A Modest Proposal

Most people don’t realize it yet, but if there is no deal to raise the debt ceiling by August 2, a massive shift of political power from the legislative branch to the executive branch will take place.

If Republicans fail to act responsibly and agree to increase the debt limit, they will in effect give President Obama and the Treasury Secretary, Tim Geithner, the authority to pay the nation’s bills with limited income.  Thus, Geithner and Obama will be forced to choose which bills get paid and which won’t. (Geithner’s already doing this now.)

Reportedly, after August 2  the Treasury Department will be about $120 billion short of paying our bills each month, if the debt ceiling is not raised.

Given that reality, here is a proposal (not  original) for how to operate in a post-August 2, no-deal environment. Call it political triage:

♦ Immediately gather a list of the reddest Republican counties in the United States, according to the 2010 “tea party” elections.

♦ Prepare to withhold all federal payments to those Republican-red counties, including Social Security and Medicare benefits to the residents of those counties.

♦ Then, should Republicans refuse to raise the debt ceiling, first pay all interest due to bondholders, then begin withholding federal funds to those red counties in descending order of redness until enough money is saved to prevent further borrowing.

There. That should do it.

I feel better already.

 

Jo Ann Emerson Asks For Forgiveness?

In the run-up to the 2010 elections, many Missouri bloggers tried to remind folks about Roy Blunt’s connection to Jack Abramoff and Tom DeLay, both convicted felons, as well as Blunt’s other rather extensive ties to lobbyists. 

He trounced Robin Carnahan by a 54-41 margin.

Many also tried to point out his crucial role in the last-minute passing of the Medicare Part D entitlement—unfunded—which he acted out by helping the House Republican leadership cajole and caress as many reluctant Republicans as they could in order to get their votes, sometimes getting them to switch their votes. (FiredUp!Missouri has a nice summary of the sordid tale here.)

After all, as The Washington Post put it, the House leadership made sure their members knew the prescription drug benefit issue was important “to the party and the president.”

Yeah.  And to the drug companies.

The pharmaceutical industry benefits from the legislation because most of the cost is picked up by taxpayers and the Medicare program is not allowed to negotiate prices with the drug companies. Not allowed by law.  By a law that was pushed by Tom DeLay and Roy Blunt and enacted in 2003 by a majority of Republicans, including by Representative Jo Ann Emerson, a legislative neighbor of Blunt’s here in Missouri at the time.

As former Reagan domestic policy adviser and Bush I treasury official Bruce Bartlett said, “the Medicare drug benefit was a pure giveaway,” and it, “had no dedicated financing, no offsets and no revenue-raisers; 100% of the cost simply added to the federal budget deficit.”  He added:

…anyone who voted for the drug benefit, especially someone who switched his vote to make its enactment possible, has zero credibility. People like Franks ought to have the decency to keep their mouths shut forever when it comes to blaming anyone else for increasing the national debt.

He finished with this:

It astonishes me that a party enacting anything like the drug benefit would have the chutzpah to view itself as fiscally responsible in any sense of the term. As far as I am concerned, any Republican who voted for the Medicare drug benefit has no right to criticize anything the Democrats have done in terms of adding to the national debt.

Well, Jo Ann Emerson, who represents the south central and southeast part of our state, was one of those Republicans who voted for the prescription drug bill to keep it alive in the House.  And she was one of those who changed her vote, at the behest of Roy Blunt.  And then she voted against it on final passage.

Go figure.

In any case, I’m not at this time going to knock Emerson for that vote-and-switch. That’s not the point I want to make.

I want to offer her some praise.

Perhaps out of some kind of legislative penance, she is trying to make amends.  According to Vermont Public Radio Emerson is co-sponsoring a bill with Vermont Democrat Peter Welch that would,

allow the federal government to negotiate prices for prescription drugs that are bought under the Medicare Part D program.

Congressman Welch has essentially called Medicare Part D a “corrupt bargain,” and claims that his and Emerson’s bill would save taxpayers $156 billion over the next ten years by giving the government the power to negotiate a bulk discount for drugs.

The idea has failed before but Welch is optimistic about the bill’s chances this time:

I think we’ve got a pretty good shot at passing it this year because there is such a focus on the budget. The total focus on the new Republican majority is on cutting spending. This is tailor-made to help them achieve that goal. It’s $160 billion in savings. I think it’s a very compelling argument and it will allow those who claim they want to taxpayer money a chance to do so.

I’m not exactly sure how proud Rep. Emerson is of her co-sponsorship of this bill, since I could find nothing about it on her website, but here’s hoping she will enthusiastically work out her penance for her past legislative sins, at least one of them at the urging of Roy Blunt.

And perhaps this proposal will serve as a test for those Republicans in Congress who talk big about the debt and deficit but often shrink in the presence of traditional Republican constituents like the drug companies.

Run, Ryan, Run

Jonathan Chait, in a surprisingly persuasive piece, proposes that Paul Ryan may actually run for President after all:

When you have the power to set your party’s vision of government for the next fifty years, and nobody in the party is allowed to disagree with you, or even dodge paying fealty to you, then you already are the party leader. Ryan’s disavowals of interest never struck me as terribly strong.

Indeed.  Chait also points out that Ryan opened the door fairly wide by telling Fox’s Neil Cavuto that, “I think I want to see how this field develops.”

I, for one, hope he does run.  We need to have that national fight.

And if he does decide to enter the race, as Chait points out, he will certainly be the front runner.  In fact, I think he would, without much of a fight, become the GOP nominee.

An important consideration is that Ryan has a fairly friendly press on his side. As Paul Krugman notes, “much of the punditocracy (myself obviously not included) still has a crush on him.”  All one had to do to confirm that was watch Meet The Press last Sunday.  It was hard to take.

It is agonizing to hear the discussions of the Ryan-Republican budget plan on television for the reasons Krugman and others point out.  Ryan is always credited with courage for his efforts and Republicans in general are given good marks for solidarity. And the pundits rarely get it right about the nature of the plan, about its extremist design.

But Democrats must never tire in pointing out the obvious: The Republican plan for Medicare and Medicaid would dramatically change those programs, essentially killing Medicare.  As Steve Benen puts it:

Congressional Republicans have a plan to end Medicare and replace it with a privatized voucher scheme. The proposal would not only help rewrite the social contract, it would also shift crushing costs onto the backs of seniors, freeing up money for tax breaks for the wealthy. The plan is needlessly cruel, and any serious evaluation of the GOP’s arithmetic shows that the policy is a fraud.

Benen asks:

Which part of this description is false? None of it, but apparently, Democrats just aren’t supposed to mention any of this. One party is allowed to present this agenda, but the other party is expected to sit quietly on their hands.

Well, if Paul Ryan does make a run for the presidency, there can’t be any Democrats sitting quietly on their hands because all hands will be needed to prevent the decimation of our current social contract. Needless to say, were he to run and win, America would look very different.

And that’s why he needs to run.  We need to find out if Americans really want to live in a Tea Party Nation.

Because I like metaphors, particularly in this case, I thought I would offer yet another one, in the form of an analogy by Paul Krugman, who also takes a shot at The Washington Post and the whole “Ryan is courageous” meme:

…think of Medicare as a footbridge that is deteriorating and will eventually become unsafe. You could propose structural repairs to fix its faults; Ryan doesn’t do that. Instead, he proposes knocking the bridge down and replacing it with trampolines, in the hope that pedestrians can bounce across the stream. And the Post declares that he deserves credit for pointing out that the bridge is falling down, and proposing a solution. Um, we knew that the bridge was in bad shape — and his solution is a fraud.

Pick Your Medicare Metaphor

Apparently, there was a testy exchange between Paul Ryan and President Obama yesterday at the White House, during the House GOP-Obama budget discussions, which involved all but one member of the House Republican caucus.

The issue was related to how to properly describe the conservative plot to kill Medicare.  You see, Republicans say they believe it is in the best interests of the country to euthanize the Medicare program, sort of to put it—and the country, presumably—out of future misery. 

That mercy-killing, if you will, doesn’t sit well with the American people.  They sort of don’t want to see Medicare die at the hands of gleeful Republicans.  And those Republicans, who recognize that their plan isn’t popular, sort of want the Democratic Party to help them get away with the caper by not calling it what it is.  They also want Democrats to sort of join them in some way—perhaps by agreeing to a plan to drastically cut Medicare—so that the killing looks like a bipartisan job. 

It amounts to this: When Medicare is finally put to eternal sleep, Republicans would like for Democrats to be on the other side of the bed to help say goodbye.

The truth is that Republicans fear they will suffer mightily at the polls next year unless Democrats come to their political rescue by agreeing to something on Medicare that will let Republicans off the hook, a hook almost all of them are hanging on due to their vote for Ryan’s budget plan.

I heard a GOP congressman from Texas last night essentially say that Republicans aren’t “married” to the Ryan plan and were willing to listen to Democratic ideas.

Yes, I bet they are.

