Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate looks to Democrats like a classic case of “be careful what you wish for.” Ryan is a right-wing ideologue who, in tandem with Romney, helps President Obama and Democrats draw a clear line between what the two sides stand for. In that matchup, Obama stands for the centrist liberals who, with limited federal intervention, stabilized the economy and saved General Motors, Chrysler (and probably Ford, as well). Romney and Ryan stand for the radical Republicans who want to double down on the Reagan-Bush economic principles of more tax cuts and deregulation guided by “free-market” principles of “let the buyer beware.” But now, with that line drawn, the Dems had better win the election.
President Obama took office during the worst economic downturn in a generation. We now know that Republican leaders met on the evening of his inauguration and agreed not to cooperate with Obama or the Democrats in any meaningful way. They hoped the economy would deteriorate so Republicans would have an easy time unseating Obama this fall and retaking control after the 2012 election. Democrats in 2009 had a majority in the House and were able to pass progressive bills there, but they started with 58 votes in the Senate — a clear majority but two votes short of the number needed to clear the filibuster hurdle, which the obstructionist Republicans used at an unprecedented level.
When Obama got Congress to pass the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which saved or created 3.6 million jobs, he was forced to accept tax breaks as part of the package, because he needed at least two Republican votes. Republican pressure on Sen. Arlen Specter finally convinced the moderate Pennsylvania Republican to switch parties, and when Al Franken’s election finally was certified and the Minnesota Democrat was seated in July 2009, the Dems finally had their 60th vote to break the filibusters. That cleared the way for health insurance reform — as long as the Democrats held their conservatives in line and ailing Sens. Ted Kennedy and Robert Byrd were able to make procedural votes as they attempted to move the Affordable Care Act through the Senate. That is why a single payer plan was out of the question — and even an option to let the public buy into Medicare proved to be outside their grasp. It also is why Wall Street reforms got watered down, with the strongest reforms largely shot down in the Senate along corporatist lines.
The Democrats treated the banks better than they deserved but the banksters give them no thanks. They saw that they can get a better deal from the Republicans who are willing to give them the benefit of every doubt, and Wall Street is investing in Romney and other Republicans by a 2 to 1 margin. Democrats might as well make a virtue of their poverty and go after the plutocrats who, it is becoming increasingly obvious, want to destroy what remains of the New Deal and Great Society and return us to the days of the Gilded Age.
Into the mix Romney has thrust Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the House Budget chairman whose 2012 budget, approved in the House on an almost party-line vote, would have cut domestic spending for aid to the working poor and proposed to turn Medicare into a voucher program for future retirees in order to provide more tax cuts for the wealthy. That budget, while admired by respectable pundits in D.C., earned Ryan the title “the zombie-eyed granny starver” from Charles Pierce of Esquire.com.
Nothing underscores the difference between the two parties more than the debate over Medicare. Republicans have been fighting against national health insurance ever since Teddy Roosevelt proposed it in 1912. Lyndon Johnson took advantage of the opportunity when the 1964 election handed him a Democratic Congress with two-thirds supermajorities in the House and Senate that passed the health care program for seniors in 1965. Republicans have been trying to undermine Medicare ever since then.
Romney has been claiming that Obama stole $716 billion from Medicare to pay for the Affordable Care Act, but the truth, according to the Congressional Budget Office, is that the health reform bill saves $716 billion over the next 10 years through reductions in subsidies paid to insurance companies participating in the Medicare Advantage plans, reductions in the rate of growth in provider payments and efforts to make Medicare programs more efficient. In other words, the cuts are to reduce waste fraud and abuse of the programs and should result in savings of an average of $3,500 for beneficiaries through lower copayments and premiums and better benefits over the next 10 years.
In fact, the ACA improves benefits for senior citizens. It has expanded coverage of preventive care while improving quality and it has reduced the “donut hole” between limits on “Part D” coverage of prescription drugs and the cap on out-of-pocket spending by an average of $2,000 per year. It keeps Medicare Advantage, but places limits on out-of-pocket costs for in-network care for enrollees. Meanwhile, Medicare Part B and D premiums were restructured to reduce costs for most people while raising contributions from the wealthiest people with Medicare.
Ryan’s budget kept the $716 billion in cuts to Medicare. But instead of using those savings to provide other benefits for seniors, Ryan and Romney would use that money to provide more tax cuts for the wealthy and/or add a trillion dollars to the defense budget. Meanwhile, Obama cuts defense spending by hundreds of billions of dollars, raises about $1.5 trillion by letting the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy expire and puts that money into deficit reduction, which makes the need for future Medicare cuts less likely. Lately, Romney has said he would restore the funding to Medicare, which further reduces his credibility.
Ryan took his mother with him as protection when he visited a Florida retirement community Aug 18, as if his mom’s endorsement proved Ryan wouldn’t do anything to hurt senior voters. Using mothers for cover is an increasingly popular refuge for Republican congressional scoundrels who voted for Ryan’s Medicare privatization in 2011. But just because they care about their mothers doesn’t mean they care about your mothers — or your children, who might wonder how they will take care of your nursing home costs if Republicans manage to get rid of Medicaid.
The real scandal is that Republicans not only don’t see anything wrong with 50 million Americans being uninsured and another 25 million underinsured. Now they want to do away with the guaranteed benefits of Medicare and divert future retirees to the private insurance market with an offer of discount coupons. The CBO reported that Ryan’s voucher plan would cost the typical Medicare beneficiary $6,500 a year. But Republicans, with the help of Fox News and Rush Limbaugh and other right-wing radio talkers, have convinced half of the electorate that Obamacare will ration their health care. And in key states, Republican legislators have rushed into place voter suppression laws, including new voter ID requirements and limits on early voting, that they hope will keep a substantial portion of Democratic voters from actually casting ballots in November.
One of our readers suggests that evangelical Christians consider the words of Isaiah 32:5-8, which in the King James Version reads: “The vile person shall be no more called liberal, nor the churl said to be bountiful. For the vile person will speak villainy, and his heart will work iniquity, to practice hypocrisy, and to utter error against the Lord, to make empty the soul of the hungry, and he will cause the drink of the thirsty to fail. The instruments also of the churl are evil: he deviseth wicked devices to destroy the poor with lying words, even when the needy speaketh right. But the liberal deviseth liberal things; and by liberal things shall he stand.” (Some other versions of the Bible, including the Catholic, translate “liberal” as “noble.”)
I’ll leave it to our readers to figure out who is the liberal or noble leader, and who is vile or foolish, in the parable of Obama vs. Romney. — JMC
From The Progressive Populist, September 15, 2012