Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton returned to one of the Great Republican Myths the other day, suggesting the Social Security Disability program is not merely full of fakes and cheaters, but might actually cause economic decline and drug abuse. In a speech to the Heritage Foundation in Washington, Cotton claimed a possible causal relationship between communities with high numbers of people on disability and population decline:
It’s hard to say what came first or caused the other: population decline or increased disability usage. Or maybe economic stagnation caused both. Regardless, there seems to be at least at the county and regional level something like a disability tipping point.
When a county hits a certain level of disability usage, disability becomes a norm. It becomes an acceptable way of life and an alternative source of income to a good paying full-time job as opposed to a last resort safety net program to deal with catastrophic injury and illness.
Isn’t that cute what he’s doing to logic there? Do people faking disability cause population decline, or does population decline make people start faking disability? Yes, we know, he doesn’t say “faking” — that’s mostly a given in any Republican discussion of Social Security Disability. Heck, he even brings up a possible explanation — economic stagnation — before immediately ignoring it and talking about his brilliant theory of a “disability tipping point.”
Maybe Cotton could try this on for size: As an area’s economic health declines, maybe those who can find jobs elsewhere go there, leaving behind a lot of people who are less able to work, or less able to pick up and move? Nah, it has to be people getting lazy and living the good life on those big fat disability pittances. Cotton’s ass-backward theory sounds an awful lot like Mitch McConnell’s explanation of why the economy supposedly hasn’t been expanding more quickly: employers are having “a hard time finding people to do the work because they’re doing too good with food stamps, Social Security and all the rest.” Never mind that the economy actually is doing quite nicely. Clearly, rich people need a tax cut and we need to make life more miserable for the poor, who are living the high life.
Cotton’s thoughtful analysis of the ills of disability continued:
After a certain point when disability keeps climbing and becomes endemic, employers will struggle to find employees or begin or continue to move out of the area. Population continues to fall and a downward spiral kicks in, driving once thriving communities into further decline.
Not only that, but once this kind of spiral begins, communities could begin to suffer other social plagues as well, such as heroin or meth addiction and associated crime.
Damn those “disabled” people (remember, they’re mostly faking) for all the economic harm they’re causing! Needless to say, Cotton has a plan to stop this cycle of decline. He’s going to introduce legislation to end all this false “compassion” by requiring people with non-permanent disabilities to get a job after a certain time, and also — just to make sure that people with permanent disabilities haven’t been miraculously cured — force people to reapply for disability benefits every few years. That’ll learn the lazy bastards.
Lately, we’ve been listening in the car to Molly Ivins’s last collection of columns, Who Let The Dogs In? and damned if Cotton doesn’t sound remarkably like an updated, stats-bending version of Newt Gingrich’s attacks on Supplemental Security Income in 1995:
Supplemental Security Income goes, literally, to poor, crippled children. It’s not easy to attack a program that helps poor, crippled children. Were it not for the stipend that helps economically marginal families care for their children born with spina bifida, cystic fibrosis, and other diseases, the kids would have to be dumped into public institutions, where the cost of their annual care would run way over what their families now get to help pay for wheelchairs, ramps, etc. Gingrich told the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that poor people are not only coaching their kids on how to fake disabilities, but also beating them if they do not succeed: “They’re being punished for not getting what they call crazy money or stupid money. We are literally having children suffering child abuse so they can get a check for their parents.
There simply is no evidence for such a claim. Some shaky reporting based on unreliable sources had raised some questions about the SSI program, which also covers children with severe mental problems, and this was seized on by the right to discredit the program. Media reviews have since gone back and discredited both the reporting and the sources (who never alleged what Gingrich did to begin with).
We suppose by putting a slightly new supply-side spin on a cherished myth from the ’90s, Tom Cotton should at least get some credit for playing to the nostalgia market. As Lars-Erik Nelson pointed out in the wake of Gingrich’s rant against SSI, the real fraud, then as now, tends to be perpetrated by providers submitting false bills for treatment, a far more lucrative ripoff than the occasional individual faker. But we Americans can’t stand the idea that someone out there may be shirking, so Cotton’s found a lovely fake talking point to support the Republican war on Social Security. Hooray.