That same congressman also said he didn’t like to hear the plan mischaracterized.  I’m sure he wouldn’t like my “euthanize Medicare” metaphor, and he said didn’t appreciate the metaphor of “throwing grandma under the bus.”

No?

Okay.  I’ve got one that better describes the situation.  I agree that Republicans aren’t really trying to throw today’s grandmas under the bus. Republicans are actually trying to gather up all the current grandmas and herd them onto the bus.  Then that bus full of current grandmas will roll over the backs of all the future grandmas, who Republicans are throwing under the bus.

There. That’s better.

Freedom Works’ Crib Notes

While the national media foolishly and sadly follow Sarah Palin around the country, serious Tea Party people—Palin is not seriously thinking about running for president—are focusing on the battle ahead.

Dick Armey, former House Majority Leader and now Pooh-Bah of Freedom Works, has graciously supplied freshman House Republicans with a few simple points to make about the party’s plan to hold the debt ceiling hostage in exchange for some ideological candy and about the party’s plot to murder Medicare in its sleep.

Debt Ceiling:Key point: the world does not end if the debt ceiling is not raised. Treasury Secretary Geitner [sic] is not likely to default on our loans. Spending cuts will become a priority before default.”

Translation: We don’t have to worry about any fallout from our irresponsible behavior.  Geithner will either have to do our bidding or we will blame him for any trouble!  It’s that simple fellow Republicans!

Medicare Caper:Get out there and talk to people. Hold town halls at senior centers and other areas where the population is especially concerned about their benefits being cut. Take the lessons of ’94 and ’95 and get out there and explain to people that their immediate benefits will not be affected.”

Translation: Go tell the old folks who love their Medicare, and who vote in droves, that they have nothing to fear.  We’re not going to murder their Medicare, only their children’s and grandchildren’s Medicare. What old-timer wouldn’t buy into that plan?  No harm, no foul. The geezers get to keep (most) of their current bennies, while the younger folks will both pay for those bennies and cough up more scrilla for cost increases in their own health care coverage resulting from our stingy “new” plan.  Let’s hope the voters don’t figure out the unfairness of that part of our electoral scheme.

The Myth Of Doing Nothing: “We need to dispel the myth that if we leave Medicare alone it will stay the same. It won’t…Democrats do not have a plan of their own. Hold up a blank piece of paper as a powerful image of their do-nothing approach. Stick to your message.”

Translation: As long as Democrats are just trying to keep us from killing Medicare, we can win the message battle by simply saying our plan to kill it is the only one out there.

Republican Math, You Know

I know much has been made about Bill Clinton’s “I hope Democrats don’t use it as an excuse to do nothing” backstage comment to Paul Ryan, about the dazzling win by a pro-Medicare Democrat in blood-red NY-26.

But let’s look at Ryan’s comment to Clinton:

My guess is it’s gonna sink into paralysis, is what’s gonna happen. And you know the math. I mean, It’s just — we knew we were putting ourselves out there. But you gotta start this. You gotta get out there. You gotta get this thing moving.

Despite Ryan’s sounding like a wounded pup looking for some comfort from his master, I will give him and the Republicans credit for putting themselves “out there.” They are out there, that’s for sure. But I’m more interested in this part of Ryan’s comment:

You know the math.

Ah. The math. As columnist Gene Lyons has said, Republicans have been waging a war on arithmetic for years. Now, it turns out that Ryan knows “the math.” And he knows others “know the math.” Which doesn’t explain why, if the math is so crystal clear, why his budget plan—now the plan of the entire Republican Party—fails so miserably in its arithmetic.

Let’s forget for the moment the eventual and drastic reductions in Medicaid; let’s forget for a moment the destruction of the Medicare system, replacing it with something worth much less; let’s forget about the cuts in domestic programs like food stamps—which money goes directly in the coffers of local retailers like Wal-Mart and Target and other grocers—and instead, let’s just focus for a minute on the Republican vision for taxes—which any realistic budget mathematician has to consider—and see what we find.

We find tax cuts.

That’s right. The man and the party so concerned about “the math” propose to cut taxes even more, cutting the top individual rate from the current 35% down to 25%, which represents the lowest rate since 1931. You remember 1931, right? That was before Social Security. Before Medicare. Before Medicaid. Before Democrats stepped in to rescue America from that era’s Republican Tea Party dominance.

With a federal budget already starving from insufficient revenues, a budget that is as much a victim of Republican arithmetic as an aging population, we have Republicans in Congress—both chambers, now—proposing to cut taxes even more, suggesting, as they always do, that doing so will result in—voilà!—a thriving, prosperous, job-creating economy. You know, like the one George W. Bush left us!

Paul Ryan said to Bill Clinton, “You know the math.” Yes, we know the math, the Republican math.

And a lot of us know it doesn’t add up, not now, not ten years ago, or twenty years into the future.

Roy Blunt Weighs In On Kill-Medicare Budget Plan

I want to mention Missouri Senator Roy Blunt’s comment on the Paul Ryan/Republican Party throw-Medicare-from-the-train budget proposal, as well as his comment on Newt Gingrich’s assessment of the “radical” GOP budget plan.

Here’s what Blunt said to ABC News on Tuesday:

I don’t think it’s an extreme proposal at all….It’s not a radical idea. It’s one of many ideas we ought to be looking at…

Newt is an ideas guy…I didn’t understand the radical, right-wing social engineering comment and I suspect he wishes he hadn’t described it that way.  It would be a change but not a dramatic change. It’s just a different way of looking at how we provide choices for health care for people—you get competition and you get transparency as part of the process and when you have choice and transparency you wind up with better price and better quality and that’s one of the things we need to look at…

First, Blunt is lying through his Baptist teeth when he says he doesn’t understand Newt’s “radical, right-wing engineering comment.”  Of course he understands it; that’s why he suggests Newt should change it.

Second, that stuff about “choice and transparency” leading to “better price and better quality” has been contradicted by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, which estimated that the Ryan-Republican plan would cost those who reach 65 in ten years much more money, upwards of $12,500, or 61% of the cost of the average private plan.

Two more things from the ABC interview: Blunt irresponsibly threatened to not vote for an increase in the debt ceiling (the President, Blunt said, is “clearly gonna have to make some structural change decisions“) and he indicated he would vote against an effort in the Senate to cut off some of the subsidies oil companies are getting from taxpayers.  Wow. What a shocker.

For the record, last year Blunt was, according to OpenSecrets, in “the all-time top 10” for BP oil money in the House and was a major recipient of oil and gas money last year. 

(H/T, FiredUp!Missouri.)

__________________________


None Dare Call It Radical

lt is clear that the Ryan budget plan has now become a litmus test for conservatives. 

When I heard Newt Gingrich criticize the plan on Meet the Press on Sunday, I assumed he would get some flak from conservatives, but I didn’t think conservatives would attack him so vehemently, so mercilessly.  It just shows how much Republicans have invested in their Murder Medicare scheme, and how they can’t afford to tolerate criticism of it from anyone on their side.

Gingrich said about the Ryan-Republican plan:

I don’t think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering. I don’t think imposing radical change from the right or the left is a very good way for a free society to operate.

Charles Krauthammer, who less than a month ago wrote that Gingrich was a “smart guy…a Vesuvius of ideas,” pronounced dead Gingrich’s presidential aspirations by calling his views  “contradictory and incoherent.”  Joe Scarborough this morning echoed that sentiment, accusing Newt of not being a real conservative.  Other prominent conservatives have said much the same.

As for the architect of the plot to kill Medicare, the Associated Press reported:

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan said Monday that Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich does not fully understand a GOP proposal to turn Medicare into a voucher system, dismissing criticism from the former House speaker that the plan would be a radical change.

The “smart guy,” the “Vesuvius of ideas,” just doesn’t understand the plan.  He doesn’t get it.  If only he could see that the plan, in Ryan’s words, “is one of the most gradual things one could do.”  As if the slow death of Medicare is somehow less offensive than a speedier one.

But the truth is that Gingrich does understand the plan. He correctly labeled it as “right-wing social engineering” because that is exactly what it is, although one could say “re-engineering.” In fact, Gingrich said—confirming Krauthammer’s “contradictory and incoherent” comment—that he would have voted for the plan because it represented “the first step.”

That first step, of course, is destroying Medicare as we know it.

What conservatives and Republicans are afraid of, obviously, is that Democrats will use Gingrich’s language against every single Republican running next year, not just those House Republicans who voted for it.  (Senate Republicans haven’t yet been forced to vote on the plan, although Sen. Harry Reid keeps promising he will force them to do so.)

As it stands, not one single serious Republican presidential candidate or potential candidate has actually endorsed the plan, although Mitch Daniels labeled itserious,”  and Tim Pawlenty said Ryan offered “real leadership,” and Mitt Romney said Ryan is “setting the right tone.”

Despite the fact that the national candidates are reluctant to actually go with Paul Ryan and his fellow Republicans as they slip into Medicare’s bedroom and murder it in its sleep, they appear to be willing to wait in the getaway car outside, as the culprits do the dirty work.

