Just a couple of weeks ago, we were left scratching our heads. When stating his opposition to raising the minimum wage, Rep. Joe Heck (R-Henderson) tried every scare tactic available. And when that wasn't enough, he threw out a potential alternative.
And what was that alternative? He proposed increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). And he's not alone. In recent weeks, other Republican politicians and some conservative economists have signaled support for expanding EITC.
And now, President Obama has included an EITC expansion in his budget proposal. He also included a Republican proposed tax loophole closure to pay for it. So can everyone become friends, hold hands, sing along, and pass this already?
Not so fast. Just last week, House Republican "leaders" proposed a "tax reform" plan that cuts EITC. And this isn't even the first time that Republicans turned hard against EITC. In 2012, G-O-TEA Presidential Nominee Mitt Romney infamously attacked EITC and other parts of the social safety net as "welfare for the 47%". And back then, Rep. Joe Heck agreed with Romney.
So what are we supposed to believe here? Do Republicans support EITC or not? We guess it depends on which day it is... And what President Obama includes in his budget (regardless of whether he's magnanimously including some of their own ideas in it!).
Of course, some prominent conservative thinkers have suggested that EITC is a rather inefficient way to address poverty & economic inequality. But then again, these tend to be the same prominent conservative thinkers who support raising the minimum wage. After all, why have federal & state government subsidize major corporations' decisions to underpay their workers?
And that brings us back to the question Rep. Heck struggled to answer two weeks ago. Raising the minimum wage is likely the most efficient and cost effective way to alleviate the suffering of America's working poor. But if Rep. Heck and other Congressional Republicans are so committed to subsidizing the miserly ways of America's corporate elite, we can at least expand the Earned Income Tax Credit. And if there are enough thinking members of Congress who are willing to find a more creative solution, we can always try a combination of both.
But in a nation crippled by epic economic inequality, nothing is not a viable option. The status quo is failing America's working class. And in an ideal world, our elected officials would be considering far more than either a minimum wage increase or EITC expansion. So really, one of these (or a combination of the two) is the least we can do for those who are hurting the most.