|Rick Perry's rental mansion|
By Rania Khalek, AlterNet
Posted on September 1, 2011, Printed on September 3, 2011
With the campaign season for Republican presidential primaries in full bloom, the candidates are falling all over each other in a fierce competition to tout their conservative bona fides. Even as housing foreclosures reach all-time highs, and unemployment in some states climbs into the double digits, Republican presidential contenders remain insistent in their demands for reducing government assistance to those suffering under the weight of economic disaster. So, let's have a look at how the candidates themselves are faring on this dismal economic landscape.
1) Rick Perry
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the GOP's presidential frontrunner, according to the latest Gallup poll, is hardly an elitist. Born into a farming family of modest means in rural Haskell County, Perry continued farming cotton and raising cattle even after he was elected to the state legislature in the mid-1980s, according to the Texas Tribune, yielding him and his wife a combined income of just $45,000 -- a pittance compared to his current $150,000 annual salary as governor (not to mention the millions he's earned on the side in real estate).
You would think that a past of manual labor would have instilled in Perry a sense of solidarity with the working class, but it's just the opposite. Although Perry wasn't born into wealth, he might as well have been, given the ease with which he became accustomed to a life of privilege, which is currently being funded by the taxpaying residents of Texas.
Based on Perry's tax records, the Texas Tribune's Jay Root reveals that "Perry's biggest income gains have come from buying and selling land" during his 30 years in public office. "Since the early 1990s, when Perry began serving as a statewide elected official, the transactions have helped him earn about $2 million in pre-tax profits," according to Root.
Even with all that money, Perry finds it appropriate to use taxpayer funds to pay for his extravagant and temporary mansion, while he and his family await renovations and repairs to the governor's mansion. (An unknown arsonist practically destroyed the residence in 2008.)
According to a May 2010 Associated Press investigation, Perry "has spent almost $600,000 in public money during the past two years to live in a sprawling rental home in the hills above the capital." Texans are forking up over $10,000 a month to cover Perry's rent, which includes "utilities and upkeep to house Perry in a five-bedroom, seven-bath mansion that has pecan-wood floors, a gourmet kitchen and three dining rooms."
The AP breaks down the costs:
His 6,386-square-foot rental sits on more than three acres and was advertised in 2007 for sale at $1.85 million. Perry's state-paid expenses at the home include $18,000 for "consumables" such as household supplies and cleaning products, $1,001.46 in window coverings from upscale retailer Neiman Marcus, a $1,000 "emergency repair" of the governor's filtered ice machine, a $700 clothes rack, and a little over $70 for a two year subscription to Food & Wine Magazine. Maintenance on the heated pool has cost taxpayers at least $8,400, and the tab for grounds and lawn maintenance has topped $44,000, the records show. All told, taxpayers have spent at least $592,000 for rent, utilities, repairs, furnishings and supplies since Perry moved in.
While charging the Lone Star state a steep fee to maintain his fancy abode, Perry has kept busy slashing funds to public education and the social safety net to solve his state's budget woes. In 2011 alone, he cut $4 billion from public education and $4.8 billion from Medicaid to fill a $27 billion two-year budget gap (even as one in four Texas children are living in poverty).
He also put in place a state tax structure that redistributes wealth from the working class to the rich, a conclusion reached in a recent analysis by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.
Meanwhile, Perry complained about "the injustice that nearly half of all Americans don't even pay any income tax" during his announcement of his presidential candidacy, referring to the 50 percent of Americans who earn too little to pay income taxes, or whose tax payments are refunded through programs such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, which is a form of aid to families with children. (All legally employed Americans, however, pay federal taxes for Social Security and other benefits.)
However, Perry was kind enough to "cut back on some luxuries in response to the state's tight finances," a spokeswoman told the AP. She explained that the Perrys have restricted their help to just "one housekeeper, one full-time chef -- although a second chef works part time -- and a mansion administrator who left and was not replaced."
2) Mitt Romney
What former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney lacks in charisma he makes up for in money, with a net worth between $190 million and $250 million. He was born into a wealthy family, which clearly gave him a headstart in life and helped him amass even more wealth as a businessman, demonstrating some truth behind the slogan "the poor stay poor and the rich get rich."
Romney's large fortune wouldn't be such a point of contention if not for his stated desire to raise the retirement age for Social Security and Medicare rather than raising taxes on tax-dodging corporations and the rich. Ian Millhiser of ThinkProgress reported on Romney's June campaign stop in Iowa, where he told his audience that we "should consider a higher retirement age" as opposed to raising taxes on corporations because "corporations are people, my friends."
Since Romney's campaign is funded heavily by Wall Street banks, his willingness to coddle the rich at the expense of senior citizens isn't exactly surprising.
His rhetoric also illustrates how out of touch and disconnected he is from everyday Americans. For example, while millions of Americans struggle with losing their one and only home, Romney owns three homes: a vacation home in New Hampshire, a townhouse in Boston, and a second vacation home in La Jolla, California. Romney recently came under fire after the San Diego Union-Tribune revealed his plans to quadruple the size of his $12 million Pacific beachfront home in La Jolla.
The silver-spoon-fed millionaire is entitled to do with his money as he pleases. Still, it's near impossible to witness such ostentatious materialism by a man who says the following about the plight of society's most vulnerable, without cringing:
"The threat to our culture comes from within. In the 1960s there were welfare programs that created a culture of poverty in our country. Now some people think we won that battle when we reformed welfare, but the liberals haven't give up. At every turn they try to substitute government largess for individual responsibility. They fight to strip work requirements from welfare, to put more people on Medicaid and remove more and more people from having to pay any income tax whatsoever. Dependency is death to initiative, risk taking and opportunity. Dependency is culture killing. It's a drug. We have got to fight it like the poison it is."