And that’s the purpose of the conservative litmus test. If one goes to jail for this crime, all go.  At the very least, GOP candidates will not be allowed to openly criticize the budget plan.  If they do, they will receive the Gingrich treatment, essentially a pair of cement loafers and a trip to the North Arabian Sea to visit Osama bin Laden.

Thus, Democrats need to expose not only the actual killers, but the accomplices, those Republicans who remain silent as the murderous plot unfolds.

The Past, The Present, And The Future

Thanks to “links master” Juan Don for linking me to an article on PoliticalCorrection.org titled, “The Many Errors of Fact in Speaker Boehner’s Wall Street Speech.” 

Anyone interested in the facts, as opposed to the ideological hallucinations of Republicans, about where we are economically, how we got here, and where we will go if Republicans get both hands on the wheel of government, should take the time to follow the link and read the article.

Here I want to reproduce just two of the many graphs provided, which should be used by Democrats at every gathering of two or more potential voters.  The first one looks at the past and present and demonstrates two trends that should please every conservative Republican in the country [click on for better view]:

As you can see the trend line for private-sector job growth is up and the trend line for public-sector job growth is down, a state of affairs that any Republican would be proud to feature on Koch-sponsored billboards across America.  As the accompanying text points out:

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, there were 107,649,000 private sector jobs in July 2009. As of April 2011, the most recent report available, the data show that total is up to 108,862,000 — a net gain of 1,213,000 jobs in the private sector.

Thank you, Democratic Party.

The second graph looks to the future:

Thank you, Republican Party.

What could be clearer than this graph?  The cost-shifting is dramatic.  And keep in mind that while those who turn 65 in 2022 will see their share of health-care spending double, they will also be paying for the relatively generous benefits of seniors who were lucky enough to turn 65 before the results of Republican political philosophy kicked in. 

Just how long do current seniors believe that the “youngsters” will tolerate that asymmetrical situation?  That’s why I believe Democrats should also make current seniors—who the GOP has ostensibly exempted from the draconian effects of their kill-Medicare plan—aware that unless everyone is playing by the same rules, there is some real danger that their comparatively generous benefits will also disappear.

These two graphs, which represent the past, present, and future, should pop up everywhere a Democratic candidate speaks.

A Geezerhood Of Lack

On ABC’s This Week on Sunday I watched a segment featuring GOP budget mogul Paul Ryan and the Republican plan to murder Medicare in its sleep.

Part of the segment was taped at one of Ryan’s town hall meetings, in which the older folks tend to turn out in force.  One couldn’t help but notice that most of the people were 55 or over, since Ryan cleverly asked those who were 55 or over to identify themselves with a show of hands. He told those folks they had nothing to worry about because, “this budget does not affect your Medicare benefits.”

Essentially, he was implying that the people who should be worried are those younger folks who will not only get stuck with the bill for those who raised their hands in that room, but will also get stuck with a new system designed to relegate them to a geezerhood of lack.

Part of the pain Republicans want to inflict to “solve” our debt problems falls on those whom Republicans hope won’t be all that worried about a future that is so many years away.  And everyone knows it is pure politics to tell all those geezers, who proudly raise their hands at town hall meetings, that they could comfortably vote for Republican candidates who want to end Medicare because they will be unaffected. 

Not to worry, says the GOP.

Except, how can the geezers be so sure?  Just how long can they count on the younger folks to keep paying for wheelchairs and medicine and transplants—you know, all the good stuff that comes with aging—after those younger folks figure out that while they are paying for those generous Medicare benefits, their own golden years will in reality be their tin-can years.

As in, “Brother, can you spare several thousand bucks so I can get insurance?

Ryan was asked what he thought of Speaker John Boehner’s crawdadding comment about the budget plan, including the Speaker saying that he wasn’t necessarily “wedded to one single idea.”

Ryan said,

I’ve talked to John about this. It’s an institutional statement reflecting budget resolutions. And what a budget resolution — which is what we’ve passed — it’s the architecture of a budget.

While the architect of the GOP budget doesn’t seem to have any doubts whatsoever about his design plan, it seems that the leader of the Republican Party in the House does. 

And let’s hope that the people who will ultimately have to live within the Republican architecture will get a good look at the engineering that went into the plan and realize that, for those under 55 at least, it is a house of cards.

Michele Bachmann Wants To Raise Taxes, But Not On The Wealthy

Michele Bachmann, billed as a “Tea Party star,” appeared on ABC’s Good Morning America this morning and said some amazing things.  But before I get to those amazing things, I want to show how George Stephanopoulos set up the interview. 

It began with these revealing graphics created from the newest ABC News/Washington Post poll:

Let’s talk about these poll numbers,” Stephanopoulos began, “that seems to be very strong support for President Obama’s position in this budget fight and a rebuke of the House Republican position.” 

Bachmann responded:

I think if you look at those numbers that would be accurate, but I don’t think that totally reflects where the American people are coming from.  First of all, if we tax 100% of what everyone made who make $250,000 or more—everything they made—that would get us about 6 months worth of revenue—

STEPHANOPOULOS: Every bit helps, doesn’t it?

BACHMANN: Well, but it wouldn’t be enough.  I think that’s what’s shocking. We could take 100% of all the profits of every Fortune 500 company and that would give us 40 days worth of revenue. We could also take 100% of everything that the billionaires in this country own and that wouldn’t be enough to solve the problem.  So it’s really a matter of having everyone involved. Part of the problem, George, is that 47% of all Americans pay virtually no federal income tax.  So, we need to broaden the base.

Let’s stop here and analyze what she has said so far:

♦ The ABC/Post poll numbers aren’t accurate because they don’t fit her view of what the American people believe.

♦ She dodges the issue of the wealthy paying more taxes by turning the conversation to an absurd idea of confiscating all profits and all wealth (no matter how accurate her numbers), a typical Rush Limbaugh trick.

♦ She argues for a tax increase on all Americans.  Yes, she did, my teapartying friends.  She just sat there in front of God and George Stephanopolous and said,

“We need to broaden the base.”

What base?  The income tax base.  Those deadbeat Americans who aren’t paying any federal income tax need to cough it up.  How else do you “broaden” the income tax base without making people who aren’t paying income taxes pay them? 

Let’s be clear: In response to a question about widespread support among Americans for raising taxes on the wealthy, a popular Tea Party Republican (potential) candidate for president insisted that instead of the wealthy, the non-wealthy ought to pay more taxes!

Nevermind that most of those who don’t pay federal income taxes are among those with low or moderate incomes, who nevertheless pay Social Security and Medicare and sales and property taxes.

But she wasn’t done:

STEPHANOPOULOS: You say that everyone has to be involved and I think that’s reflected also in those numbers. A lot of Americans look at those numbers and say it’s wrong for seniors who rely on Medicare to get cuts when wealthy people get tax cuts extended.

BACHMANN: Well, and I think that again President Obama was the one who was behind the tax cut extension bill in December. That was his position.  And I would agree with senior citizens. We’re very concerned.  And I think that’s why a better name maybe for the Paul Ryan budget would be the “55 and under plan.”  Because no one 55 years of age or older will see any change whatsoever to Medicare. That’s an extremely crucial piece of information.

So, we don’t want any senior citizen to feel, or near senior citizen—I’m 55 years old, and so it wouldn’t apply to me either—and so there are no changes to people who are 55 years or older…

Besides the disgusting chutzpah of blaming Obama for the tax cut extension for the wealthy—when Bachmann and her Republican friends were holding hostage the unemployed and the economy last December—here we see, as Bachmann laid it out, the strategy for attacking Obama during the 2012 campaign season and defending the Republican “kill-Medicare and maim-Medicaid” budget plan:

♦ Claim Obama agrees that cutting taxes for the wealthy helps the economy since he signed off on those tax cuts.

♦ Claim that the Republican Party is really the party looking out for seniors since the GOP plan would leave a relatively generous Medicare benefit package in place until those seniors die, no matter how much hurt it places on those under 55.  Thus, Bachmann labels this “an extremely crucial piece of information.” 

It’s “crucial” because those 55 and older show up and vote in droves both in mid-term elections (around 60%) and presidential elections (around 70%).  And those who show up tend to vote for Republicans (in 2010, 59% of them). In fact, in 2010, even though voters 65 and older make up only 13% of the population at large, they accounted for a staggering 21% of the 2010 electorate. 

And the wealthy, of course, are part of the mix, too. A Project Vote study reported that in 2010:

The number of ballots cast by Americans from households making over $200,000 a year increased by 68 percent compared to 2006.

It’s not hard to understand how Republicans are planning their path to victory in 2012.

But despite Bachmann’s extremely crucial piece of information, Democrats have their own, which they need to broadcast night and day:

Republicans will stop at nothing to defend their rich constituents and they want to solve all of our budget problems on the backs of the poor, the disabled, and the working class.

Just think about this: The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that those unfortunate folks under 55 today, if the GOP has its way with its budget plan, would be expected to fork over more than two-thirds of the cost for their health care by the year 2030, even while paying current Medicare benefits for those currently 55 and over.

