Friday, April 8, 2011

The Serious Republicans

As I glance at my TV screen, I see that we are just over nine hours from a government shutdown -- a shutdown that will reduce national GDP by 0.2% for every week that it continues. The Republicans say they are serious about reducing the deficit and that this is just the first step. However, even though the Democrats have already granted them the spending cuts they first asked for ($31 billion) and then increased that ($38 billion), this is not good enough for the serious Republicans. Instead, they are now demanding cuts of over $60 billion (which the Tea Party folks still don't believe is enough) AND demanding that Planned Parenthood be defunded -- a concession which would do virtually nothing to reduce the deficit, but which would certainly go a long way towards appeasing the base of the GOP/Tea Partiers.

I ask -- is this the position of a party that claims it is serious? I don't think so. So let's look at what else is being discussed by this serious party -- the Ryan budget.

Paul Ryan, whom David Brooks lauds as being serious, has relied on budget projections from the Heritage Foundation of all places to show how his plan will reduce the deficit, reduce unemployment and raise the general prosperity of all Americans. Let's look at these in order.

As far as reducing the deficit goes, the Ryan plan actually does virtually nothing to accomplish this. Almost all spending cut savings will be eliminated by the massive tax cuts for the people who don't need them. Ryan's plan calls for a reduction on the highest tax bracket from 35% to 25% -- a return to the Coolidge/Hoover tax rates on the rich. All this is done on the shoulders of the bottom 90% of the American people, especially seniors and the poor. John Bouman of the Shriver Center notes that the Ryan budget proposes $4.3 trillion in spending cuts over the next ten years that is entirely offset by $4.2 trillion in tax cuts that overwhelmingly favor the top tax brackets. This is nothing but a war on the poor, working and middle classes. Is this something we really call serious?

Next, Ryan's budget as originally written (it has since been changed) used Heritage Foundation numbers to assure us that within four years unemployment would be reduced to less than 5%, and even further to just 2.8% by 2021. This would be wonderful -- except that it is nothing but a made-up number. The Heritage Foundation scrubbed these numbers from its website shortly after the Ryan budget was released. Even they don't believe their own garbage. Unemployment didn't reach this low even during World War II or the Korean War. If it didn't go that low then, why on earth would any serious person believe it would go that low now?

As far as raising the general prosperity of all Americans, the Ryan budget destroys Medicare. Instead, it proposes giving vouchers to seniors to purchase their own health insurance -- a $15,000 voucher to start. Sounds good, right? Until you realize that most seniors can't buy into employer or group health plans and that most seniors already have healthcare costs far greater than the average American. That means that they would be forced to purchase plans (if they can even find one) that will force them to pay much more out of their own pockets than they are paying now for plans with reduced coverage, higher deductibles and the inability to choose their own providers as Medicare now allows them. It also calls for the amount of the vouchers to be tied to inflation -- not to health care cost inflation, which has risen dramatically faster than general inflation over the last 20 years. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the vouchers will cover no more than 33% of the amount required to purchase insurance for seniors by 2030. This is nothing but a step toward the Republican wet dream of destroying FDR's New Deal policies and LBJ's Great Society policies. This is a serious plan?

In addition to the destruction of Medicare, Ryan's plan proposes completely changing Medicaid, instead granting block grants to the states to spend as they please. I live in Arizona. Trust me, I don't want Jan Brewer and Russell Pearce determining how Medicaid is allocated. We've already seen that and it isn't pretty. I certainly don't call this a serious plan -- although it is very serious about destroying the social safety net for the elderly and the poor that we have built over the last 75 years.

Under the Ryan plan, people making over $1 million per year will see an increase in their net income of $125K per year, while the poor, working and middle classes will all see vast reductions. This will be the greatest redistribution of wealth in history -- and I thought that those conservative Republicans were supposed to be all about opposing wealth redistribution. I guess that's true -- except when the wealth continues to be redistributed upwards as it has been for the last 30 years. It's just that nasty downward redistribution they oppose.

Note that the Congresscritters who will be voting on this will not be affected in the same way that most Americans will. The average net worth of a U.S. Senator is something in the range of $1.4 million, while Representatives are much worse off at only about $680K each. Something tells me that they don't rely on things like Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid.

While we're discussing how serious the Republicans are, let's take a quick look at a few of their potential presidential candidates. Donald Trump and Mike Huckabee both worry about whether President Obama was born in the U.S. Michele Bachmann doesn't know American history that I learned in the third grade, despite having a B.A. and a law degree (the law degree came from Oral Roberts University, so I'm not sure you can really count it). Sarah Palin quit her job halfway through and thinks any criticism of her is blood libel, thus refusing to talk to anyone other than through Fox News and Facebook. Herman Cain is just plain nuts, as are both Ron and Rand Paul. Serial adulterer Newt Gingrich blames his adultery on his love for his country. Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty have changed their opinion on issues to suit the Republican base more often than a mother changes her newborn's diapers. Are these people really considered serious?

The bottom line is that it is time for Democrats, liberals, progressives -- whatever the hell we want to call ourselves -- to wake up and realize that the Republicans/Tea Partiers are trying to destroy everything we've built since 1932. It's time to stop this nonsense -- now.

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