Thursday, March 22, 2012

Message to GOP: Dance with the People that Brung Ya

Matt Miller of the Washington Post wrote the essential column on the new fiscal 2013 budget proposal of conservative darling Paul Ryan. It's entitled "Paul Ryan's Budget to Nowhere," and it nails the key fabrication of the budget's premise:
Because we can’t keep doing everything for everybody in this country,” [Ryan] said. “We should trim down a lot of other stuff we’re doing.”
This was unintentionally revealing. Ryan has sounded this theme before. “We are at a moment,” Ryan said in his State of the Union response in 2011, “where if government’s growth is left unchecked and unchallenged . . . we will transform our social safety net into a hammock, which lulls able-bodied people into lives of complacency and dependency.”
But what hammock is Ryan talking about? The only thing slated to grow the size of government in the years ahead is the retirement of the baby boomers. The doubling of the number of people eligible for Social Security and Medicare is what is driving all the increase in federal spending — along with the spiral in system-wide health costs, which afflicts Medicare along with all privately financed health care.
If those programs for seniors haven’t been a “hammock” until now, simply doubling the number of people eligible for them can’t turn them into a “hammock” tomorrow. When it comes to fiscal policy, we have an aging population challenge, and a health-cost challenge. We don’t have a “hammock” challenge.
That's the key to understanding just what the GOP attack on American citizens is: It's not what it purports to be. Most GOPers repeat the meme that "we will transform our social safety net into a hammock" when what they really want is to take away the services that have existed for generations and have been paid for by the very participants that need them and have earned them at exactly the time they are set to receive them -- retirement. Retirement may indeed be a "hammock," but it's intended to be. It's meant to be that moment when the body, usually already starting to fail a bit, gets to rest, refresh and be attended to after forty years or more of labor.

And this moment in time has been paid for by a lifetime of social security and Medicare taxes as part of a social contract: You pay into the fund, and when it's your turn, you get to rest, relax and enjoy what time you've got left. What does the Republican Party want, an extra decade of work, often in pain and diminished capacity -- especially for those who've worked with their hands and their backs -- just before the folks croak? In a word, yes.

Why? So that we can cut taxes on the wealthy even though we've been cutting taxes on the wealthy for the better part of thirty years? Yes.

So that we can continue to fund wars that have been sucking our blood and treasure without apparent success or efficacy or real rationale? Yes.

Heaven forbid we should cut defense spending in order to meet our contractual obligations to our citizens.

I could go on, but this isn't meant to be a line-by-line analysis of Ryan's budget, which in any event is impossible because there is no line-by-line there anyway. As with many GOP proposals there's just an "end Medicare and Medicaid as we know it and while we're at it raise eligibility age on all social programs and change the COLA calculations so that benefits go down even though those doing the actual math point out that this actually raises costs" proposal that protects defense spending, massively cuts taxes on the wealthy and corporations while not spelling out the other areas of cuts required to get us anywhere near a balanced budget.

No, Ryan's proposal isn't a serious one, it's just a bomb being lobbed into the the public sphere to set up the messaging of Ryan's cohort. Pure and simple. That's his job. Conservatives can now cite Ryan's plan as if it's an authoritative study upon which to draw. It's not, but that won't stop the Jon Kyles, Tom Coburns, and John Boehners from saying things like "Paul Ryan's the first Congressman to have the courage to admit that our present spending is just not sustainable." Right, it isn't, especially if we continue to cut off the sources of revenue we've been using for taking care of our citizens.

Matt Miller points to what really happening: The baby boomers are going to retire in record numbers at a time when we as a nation are failing to control healthcare costs. In other advanced nations, populations are aging, as well. They are, however, more prepared to deal with the crisis because they've already made the commitment to single-payer healthcare and are thus in better control of costs. Only in personal-responsibility-obsessed America are we definitely screwed. Why? Because even though our citizens have been paying into the system all of our lives, personal responsibility ends at the legislature's door.

To be fair, I need to mention a key exception among advanced nations: the austerity-crazed Tories in the UK who are wreaking havoc on their economy with lower taxes, savage cuts, and plans to privatize its reasonably well-functioning healthcare system. Currently the Tory experiment has thrown the UK back into recession and actually expanded deficits, as most non-partisan economists warned would happen. But that's another, if compelling, story.

No one among the U.S. citizenry are asking for a bigger, better hammock. They're only asking for the hammock they paid for. But the perilous experiment in the UK might be pointing to a greater truth, that trimming government spending while cutting taxes will bankrupt the country, leading to a downward spiral of services to the public and protection of the infrastructure that has underpinned the economy to begin with.

Once the elderly lose their autonomy and their healthcare protection, someone has to pay for it, and historically that's been the children. When that happens the whole society will begin to spiral down, as housing costs and medical bills are borne by subsequent generations. Then the middle class, already under assault, will be decimated.

Only the wealthy will be left standing. Hummh. I'm beginning to understand Paul Ryan now. I wish millions of so-called middle-class, blue-collar Republicans would figure this out in time. Sorry to be cynical, but fat chance.

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