If that crucial piece of information doesn’t get the young and non-wealthy out to vote next year, then nothing will.

Ozark Billy Snubs The Erstwhile Conservative

On Saturday, I continued my tradition of attending the annual Joplin Tea Party rally.

Unfortunately for organizers, though, there weren’t that many teapartiers who were willing to continue their tradition of attending.  This year’s contingent was much smaller than last year’s, which was much smaller than the year before. 

But the sparse crowd—maybe 150 folks—was nevertheless thrown lots of blood-red meat from the speakers, which besides the usual locals, included would-be senator Rep. Todd Akin, who has never met a Democrat who wasn’t also a socialist, and, of course, Colonel Ozark Billy Long.

Now, I happened to be standing in the back of the crowd, when I spotted Colonel Billy trying to slip away from the area where the speakers were huddled:

Sensing a chance to talk to the Colonel one-on-one, I hurried over to where I thought he was heading, camera in tow.  I was prepared to make and post a newsworthy video for my faithful readers.  As I was walking, I looked up and saw Ozark Billy staring at me as I approached, with an unwelcoming look on his face. Nevertheless,  I pressed on, again, with camera in tow.

As I walked up to my congressman, my representative, I introduced myself and told him I was from Joplin, clearly identifying myself as one of his constituents.  I asked him if he minded if I interviewed him with my camera on.  No, he said.  Really? I asked.  No, he said, I don’t want you to do that.  Well, I protested, why can’t I use it?  He anxiously looked around as if he were waiting on someone, then responded again that he didn’t want me to use the camera. He said, what is it you want to ask me?

Okay, I thought. No camera, thus, no record of our conversation, but I must soldier on.

I told him I wanted to talk about his vote on the Ryan budget plan the previous day, which essentially does away with Medicare while giving tax cuts to the wealthy.  I asked him how he justified that vote.  We have to do something, he said. He told me that what the plan does is merely give people a “cafeteria” plan like he gets as a government employee.  Since Ozark Billy didn’t know I had been a government employee, I suppose he thought that his response would suffice to shut me up.  But, of course, it didn’t.

I hurriedly explained to him—he was getting fidgety waiting— that the Ryan Medicare plan would end Medicare as we know it, and the so-called voucher proposal for those under 55 would not be sufficient to purchase insurance and people would have to pay much more out of their pockets.  I added that those under 55, even while receiving reduced benefits themselves, would be forced to pay for the current Medicare system, the beneficiaries of which will continue to receive the current generous benefits for many, many years.

He didn’t dispute that but merely reiterated that something needed to be done because the system was designed when people only lived to be “48 years old.”  Aghast at that, I responded with a “that’s simply not true,” and was poised to explain why.  Except that a vehicle—the one Ozark Billy had been so anxiously awaiting—pulled up beside us. And without even saying goodbye, in went the Colonel and off went the car. 

I, one of Congressman Long’s constituents, was left standing on the sidewalk, camera in tow.

Long returned a short time later and gave a speech that was mostly a repeat of an interview he gave to local right-wing radio station, KZRG.  He even gave us another rendition of his now-famous “auction chant.”  The small crowd cheered.  I turned red with embarrassment.

But toward the end of his speech, Ozark Billy said the following to the crowd, and to me, the camera-toting constituent he had earlier snubbed:

We’re just having a lot of good success helping people. But it is the House of Representatives. Never forget that. It is the House of Representatives.

I’ve got a Bozo on the front of my truck—a lot of people say how come you got Bozo on the dash?—that’s to remind me—and I’ve had it on there for years—that’s to remind me not to take myself too seriously. I’m doing your work in D.C., and I was standing right down there last year with ya and I’ll be back down there in a minute…

Good! I thought to myself. He’s doing “our” work. And he’s coming down “here” among “us,” the folks. That would give me a chance to continue my conversation with him. What a man of the people!  Colonel Ozark Billy Long, man of the people!

Except that after he finished his speech,  I watched him leave the podium, walk over to his Bozo-guided truck, and get in the passenger side. Then I watched someone drive him away. 

Still holding my camera, all I could think to say was, Bye-bye, Colonel Billy! Thanks for stopping by and chatting with your constituents!

Medicare: The End

“Don’t get sick, and if you do get sick, die quickly.”

— former Rep. Alan Grayson, commenting on the “Republican health care plan,” September, 2009

Alan Grayson was roundly condemned for his highly critical remarks during the health care reform debate, which now seems like a decade ago.  But thanks to Paul Ryan we can see that Grayson’s sin was not that he inaccurately pegged Republican philosophy, but that he was simply a little premature in doing so.

Make no mistake about it: Paul Ryan, and by extension Republicans in the House—remember that Ryan was given extraordinary power to speak for them on budget issues—are now on record as lobbying for the destruction of Medicare and Medicaid as we know them.  And Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has tiptoed in and called it a “credible proposal.”

Therefore, it’s now clear just what the Republican health care philosophy is, in terms of the non-wealthy elderly, the poor, and the disabled.  But don’t take my or Alan Grayson’s word for it. Listen to Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, co-chairs of Obama’s Fiscal Responsibility Commission. 

They released a letter that criticized House Budget Committee Chairman Ryan’s plan for largely exempting defense spending—imagine that!—and for its lack of tax increases, a necessity, they said, for “broad bipartisan agreement.”  They continued:

As a result, the Chairman’s plan relies on much larger reductions in domestic discretionary spending than does the Commission proposal, while also calling for savings in some safety net programs — cuts which would place a disproportionately adverse effect on certain disadvantaged populations.

Those “certain disadvantaged populations” don’t put much jingle in the GOP collection plate, so why should they give a damn about them?

Even though we know that Paul Ryan’s plan will not become law—at least for the next two years—we do know the details of what Tea Party-drunk Republicans plan to implement if they ever do get the power they crave:

Medicare, the only thing that stands between some older folks and suffering or death, would become a voucher program, one that would leave those without adequate wealth coverage without adequate health coverage. 

Essentially, Ryan’s plan would require future senior citizens to navigate the private insurance market in search of a plan they could afford on the vouchers they are given.  If the coverage they need exceeds the voucher amount—a certainty, thanks to the way the plan is structured—tough shit. 

Of course, the wealthy need not worry.  They get the voucher and, partly thanks to Ryan’s generous tax policy for the wealthy—a reduction of the top rate to 25%—they will have plenty of dough to make up the difference between the voucher and the cost of the insurance. 

Medicaid becomes a block grant program in which states would essentially get to determine how they spend the money the federal government gives them. As Newt Gingrich admitted, this would inevitably mean that some states would short-change the poor, the elderly, and the disabled on Medicaid by making it harder to obtain benefits and by reducing those benefits.  There isn’t any doubt about that.  Just look at what Republicans in the various states are doing now in times of economic stress, times in which benefits are needed most.

Look, I don’t completely blame Ryan and other Republicans for proposing tax cuts for the wealthy while ending health care entitlements for everyone else.  That would be like blaming great white sharks for leg-munching in bloody water.  It’s what they do. 

About the Tea Party Republicans, Ryan told a reporter on Tuesday:

…you look at these people, these new people who just got here. None of them came here for a political career. They came here for a cause. This is not a budget, this is a cause.

A cause.”  Spoken like a bona fide devotee of Ayn Rand.  Rep. Ryan requires his staffers to read Atlas Shrugged, according to New York magazine, which explains a lot about his budget proposal.  Years ago, he told a group gathered to honor Rand,

The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand.

To be a real Randian, as Jonathan Chait put it, one has to believe that,

the central struggle of politics is to free the successful from having the fruits of their superiority redistributed by looters and moochers.

That’s the Tea Party Republican definition of those “certain disadvantaged populations” that Bowles and Simpson mentioned.  They’re “looters and moochers.”

With the advent of the Tea Party and its hostile takeover of the Republican Party, Randian nonsense is now the dominant economic philosophy controlling the actions of GOP congressional leadership. And I suppose the final seal of approval was given to Ryan on Tuesday, when Glenn Beck said he loved Ryan. 

And, by the way, Ryan loved him back.

So, while I don’t put all the blame on Republican sharks for their unseemly ravenous carnivorism, I will blame Democrats if they don’t put the rope Ryan has given them around the necks of every single Republican in the country who won’t denounce the plan to kill Medicare and Medicaid. 

Alan Grayson may have put it somewhat indelicately, but he essentially got it right:

The Republican health care plan is, “Don’t get sick, and if you do get sick, die quickly.”

Republicans Counting On Dumb Voters

Michael Shear, writing for The New York Times, characterizes the upcoming Paul Ryan-Republican House budget plan as “a dramatic political bet“:

The budget they are preparing to embrace in the coming days would slash federal government spending by more than $6 trillion over the next 10 years, mostly by reinventing the nation’s largest social programs in ways that Republicans have talked about for years.

Medicare would become a means-tested support program for private insurance. Medicaid would give states new control over their money for the poor. Taxes on business and the wealthy would come down. Overall spending across a range of programs would be capped.