Those are Romney's words from a speech he gave at the 2008 Conservative Political Action Conference, which prompted the crowd to burst into cheers and applause. His heartless rhetoric is not only reserved for the poor. Brad Johnson of ThinkProgress reported on Romney's inability to feel compassion for disaster victims, as well, when speaking about government aid for tornado-ravaged communities in the Midwest earlier this year. "We cannot afford to do those things without jeopardizing the future for our kids," Romney said, referring to deficit spending on federal disaster relief for tornado and flood victims. "It is simply immoral, in my view, for us to continue to rack up larger and larger debts and pass them on to our kids, knowing full well that we'll all be dead and gone before it's paid off. It makes no sense at all."
3) Ron Paul
Some laud Rep. Ron Paul of Texas for his vehemently anti-war stance, a position most Democrats refuse to take. He is one of the only members of Congress willing to admit that our worldwide military apparatus is both sucking our treasury dry and creating more enemies for America in the long run.
That being said, Paul has some scary plans for fixing the economy. Here are his views on "entitlements," including Social Security and Medicare, as posted on his official House of Representatives Web site:
"Fiscal conservatives should not be afraid to attack entitlements philosophically. We should reject the phony narrative that entitlement programs are inherently noble or required by "progressive" western values. Why exactly should Americans be required, by force of taxation, to fund retirement or medical care for senior citizens, especially senior citizens who are comfortable financially?"
Paul, born in 1935, is 76 years old, meaning he is eligible for Medicare and Social Security, which he refuses to access because he believes it would be morally hypocritical. While his intellectual integrity on entitlements may be commendable, the congressman's path is eased by his net worth of between $2.25 to $5 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Public education fares no better in Paul's plan for America; he hopes to one day abolish the Department of Education. In a recent meeting with a group of parents who homeschool their children, Paul displayed his distaste for public schooling (via the Huffington Post):
"The public school system now is a propaganda machine," Paul said, prompting applause from the crowd of hundreds of home schooling families. "They start with our kids even in kindergarten, teaching them about family values, sexual education, gun rights, environmentalism -- and they condition them to believe in so much which is totally un-American."
Ironically, Paul is a product of public schooling, and he's done pretty well for himself. Paul's approach to public education pretty much sums up his approach to all things public: abolish government involvement, let the so-called "free" market fix it.
4) Michele Bachmann
Rep. Michele Bachmann, Minn., may not be the richest of the GOP presidential contenders, but she still remains several hundreds of thousands of dollars wealthier than the average American. Of course, that wealth was earned through her hard work and sweat without any help from the government, right? Well, not exactly….
Not only has Bachmann collected upward of a quarter million dollars in government subsidies to prop up her family farm, an investigative report by NBC News revealed that her husband's Christian counseling clinic -- which appears to offer discredited therapies designed to turn gay and lesbian people into heterosexuals -- has collected $24,000 in federal and state funds in addition to $137,000 in Medicaid payments.
As the Bachmanns accept government money to boost their profit margins and improve their quality of life, Michele Bachmann is famous for decrying public assistance programs, even for the poor, as promoters of a culture of dependence. She has even gone so far as suggesting we "wean" people off of Social Security and Medicare, two programs that guarantee Americans won't die of hunger in their old age.
Kimberly Kimby reported last month in the Washington Post that Bachmann has benefited from one of the government-backed home loan programs offered by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, as well. "Just a few weeks before Bachmann called for dismantling the programs during a House Financial Services Committee hearing, she and her husband signed for a $417,000 home loan to help finance their move to a 5,200-square-foot golf-course home," Kimby wrote.
According to Kimby, the $760,000 home "was custom built with a paneled library, spa and wine cellar for former NFL player Ross Verba in 2005. Verba faced foreclosure after sinking more than $2 million into the property, court and mortgage records show. He originally listed the home for $1.75 million in 2007."
Bachmann didn't do anything illegal; she simply took out a federally subsidized home loan to finance her house. Yet, as Kimby points out, "Bachmann has been the most outspoken critic of the loan programs and other government subsidies among Republican presidential candidates."
Bachmann has made it clear, with both her words and legislative actions, that she is staunchly opposed to government assistance of any kind. That includes help for families struggling with foreclosure as a result of the devastated economy -- some due to the under-regulated subprime mortgage industry -- which has left many homeless. Bachmann opposed the Wall Street reform package passed by Congress in part, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, because it leaves the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac entities intact.
The Minnesota Independent reports that Bachmann's 6th congressional district takes the lead in the state's foreclosure rates, yet she has voted down all five foreclosure relief bills introduced in Congress. Bachmann believes that providing relief to families about to lose their homes, or even establishing consumer protections against malicious mortgage schemes would be tantamount to "rewarding the irresponsible while punishing those who have been playing by the rules."
With net worth of at least $900,000, according to Politico, Michele Bachmann can afford to back an agenda only a banker could love.
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As millions of Americans grapple with unemployment, foreclosure and poverty, it's frightening to consider how they would fare under a Perry, Romney, Paul, or Bachmann administration. All four candidates seem determined to enact a far-right agenda that will likely lead to the destruction of the already dwindling government programs that have kept the working class and poor from absolute destitution.
Rania Khalek is a an associate writer at AlterNet. Follow her on Twitter @Rania_ak.