshaw said.

“We allow Americans to save for colleges for their kids. We allow Americans to save for their retirement, for for parents. . . of those with disabilities, there’s no legal way for them to save for those individuals,” House Speaker John Boehner said in support of the bill. “The whole concept here is helping people to be independent and given them a vehicle to save for themselves.”

What monsters! Somehow Greider forgot to mention passage of this historic bill. If he wants to write about “big lies” perhaps he should publish an autobiographical piece.