Shear’s point about the gamble is this:

Packaging long-held Republican ideas into a huge shift in policy, the lawmakers are betting that voters will focus less on the individual things they don’t like and more on the overall impression of the party’s fiscal discipline.

Well, voters would first have to overlook 30 years of the party’s fiscal recklessness before they could focus on today’s soak-the-poor-reward-the-rich incarnation of Republican philosophy.

Are the voters that dumb?

Republicans are betting they are.

America: A Center-Left Country

The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, unfortunately for Republican budget-slashers, teacher-bashers and union-trashers, indicates the following:

           Positive Feelings Toward:  Negative Feelings Toward:

Teachers                        73%                                  10%

Teachers’ unions            47%                                  30%

Public Employee unions  38%                                  34%

Labor Unions                  38%                                  36%

 

Government should do more:   Government doing too much:

                       51%                                      46%

 

Top issue for government to address:

Job creation and economic growth  56%

Deficit and government spending….40%

Health care…………………………………..   28%

National Security and terrorism……. 20%

Energy and the cost of gas………….  20%

Iraq and Afghanistan……………………  13%

 

Tea Party Supporter?

    Yep:  29%     Nope: 61%

Favor right to collective bargaining for public employees?

    Yep: 77%      Nope: 19%

Cut Medicaid to reduce the deficit? 

    Nope: 67%    Yep: 32%

Cut Medicare to reduce the deficit?

    Nope: 76%    Yep: 23%

Cut Social Security to reduce the deficit?

    Nope: 77%    Yep: 22%

Cut K thru 12 education to reduce the deficit?

    Nope: 77%    Yep: 22%

Cut unemployment insurance? 

    Nope: 55%     Yep: 43%

Raise income taxes on millionaires? 

    Yep: 81%       Nope: 17%

Eliminate tax credits for oil and gas industry?

    Yep: 74%       Nope: 22%

Reduce Medicare and Social Security benefits for wealthy?

    Yep: 62%      Nope: 37%

Eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood?

    Nope 53%     Yep  45%

Judging by the chutzpah of Wisconsin and Ohio and Indiana Republicans—a Wisconsin GOP Senator has referred to the protesters in the Capitol building as “slobs” and “a different breed“— one would think that public employee unions, including teachers’ unions, were hated by a strong majority of Americans. Nope.

Judging by the chutzpah of national Republicans—cutting spending and cutting taxes—one would think that a strong majority of Americans were pining for a smaller government, for government to do less. Not so.

This is a center-left country, as I have said repeatedly.

Obama On Entitlement Reform: Patience!

As I listened to President Obama’s press conference this morning, which was dominated by budget issues, I thought of the recent criticism coming from the Right regarding Obama’s alleged unwillingness to address entitlement reform, typified by a comment by the GOP’s star quarterback on budget issues, Congressman Paul Ryan:

Presidents are elected to lead, not to punt. And this president has been punting.

Hmm. “Punting.”  Why do coaches punt?  Often in a game, when fans and quarterbacks are clamoring to “go for it,” wise coaches punt.  They do so in order to preserve field position, so as to have a better chance of scoring later.  And it is thinking about that “later”—the long-term—for which coaches get paid, not giving in to “the moment.”

As Obama said today:

I’m looking forward to having a conversation, but… the key here is for people to be practical not to score political points. That’s true for all of us.  I think if we take that approach we can navigate the situation in the short term and deal with the problem long term.

Now, that’s  wise coach-talk, no matter what quarterback Ryan says.

In the case of entitlement reform, President Obama said today that “this is going to be a process” and that we need to have patience—something the press doesn’t have, he suggested—much like a coach would tell his star quarterback, who almost never wants to punt on fourth down. 

But the point here is not that the President or his team wins a political game, but that real entitlement reform happens, both to preserve entitlements for future generations and to ensure that they remain safety nets for the most vulnerable among us.  That’s the touchdown in this scenario.

Here was his full response to NBC newsman Chuck Todd’s question about entitlement reform and the President’s debt commission:

Part of the challenge is here is that in this town let’s face it, you guys are pretty impatient…

I think there’s a tendency for us to assume that if it didn’t happen today it’s not going to happen. Well, the fiscal commission put out a framework. I agree with much of the framework, I disagree with some of the framework. It is true that it got 11 votes. That was a positive sign. When it is also true is that the chairman of the House Republican budgeteers did not sign off. He’s got … concerns. I will need to have a conversation with him, and with those Democrats that did not vote for it.

There are some issues in there, that as a matter of principle I do not agree with, where I think they did not go far enough or they went too far. So, this is going to be a process in which each side in both chambers of Congress go back and forth and start trying to whittle their differences down until we arrive said something that has an actual chance at passage. And that is my goal. My goal is to actually solve the problem. It is not to get a good headline on the first day. My goal is that a year from now, or two years from now, people look back and say we started making progress on this issue.

The key to achieving an agreement on how to reform entitlements is, as Mr. Obama put it, to make sure that both parties get “in the boat at the same time, so it doesn’t tip over.”  In other words, to prevent demagoguery by leaders in either party, nobody is going to go it alone.  

Obama’s latest budget, which he knows is not the final word on the subject, was an attempt to send a signal to everyone that he is serious about tackling deficit spending—”stabilizing the current situation,” as he put it—even though it dealt only with discretionary budget reductions. 

Today’s press conference was designed to send the message that he is willing to compromise on entitlement reform, as long as there is someone reasonable on the other side to deal with.  He thinks there will be, although he expects “all sides will have to do some posturing on television” before it’s all said and done.

Far from the hysteria surrounding our deficit and debt issues—many conservatives routinely refer to failure to radically cut spending as America “going off the cliff”—Obama’s demeanor and his conversation today was reassuring.  He was calm, sober, and free from the anxiety that characterizes much of the debate, particularly among those who want to use the debt problem as an excuse to kill government.  He was also confident about progress and its ancillary benefits:

In terms of the markets, I think what the markets want to see is progress. The markets understand that we’re not — we didn’t get here overnight and we’re not going to get out overnight. What they want to see is that we have the capacity to work together. If they see us chipping away at this problem in a serious way, even if we haven’t solved 100% of it all in one fell swoop, then that will provide more confidence that Washington can work.

And more than anything, that’s not just what the markets want, that’s what the American people. They just want some confirmation that this place can work. And I think it can.

The underlying message from Coach Obama is that it’s not necessary to panic.  Act like adults, get in the huddle together, and get the job done. 

Time will tell whether the President will give away too much in any possible compromise with seemingly unbending House Republicans, but I was encouraged by his statement that his deficit commission did recommend some things that he disagreed with on principle. And he reaffirmed today his opposition to tax cuts for the wealthy.  Although those tax cuts contribute to the deficit, more than that they symbolize the Republican duplicity on the deficit issue. Obama said,

… when it comes to, over the long-term, maintaining tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires, that will mean additional deficits of $1 trillion. If you’re serious about deficit reduction, you don’t do that.

Finally, the President essentially challenged Americans to have an “adult conversation” about national priorities, about “what’s important, and here’s how we’re going to pay for it.”  You want a strong military?  Veterans Benefits? Health care for seniors?  Want to help your neighbors during a natural disaster?  That stuff requires taxes. At one point he said,

If we’re cutting infant formula to poor kids, is that who we are as a people?

Ultimately, the answer to that question of identity rests with the American people. Those things do need to be discussed, and Mr. Obama and the Democrats need to keep reminding all of us that we will have the kind of government we are willing to pay for or else we will see a gradual decline—not a precipitous drop—in American fiscal and social well-being.

And for my money, President Obama is the leader in these times of choice, even though Republicans in Congress—and ultimately the people who sent them there—may very well choose decline over progress.

Republicans Believe In Socialism Too

Paul Broun, a Republican congressman from Georgia, tweeted the following last night as part of his running commentary on Obama’s State of the Union speech:

Now, that’s not really surprising, considering that Broun, a proud tea partier, has compared the President to Hitler, has claimed Obama has shown signs of being a Marxist, and has assured us previously that Obama is a socialist.

Oh, yeah. Broun is also part of the Republican Party Death Panel Brigade. He wrote the following in 2009 during the long hot summer of the health care reform debate:

Sadly, it’s senior citizens who will be hit hardest by Obama’s new plan…

When mama falls and breaks her hip, she’ll just lie in her bed in pain until she dies with pneumonia because her needed surgery is not cost efficient.  [emphasis in original]

So, that gives you an idea of what kind of guy Dr. Paul Broun is. 

But let’s return to his tweet.  He said,

Mr. President, you don’t believe in the Constitution. You believe in socialism.

Keep that in mind as you read the following paragraph from the Republican rebuttal last night, delivered by the GOP’s Budget Czar, Congressman Paul Ryan:

We believe government’s role is both vital and limited — to defend the nation from attack and provide for the common defense … to secure our borders … to protect innocent life … to uphold our laws and Constitutional rights … to ensure domestic tranquility and equal opportunity … and to help provide a safety net for those who cannot provide for themselves.

