GOP House bill bans welfare recipients from aid in strip clubs and casinos
LZ Granderson: The 26 Democrats who voted against House bill need to hang it up
LZ: Only half of 1% of benefits were withdrawn this way in California, but so what?
LZ: Senate should pass the bill. Americans don't want tax dollars spent in strip clubs
Editor’s Note: LZ Granderson, who writes a weekly column for CNN.com, was named journalist of the year by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association and a 2011 Online Journalism Award finalist for commentary. He is a senior writer and columnist for ESPN the Magazine and ESPN.com and the 2009 winner of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation award for online journalism. Follow him on Twitter: @locs_n_laughs.
I believe it was the great American philosopher Kenny Rogers, who, while meditating on the nuances of Darwinism, gave the world this piece of advice:
“You got to know when to hold ‘em/Know when to fold ‘em/Know when to walk away/Know when to run.”
Any Democrat who might want to challenge a Republican-led effort to ban welfare recipients from spending federal aid in strip clubs and casinos needs to fold ‘em.
The House “strip club” bill just passed, 395 to 27, with only 26 Democrats and one Republican voting against it. But it’s not only a battle those 26 Democrats can’t win in the PR arena, it is a battle that completely undermines the narrative about Republicans not caring about the middle class. After all, how can the opponents genuinely criticize Republicans for trying to make cuts in aid while resisting a seemingly innocuous effort to avoid welfare fraud, a big concern for taxpayers?
The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families – or welfare – supplies cash to working poor families using what amounts to a debit card. Last year, about 1.8 million families received a few hundred federal dollars each month to help make ends meet. It’s meant to pay for necessities like food and rent. The average American can relate to that, because a lot of us have been there.
But media reports say that some of those cards were used in ATMs in strip clubs, liquor stores, Las Vegas casinos, even cruise ships – locations average Americans can also relate to, but not with taxpayers’ money involved.
Now, just because a few people are using these cards at strip club ATMs does not signal widespread fraud. In fact, less than half of 1% of benefits in California were withdrawn in casinos and strip clubs, and it’s impossible to tell where the money was spent, according to the Western Center on Law and Poverty.
But even still, who can be opposed to the government taking steps to discourage abuse, especially as the nation is wrestling with budget cut decisions? I certainly didn’t expect any Democrat to be against a government regulation, given the amount of criticism the party hurls at Republicans for deregulating everything.
Again: Welfare checks, strip clubs, casinos … seems like a no-brainer, right?
And yet Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wisconsin, called the measure “another effort to berate those people who are in the lower class.”
Seriously Moore – fold ‘em.
Trying to massage this bill into a message about Republicans demonizing the poor doesn’t make liberals look like fighters for the little guy. It makes them look like free-wheeling hedonists; just another one of those times when some Democrats may be right in the small picture, but are totally missing the big one.
Elizabeth Lower-Basch, a senior analyst at the Center for Law and Social Policy, said: “This is another example of setting policies based on attention-grabbing news stories with little connection to the underlying reality and that are designed to reinforce the ‘unworthy poor’ stereotype.”
Yes, this bill is a grandstanding exercise that does something close to nothing in terms of impacting the overall budget, or the very real problem with poverty.
But so what?
The flipside is that some Democrats look as if they don’t want to address welfare fraud while they fight welfare cuts, which, if you think about it, looks a lot worse. The Democrats against this bill should fold their hand, cut their losses and live to grandstand another day. And as long as Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich are each within an earshot of a microphone, the chances are pretty good that there will be plenty of disconnected GOP remarks regarding poor people to grandstand on for the months ahead.
Does Congress have better things to do?
But that doesn’t mean it should avoid doing the little things, and this is a little thing the Senate should pass when the bill arrives for a vote, along with testing welfare recipients and legislators for drugs.
But Democrats shouldn’t just take my word on in it. I encourage them to walk into any manufacturing plant in the Midwest and ask the workers how they feel about a portion of their tax dollars being spent on strippers by people on welfare.
Yeah, as I said, just fold ‘em.
Follow CNN Opinion on Twitter.
Join the conversation on Facebook.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of LZ Granderson.