Today I want to talk about Paul Ryan’s proposed federal budget and ask some very serious questions of my readers as the clock keeps counting down towards a government shutdown. I was originally going to write this post on Tuesday, but I wanted to give myself some time to collect my thoughts after actually looking at Ryan’s proposal. You can read the plan for yourself here. There’s a lot in there, but since this is a health care blog, that’s where I’ll be focusing.
For those of you not up for reading the document yourselves, here are the basics as they relate to health care:
- Transforms Medicaid into a block grant
- Privatizes Medicare
- Repeals the Affordable Care Act
- Cuts taxes for the wealthiest Americans
- Cuts corporate taxes
Let me begin by saying, something has to change. This is one area where I agree with Ryan. The federal deficit and the resulting federal debt must be addressed. Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security make up a large proportion of the federal budget, so it makes sense to look at those areas when attempting to save money. And, that is basically the precise point at which we no longer see eye-to-eye.
For starters, if Rep. Ryan is so adamant about reducing the deficit, why is he cutting taxes for the wealthy and cutting programs for the poor and the elderly? Didn’t he learn back in Budget 101 that there are only three ways to reduce a deficit? You either reduce spending or you increase revenues or both. You don’t ever reduce revenues. That move alone has me convinced that Ryan is less than serious about reducing the deficit.
So, if it’s not entirely about balancing out the bottom line, what is it? I think this is about political posturing and ideology. In policy matters, the GOP is the party of the wealthy. That’s it, plain and simple. They are also the party that despises government programs for vulnerable populations, but it starts to get murky pretty quickly after that. And, it is important to note, a lot of non-wealthy middle and lower-middle class types support the GOP. Much of that has to do with things that the GOP talks a lot about, but never does anything to address. Let me explain.
Somewhere along the way, Republicans convinced a large sector of the American people that they were the party of Christians and honest, salt-of-the-earth types. At the same time, they convinced these people that the Democrats were atheistic heathens who were out of touch with reality. Their ruse worked. If you don’t believe me, read this. That might be okay if they actually did something to advance their platform, but they haven’t. Abortion is murder, and murder is sin, ergo abortion is sin, and the GOP is pro-life. Millions of people (I’m guessing) vote Republican on this issue alone. Yet the GOP hasn’t managed to move us any closer to the court overturning Roe v. Wade. Apparently that doesn’t matter.
Now ask yourself this question: Who would Jesus deny health insurance? The GOP’s answer is something like: “The 50 million or so undeserving poor and illegals.” You’ll have to forgive me for thinking they’ve missed the mark on that one. At least, that’s how it came off when the Affordable Care Act was being debated, and seniors–bless their hearts–were outraged that the government would get its hands all over their federal Medicare coverage. There was such vitriol–Obama as Hitler, the now-infamous “death panels”, and guns brought to public forums–surely the recently elected Republicans wouldn’t try similar things?
And yet they have. Ryan’s plan would privatize Medicare (at least now the seniors’ protest signs will be right) and–get this–basically create a federally-subsidized health insurance exchange for seniors. If that sounds like the Affordable Care Act to you, congratulations. The GOP plan to save money is modeled on the plan Democrats passed last year, which shouldn’t be a surprise. As I and others wrote about, that plan was originally a Republican one to begin with. But, for seniors and the disabled, this is going to mean higher out-of-pocket costs. That wasn’t true under “Obamacare.” If they were so up in arms then, they should be utterly outraged now, but I haven’t seen it.
Things are even worse for Medicaid. By turning the program into a block grant, states get a fixed amount of money from the feds. When that’s gone, there is no more coverage, shifting full responsibility for the entire cost of their care onto pregnant women, children, the low-income elderly and disabled. Well, by all means, those seem like the people who are most capable of getting a job and taking care of themselves! There’s no way to reconcile that type of attitude towards the vulnerable with notions of decency, fairness, or Christian morality.
If the budget was mine to make, here’s what I would suggest: First, don’t cut taxes for anyone. That doesn’t mean you have to raise them (although I’d look into a flat tax), but by cutting taxes you’re making your job of reducing the deficit harder than it has to be from the very beginning. Second, don’t cut programs that provide for our nation’s most vulnerable populations. There are plenty of other places to find substantial savings. Rep. Ryan’s plan is entitled “A Roadmap for America’s Future.” Balancing the budget is an important part of that, but he would do well to remember that, much like the church his party strives to appeal to, it is the people–not the building or the money–that defines us.