Get that? “Government’s role is…to help provide a safety net for those who cannot provide for themselves.”

To paraphrase Paul Broun’s tweet,

Mr. Ryan, you don’t believe in the Constitution. You believe in socialism.

Lawrence O’Donnell was the first to point out this now-glaring admission by a GOP spokesman.  He cited Ryan’s safety net principle and said it was,

…a socialistic notion advanced first by Bismarck now adopted in full embrace—full official embrace—by the Republican Party: “We believe in a safety net for those who cannot provide for themselves.”  That’s not in the Constitution but it’s now Republican doctrine.

So, even though Paul Ryan’s response last night was otherwise full of half-truths, quarter-truths, and falsehoods, it is nice to know that we can stop arguing about whether America is a center-right country. It’s not. Mr. Ryan has acknowledged the truth: Americans, including Republican Americans, like their socialistic government.

Just in case any doubt remains about that truth, here is a Gallup poll conducted less than two weeks ago:

As you can see, there is no difference between Republicans and Democrats when it comes to cutting Social Security: only one in three would support cuts in the program.  In other words, nearly two-thirds of all folks say, “Keep your hands off my socialism.”

Likewise, there is very little difference between red staters and blue staters when it comes to supporting cuts in Education and Medicare, both socialistic endeavors. Most folks don’t want to cut them.  And although the biggest difference between the two parties comes under “Anti-poverty programs,” it is amazing to me that a majority of Republicans—many of whom have been weaned on Welfare Queen propaganda –don’t want to cut those programs either.

Socialism now!  Socialism forever!

America Is Not A Center-Right Nation—Just Ask Tea Party Leaders

Joe Scarborough, of Morning Joe, often talks about how America is a “center-right” nation.  And he often talks about how Barack Obama should recognize that fact and govern that way.  Here is a typical example from the other day:

…he’s got some great opportunities, but he’s going to have to come to the middle. And if he comes to the middle where America is—not the middle as defined by left-wing bloggers and other people. If he comes to the middle where America is, he’ll be just fine.

Well, Scarborough is a conservative Republican, so it’s understandable how he might project his politics onto the whole country, but he uses polling to support his point. He claims, based on a Gallup poll, that 40% of the public think of themselves as conservatives and only 21% call themselves liberal.

But since most people aren’t political junkies, and since it’s hard for even junkies to accurately define what it means to be a liberal or a conservative, the simple truth is that it is impossible to say the country—in whole or in part—is this or that based on what people tell pollsters.

And even if it were the case that one could call the country this or that politically, what does that have to do with how President Obama–or any president–should govern the country?  Is that Scarborough’s definition of leadership?  To simply lead people where they are already going? 

Thankfully, the Founders didn’t feel that way or we all might be speaking London Cockney today.  And thankfully Harry Truman didn’t feel that way or we might still have an all-paleface military to match our all-paleface Tea Party.

The truth is that our ideological national identity cannot be defined by what people tell Gallup or any other polling group about their ideological preferences. Over time, what it means to be a conservative or liberal has changed and keeps changing, and people just don’t keep up with the changes. 

I can make a good case that, if anything, the country is more center-left than center-right, just by noting what people who call themselves conservatives believe about ideas that used to be thought of as liberal ideas.

For instance, it’s no secret that conservatives abhor any hint of socialism, and frequently attack liberals for being socialists.  Yet, it’s obvious that you won’t find much support among conservatives these days for abolishing Social Security and Medicare.  And there is absolutely no doubt that those two programs represent the closest thing we have to socialism in America. They represent, to date, the crown jewels of liberalism.

And so it is that we have people who identify themselves as conservatives who often vigorously defend those socialistic programs and certainly won’t vote in droves for candidates who propose their demise.

Even Tea Party fanatics—the right wing of the right wing—won’t touch the socialistic programs.  Last night on The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, a fascinating segment with four major Tea Party leaders revealed just how slippery the terms liberal and conservative are, as well as how unfocused the Tea Party movement is in general.  

Watch the following video clip and ask yourself just what the term “conservative” means, if uber-conservatives aren’t willing to acknowledge, not to mention abolish, socialism, as it is practiced in the United States:


It may be true that twice as many people call themselves conservative as call themselves liberal, but what that means is not as clear as people like Scarborough think.

As Lawrence O’Donnell demonstrated, when hard-core conservative activists either don’t see or don’t care that Social Security and Medicare are socialistic endeavors, then conservatism certainly doesn’t mean what it used to.

Ron Paul And A Quick Lesson About The Tea Party

Lawrence O’Donnell is a unique interviewer, although you would need to see him do it a few times before you would know what I mean. 

Last night on The Last Word, during an interview with Libertarian-Republican-Tea Partier Ron Paul, he had a strange exchange with him regarding Medicare, and by strange I mean strange in the way Paul danced around the question, “You would abolish Medicare, wouldn’t you?” 

Paul just couldn’t bring himself to say the words, but it is clear what he wants to do.  As outspoken as Paul has been in his career, why couldn’t he bring himself to say the words, “I want to abolish Medicare“?  Of course, we all know why.

And O’Donnell ask him about the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Paul’s comment that,

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not improve race relations or enhance freedom.

Even better than the job Rachel Maddow did on Rand Paul, O’Donnell hammered him on this point, as Ron Paul attempted, à la Glenn Beck, to turn Martin Luther King into a Libertarian.  It was Ron Paul’s worst performance on television, and it demonstrated that when challenged, libertarians—at least those who want to stay in office—have a problem explaining themselves.

At one point, O’Donnell says to him:

Congressman, let’s not try to pretend libertarianism is what changed segregation in this country.  It was activist liberal government that changed segregation in this country, otherwise it would still be with us.  It took activist liberal Washington government in the Civil Rights Act to end that segregation that you properly decry.

Paul called O’Donnell “discourteous” at the end, as if politicians shouldn’t be held accountable for their views, particularly the extremist views of Libertarians.

Watch a few minutes of the interview, which I have clipped beginning with the Medicare discussion:

The Case Against Libertarianism, Against Fear

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 

—1 Corintians 13:11

I have often chided libertarians and libertarian-ish conservatives for embracing a “childish” philosophy, one that worked well when we were cutting and shooting our way to the Pacific, living out our self-serving Manifest Destiny.

But it’s time we put away childish things.

America has matured; it has blossomed into the most powerful nation in the history of civilization.  And as it has developed and gained world prominence and dominance, its Constitution has remained the preeminent document guarding liberty and justice for all Americans, partly because courageous interpreters dared to understand it in terms conducive to life in the modern world.

For the moment, libertarians and social conservative zealots and haters of either our progressive or pigmented president—take your pick—are playing nice as they join together to rout the Democrats this November.  But as the conservative fanatic Richard Viguerie suggested the other day in the New York Times, after November 2, the Peace Train will collide head-on with the Soul Train—the fight will be on in earnest for the heart and soul of the Republican Party.

But for now, let’s look briefly at libertarian philosophy through the eyes of one of its most famous national proponents, Barry Goldwater, whom George Will married to the Tea Party movement in today’s Joplin Globe:

In 1964, the slogan of the Republican presidential nominee, Barry Goldwater, was “A choice, not an echo.” Forty-six years on, the tea party is a loud echo of his attempt to reconnect American politics with the tradition of limited government.

I have owned a copy of Goldwater’s, The Conscience of a Conservative, for more than 25 years. The book was first published in 1960, four years before Goldwater was overwhelmingly rejected in his run for the presidency.  The following is an excerpt from the book that sounds eerily similar to what one might hear today, as teapartiers temporarily coalesce around demands for a drastically smaller government, some even calling for an end to what libertarians love to call the Welfare State: Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid:

The long range political consequences of Welfarism are plain enough: as we have seen, the State that is able to deal with its citizens as wards and dependents has gathered unto itself unlimited political and economic power and is thus able to rule as absolutely as any oriental despot.

Unlimited political and economic power“?  “Oriental despot“?  Keep in mind that was in 1960, and Medicare and Medicaid were still liberal dreams, not to come until 1965.  One would think that after 50 years of even greater “Welfarism” than Goldwater could imagine in 1960, today we would all be bowing to our oriental despot, given a 50-year reign with “unlimited political and economic power.”  

But there just isn’t any oriental despot around, and as our elected President Obama struggles to use the federal government to lift us out of our economic doldrums, one can hardly say the feds have “unlimited” anything, especially “political and economic power.”

Such extremist talk was silly in 1960 and its just as silly today coming from platforms at Tea Party rallies or from 30-second television spots.  In fact, it is embarrassingly immature talk, and fortunately we have half a century of evidence that such fears are cynical and baseless.  Despite an increase in the role of government in overseeing our social well-being, our government is not tyrannical and we still enjoy our liberties.

In 1960, not only was there no Medicare and Medicaid, but the top marginal tax rate was a whopping 91%. Today’s top marginal rate is 35%. Hardly a sign that we are slouching toward oriental despotism.

