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Seal It With a Frown

What Compassionate Conservatism Means

by CHRISTOPHER BRAUCHLI

Compassionate conservatism has many faces and most of them have frowns except when they are shown on television during the debates. They frown at everything from the environment to the poor. It is worth remembering their faces since to the unbiased they suggest what George Bush likes to call flip flopping. The only thing he doesn’t like is that they describe him.

During the 2000 campaign Mr. Bush proclaimed the environment one of his very best friends. He promised to fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the main federal land-acquisition program, to the statutory maximum of $900 million a year. Once in office Mr. Bush had lots of other things on what passes for his mind, and instead of asking for $900 million a year he asked for only $300 million, leaving the program considerably short of the promised goal.

As a candidate Mr. Bush promised that within five years he would eliminate the $5 billion maintenance backlog that confronted the National Park Service. Today the cost of deferred maintenance is estimated to be between $4.1 billion and $6.8 billion. Mr. Bush has not ignored the National Park Service. Instead of eliminating the backlog he has asked the National Park Service to create an inventory of the condition of roads, buildings etc. in the system. Once that inventory has been completed it will be possible for everyone to see what state his broken promise has left us in.

During each of the last three years Mr. Bush has said he wants to end certain programs that provide money to states to help provide money for those without health insurance. In an apparent flip-flop, in 2004 Tommy Thompson, secretary of health and human services announced that the department was awarding $11.7 million in grants to help 30 states set up programs to provide coverage to those people. If Mr. Bush is elected, he,ll have a chance to flip-flop and eliminate the program in future years.

According to a recent report in the New York Times, Mr. Bush wants to reduce the value of subsidized-housing vouchers received by participants in the section 8 housing program for the poor. Michael Liu, assistant secretary for public and Indian affairs and Cathy M. MacFarlane, assistant secretary for public affairs explain that the drop is occasioned by data from the 2000 census and a new way of determining the rents. Housing secretary Alphonso Jackson has a simpler explanation. He says the Section 8 program was growing too fast and taking money away from other programs. He also thinks that it disadvantages the working poor. In a piece written for the New York Times he explained that most of the vouchers "go to families making less than 30 percent of a given area’s median income. This has had the unintended consequence of shutting the door on men and women who are working hard and raise their income above a quota level, but remain too poor to afford a home." The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities points out that a full time minimum wage worker earns $10,700 a year, whereas 30 percent of the median income for a family of four nationally is $17, 250. Someone who works forty hours a week 52 weeks a year for the minimum wage will not reach the poverty line and those are the people for whom the compassionate conservatives want to raise the rent.

Mr. Jackson does not think the lack of affordable housing is a big problem. In a speech at the National Press Club lunch on June 17, he said "Rental housing is affordable and plentiful." He,d apparently not read the State of the Nation’s Housing report issued a week earlier by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University which found, among other things, that almost two million households live in units described as severely inadequate. HUD"s own Worst Case Housing Needs says 5.07 million families have worst case housing needs meaning they are very low income, face severe cost or quality problems in their homes and don’t receive housing assistance. Had those statistics been seen by Mr. Jackson, they,d not have troubled him. In his first appearance before the House Financial Services Committee as Secretary he said: "being poor is a state of mind." Realizing that poverty is a state of mind makes it hard to get upset about the fact that those with a bad state of mind don’t have nice places to live. They don’t need housing-they need attitude adjustments. Thanks to compassionate conservatism, if Mr. Bush is elected that’s what they’ll get.

CHRISTOPHER BRAUCHLI is a Boulder, Colorado lawyer. His column appears weekly in the Daily Camera. He can be reached at: brauchli.56@post.harvard.edu