As far as Social Security, always an object of libertarian and conservative angst, in 1960 the government only taxed the first $4,800 of income at a rate of 3%.  Today, the tax rate is more than twice that and it applies to all earnings up to $106,800. Yet despite that increase, which would have terrified the 1960 Goldwater, there still is no oriental despot on the horizon. 

In fact, Social Security is wildly successful—USA Today reported that the program “kept 14 million seniors above the poverty level” last year. Yet, despite that success, anti-government sentiment is as thick today as when Goldwater wrote in 1960:

Let welfare be a private concern. Let it be promoted by individuals and families, by churches, private hospitals, religious service organizations, community charities and other institutions that have been established for this purpose.

You hear this argument a lot from libertarians and conservatives.  In fact, it is one of their core beliefs that taxing citizens to pay for social programs is illegitimate, amounting to “theft.” The idea that taxation is stealing is creeping into the minds of otherwise sober Americans, who have begun buying into the notion that the government has no business in promoting the general welfare by establishing government social programs. 

Yet what we don’t hear from liber-cons is, what happens if we leave to private concerns all the needs of the needy and those private concerns aren’t all that concerned?  Before Social Security—when private concerns were free to promote the welfare of the poor—seniors were likely to die in poverty. The estimated poverty rate for the elderly was between 70 and 90%.  By 2008, it had dropped to less than 10%.

And whether one thinks that improvement was because of or in spite of Social Security and other “entitlement” programs—programs that are now threatened by Tea Party hysteria—there is simply no denying that the fears that have always accompanied an increased federal role in promoting the general welfare—that promotion rooted in the Constitution itself—are never realized.  Never.

We are not ruled by a despotic federal government, oriental or otherwise.  Goldwater’s State does not have “unlimited political and economic power.”

And contrary to libertarian assumptions, federal involvement in the well-being of the less fortunate, in the well-being of the elderly, has not led to less freedom, but to more.

Because thanks to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, more Americans enjoy the “blessings of liberty” today than at any time in our history.

Why Republicans Need New Ideas

Cal Thomas poked a little fun at the Republican Party through his column, which was published yesterday in the Globe

It seems that House Republicans have put up a new website to solicit “ideas for a new policy agenda.”

Now, since I can’t improve much on what Cal Thomas wrote about the latest scheme to impregnate the GOP with new life, here it is:

If they have run out of good ideas that work and can improve the country, maybe it’s time for them to leave office and allow people with good ideas to serve in their place.

It’s too bad he didn’t stop there, but unfortunately he continued:

We know what works and what doesn’t. Is there any doubt that we are under a crushing load of debt because we spend too much on “entitlements” that are really just bribes for votes? Aren’t individual liberty and economic independence good ideas?

Let’s leave aside the fact that all of us—Republicans and Democrats—make the claim that “individual liberty and economic independence” are “good ideas.”  What matters is how we think we can achieve them for as many people as possible.

But Thomas’ dumb statement that somehow “entitlements” are “just bribes for votes” is indefensible, though not uncommon among the Limbaughtomized legions on the right.

I wish Republicans would have the guts to conduct a nation-wide campaign against Social Security and Medicare by standing on their Tea Party podiums and telling the elderly that those programs are nothing more than enticements to win votes.

I wish the GOP would adopt a platform that made the claim that Medicaid was designed to give poor children medical care in exchange for the votes of their parents.

How about the Department of Defense? Do we increase its budget every year just to get, historically, the anti-communist vote, and, these days, the anti-terrorist vote?  Or is there a real threat out there and thus a real need for a strong defense?

But just to illustrate how deeply Cal Thomas drinks from the well of contradiction, here is what he said—in the same damn column—on the issue of education:

Eliminate the Department of Education…Allow for school choice. The initial focus will be on disadvantaged children who have proven that they can learn in the right environment and with the proper encouragement and motivation. The cycle of poverty will be broken and African Americans, especially, will thank Republicans by returning to their pre-Roosevelt roots and voting for them out of gratitude for saving their children.

What?  In the first place, if there is no Department of Education, how can there be an “initial focus” on anything, much less “disadvantaged children“?  Who’s going to do the focusing, Cal?  The states?  You mean those same states that had separate schools for blacks and whites?  Those guys?  And in any case, we are talking about state “government,” right?

Second, like most of the conservative “solutions” to our problems—cutting taxes, for instance—they are nothing more than ideology masquerading as hope. If breaking the “cycle of poverty” were as easy as sinking the Department of Education and opening up the schools to “choice,” who wouldn’t be in favor of that?  Do conservatives really think that liberals value government bureaucracy for its own sake? Do conservatives believe that liberals don’t care about the poor? Huh? 

That kind of thinking is why I am The Erstwhile Conservative.

As President Obama told Republicans during the healthcare reform debate, if the simple solutions they offered would work, who wouldn’t want to do them?  And a better question is: Why didn’t Republicans do them when they had the power?

But unbelievably galling is the unmitigated hypocrisy of Thomas declaring that entitlement programs (mostly Democratic ideas) were merely bribes for votes and then declaring that abolishing the Department of Education and allowing school choice (mostly Republican ideas) are noble attempts to improve the lives of the disadvantaged—which just happen to create grateful black Republican voters.

If this is the best that Republicans can do,* no wonder they need a website to solicit new policy ideas.

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 *Look, I know that Cal Thomas wouldn’t necessarily claim to be a Republican. However, he can run from the party whose general ideas he has defended for years, but he can’t hide.

Local Doctor Practices “Defensive” Medicine

A Joplin physician, Kent Sutterer, wrote a letter to the Joplin Globe in which the principled Republican doctor said he will cut Medicare patients from his practice:

Now, as Congress enacts legislation to increase my taxes while at the same time cutting my pay, I must take a stand. I have continued seeing Medicare patients on principle, in spite of the financial pain it may cause me. Now, it seems principle demands that I stop seeing these patients. A 21 percent cut, in addition to the 5 percent tax increase coming next year (as the Bush tax cuts expire) require that I change my business practices to limit the impact of these enormous financial ramifications.

The good doctor is referring to the fact that “Congress” failed to pass legislation that would have prevented a mandatory 21% cut in doctors’ fees for seeing Medicare patients. (The Bush tax cut reference is obvious.)

What the doctor leaves out of his complaint is that the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives has already passed a temporary fix, which was held up in the Senate due to a Republican—remember Jim Bunning?—and is now awaiting further action, which is expected soon.  So when Doctor Sutterer claims that “Congress has deliberately chosen to cut” his pay, he is not exactly telling the whole truth.

In the mean time, the reimbursement cuts have not been realized, due to the fact that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has delayed the effects of the cuts until the Senate acts on the House bill.

So, our disgruntled doctor doesn’t have to kick granny to the curb just yet.

But I found his reasoning interesting. He wrote:

Medicare is one of the lowest paying insurances that I take. From a business standpoint, I should have cut my Medicare patients years ago. But, as a public service, I have continued to provide care and services to these public assistance recipients.

Forgeting for a moment that physician participation in the Medicare program increases every year,I suppose it’s okay for any doctor to see his chosen occupation as a “business.”  But it’s not what most of us think about when we think about our doctors, is it?

I, for one, hope my doctor is more interested in my health than in any internal philosophical and ethical conundrum he is facing because he might have to pay a little more in taxes or because a strange Republican Senator temporarily blocked a quick fix for his Medicare reimbursement fees. But that’s just me.

Fine, then.  Practicing medicine is strictly a business. I get it. So, don’t pretend you care about older folks and don’t give me any dook like the following:

As other doctors pursue the same course, I fear the premiums that seniors are forced to pay for Medicare will be just another tax with no benefit; they will not be able to find doctors. This is a form of rationing, a pseudo death panel, where the only option available will be the course of nature. The miracle of modern medicine and the increased life expectancy that comes with it will no longer be available to our senior citizens.

In other words, old people are going to die because doctors will abandon them to spite those nasty politicians in Washington, who don’t understand that doctors are fundamentally businessmen who will only treat patients through whom they can make a nice living.  Have I got that right, Dr. Sutterer?

If your patients understood what you are saying—that you will treat them and take their money until they get old and need Medicare, they—strictly motivated by fiscal principles—would cut your services and leave you to stick needles in Chihuahuas.

Then, we could all wish you “good luck” in your search for patients.

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*…according to CMS Spokesperson Ellen Griffith…while the agency does not yet know how many physicians chose not to participate this year, “we do know that every year so far, the percentage of physicians who elect to participate has gone up, and last year exceeded 95 percent.”

Killing Social Security and Medicare, One Speech At A Time

I watched Glenn Beck’s speech at CPAC this past weekend.  I am the first to admit that he is quite good at what he does. The man has talent.  Forever forecasting inevitable tribulation, he is like a gifted evangelist who writes books and sermonizes, warning us of the doom to come.  And like most gifted evangelists, he profits from his prophesying, making God-like money as he points the way through the apocalypse.

His latest speech—a continuation of a theme he has been hawking for a while now—contained his diagnosis of our sickly condition:  “progressivism is the disease in America.”

He preached:

Progressivism is the cancer in America and it is eating our Constitution. And it was designed to eat the Constitution. To progress past the Constitution.

Comparing progressives to Communists, he explained there is a small difference between the two: Communists of old desired revolution; progressives, being more patient, were and continue to be willing to wait for things to evolve.  But the goals are the same: trash the Constitution and turn America into a “big government,” “socialist utopia.”

Okay.  So far, there’s nothing unusual about that pew-stirring rhetoric, sold to acne-tortured, college-age Republicans at CPAC and the more mature, meat-loving mobs that buy Beck’s books and watch his hysterical television show.

But I have begun to notice something happening on the right.  The straw poll at CPAC went this year to Ron Paul, not exactly a friend to some of Beck’s crazy ideas, but certainly a supporter of the anti-government philosophy that serves as a foundation for conservative thought.  Paul, to orgasmic applause, said:

Government is the enemy of liberty!

The fire was barely out at the IRS building in Texas—where Joseph Stack took seriously words like Paul uttered—and speakers at CPAC were using words like “enemy” to describe the government and violent metaphors to describe what Americans should do about its growth. 

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, who is moving to the right at brakeless Toyota speed, said Americans should “take a 9 iron and smash the windows out of big government in this country!

Of course, such talk is hyperbole.  I get that.  But what is happening among a growing group on the right is that people are starting to take seriously the idea of dismantling big government programs like Social Security and Medicare. 

Beck said:

It is big government – it’s a socialist utopia. And we need to address it as if it is a cancer. It must be cut out of the system because they cannot co-exist. And you don’t cure cancer by – well, I’m just going to give you a little bit of cancer. You must eradicate it. It cannot co-exist. And we need big thinkers, and brave people with spines who can make the case – that can actually say to Americans: look it’s going to be hard – it’s going to be hard but it’s going to be okay. We’re going to make it.

Now, what could he be talking about?  The subsidy for public television? The Department of Commerce?  No. Big government, especially since most conservatives exclude the Defense Department from budget cuts, has to mean Social Security and Medicare.

He continues:

We believe in the right of the individual. We believe in the right, you can speak out, you can disagree with me, you can make your own path. But I’m not going to pay for your mistakes, and I don’t expect you to pay for my mistakes. We’re all going to make them, but we all have the right to move down that road. What we don’t have a right to is: health care, housing, or handouts. We don’t have those rights.

Rep. Michele Bachmann, another CPAC speaker and trusted ally of Glenn Beck, has advocated “weaning” as a means of reducing the size of government.  A few weeks ago in St. Louis she said:

We’re $14 trillion in debt, but that doesn’t include the unfunded massive liabilities. That’s $107 trillion, and that’s for Social Security and Medicare and all the rest. You add up all those unfunded net liabilities, and all the traps that could go wrong we’re on the hook for, and what it means is what we have to do is a reorganization of all of that, Social Security and all… So, what you have to do, is keep faith with the people that are already in the system, that don’t have any other options, we have to keep faith with them. But basically what we have to do is wean everybody else off. And wean everybody off because we have to take those unfunded net liabilities off our bank sheet, we can’t do it. So we just have to be straight with people.

So, she is saying do away with Social Security and Medicare, after those in the present system are finished.  At least she is being more honest than usual.  And such honesty is being forced upon Republicans, as they are no longer getting away with screaming for deficit reduction and tax cuts without specifying spending reductions.

Rep. Paul Ryan, the GOP’s budget guru in the House, has offered a privatization plan for Social Security and Medicare and has at least nine co-sponsors.

One of those co-sponsors, Rep. Jeb Hensarling, appeared on Chris Matthews recently:

 

It appears that Republicans are becoming so emboldened by the Tea Party movement that some of them are now willing to talk openly about ripping out or seriously reducing the effectiveness of the social safety net that serves so many Americans. 

And if Democrats let them get away with it, then one day Republicans will have their way.

Medicare, Medicaid, and Magic

Scott Meeker’s well-composed article in Thursday’s Joplin Globe was about a courageous 26-year-old, Curtis Almeter, from Anderson, who is preparing for a double lung transplant to counter the ravages of cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease he shares with his 18-year-old brother, Tim.

The article focused on Mr. Almeter’s ability to maintain his love for photography while struggling with his disease, but I want to focus on this:

Last week, Almeter went active on the transplant list. He and his mother are staying at Barnes Lodge [at Barnes Jewish Hospital in St. Louis] and will soon move to a duplex near the hospi­tal. The call informing him that a donor has been found could come at any time. Today, perhaps, or maybe a year from now.

On a TV near where the mother and son sit, U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas is talking about his thoughts on the health care reform bill.

Almeter qualifies for Medicare and Medicaid, which will cover much of the transplant cost.

“We didn’t know that initially,” says Karen Almeter [Curtis' mother]. “It was good news…one less thing to stress over.”

God only knows what this family would do, were it not for those magic words, Medicare and Medicaid, which will cover most of the estimated $600,000 cost of the lung transplant.

Those “magic” words, which, of course, are really just the product of our collective agreement that folks like the Almeters shouldn’t have to choose between treatment and bankruptcy on the one hand and suffering and death on the other.

But these days, in the minds of some, those words, Medicare and Medicaid, stand for bloated, wasteful, “socialist,” government programs, and are used as props for intense criticism of Democratic efforts to reform our health care system.

At least part of those Democratic reform efforts are directed at people who don’t qualify for Medicare and Medicaid—people who fall between the cracks of our system—who have jobs but no or inadequate insurance, and who have to worry about bankruptcy when faced with their own $600,000 bill for medical treatment or who simply have to waive treatment and suffer through until the end.

And, of course, many do suffer through until the end, as studies show.  Thousands of Americans die each year for lack of health insurance, and we need to fix the system that tolerates such outcomes, instead of carrying swastika-emblazoned placards to tea parties and singing the word “socialist,” as part of the Pale Face Choir.

Since Scott Meeker’s article referenced Republican Sen. Pat Roberts, our Kansas neighbor, who not only opposes the Democratic plan, but who happened to enjoy more than $500,000 in contributions from “medical interests,” in his last campaign, I thought it would be nice to watch Stephen Colbert adeptly skewer the senator, a few months ago: 

 

[Globe Photo: Roger Nomer]

Learning To Live With Compromise

Johnnykaje, fellow Globeblogger, started me thinking about something, when she commented on a piece by asking a hypothetical: Would it be good or bad, if the Blue Dog Democrats changed parties?

I began thinking about the frustration that many Democrats (not necessarily Johnnykaje) feel over the fact that, despite having rather large majorities in Congress (258 to 177 in the House, 58-40-2 in the Senate) and Barack Obama in the White House, conservatives—whether they call themselves Republicans or Democrats—still seem to be able to block legislation most Democrats want to see passed.

And while I share that frustration, the wrong thing to do would be to force out—through some kind of ideological litmus test—those Democrats who only marginally fit the traditional Democratic profile.  That would essentially guarantee conservative victories, so it’s a non-starter, as all the leaders in the Democratic Party realize, but it’s damned tempting.

But part of the Democratic frustration stems from the fact that historically, when Democrats enjoyed strong majorities, great things were done.  In 1935, Social Security was passed under Democratic leadership, not just in Congress, but in the person of Franklin Roosevelt. In 1965, Medicare was passed, again under strong Democratic leadership from Congress and Lyndon Johnson.

So, I looked at the composition of those Congresses from those two years, and here’s what I found: The Democratic majority in both houses was not just strong, but unassailable. 

Here’s a breakdown, keeping in mind there are 58 Dems in the current Senate and 258 Dems in the current House:

1935 U.S. Senate

Democrats 69       Republicans 25       Other 2     

[Missouri:  Democrats 2]

1935 U.S. House of Representatives

Democrats 322   Republicans 103    Other 10  

 [Missouri: Democrats 6  Republicans 1—Yes, it was the 7th District!]

1935 Legislative Highlights

Social Security Act, which included Aid to Dependent Children

National Labor Relations Act, which protected union organization

Rural Electrification Act

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1965 U.S. Senate

Democrats 68   Republicans 32  

[Missouri: Democrats 2]

1965 U.S. House of Representatives

Democrats 295   Republicans 140 

[Missouri: Democrats 8  Republicans 2—7th District again]

Legislative Highlights

Medicare and Medicaid (Social Security Act of 1965)

Voting Rights Act

Freedom of Information Act

_____________________________________________________________

Interestingly, today’s Missouri delegation—1 Democrat and 1 Republican in the Senate and 4 Democrats and 5 Republicans in the House—is by 1935 and 1965 standards, grossly skewed in favor of the Republicans.

So, when one stops and considers how powerful the Democratic Party was in the eras when Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid were passed, some of us probably expected too much with the relatively small majorities the party has today, and we’re going to have to learn to live with the word “compromise.” 

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