Free Pot For Everyone, And Other Budget Fantasies

Many liberals are criticizing Paul Ryan for essentially ignoring last November’s election results, as he released his third very dark, very Randian, budget resolution.

But it’s not that Ryan is acting as if the last national election didn’t happen. It’s that he is acting like he and Mittens actually won the damned election. In what can only be considered flat-out delusion (or that he intends to win a GOP primary in 2016), he offers the country a budget proposal that wouldn’t even become reality if Romney and Ryan had successfully duped a majority of Americans last November.

This monster would: repeal ObamaCare, slash Medicaid and food stamps, kill traditional Medicare, cut Pell grants, create lower tax rates for the rich—yet again. There is apparently no allowance for emergency spending on disasters, or the recognition that our infrastructure is crumbling and we need more not less money to fix it. Tax reform is part of the proposal, but we don’t know what the reforms are. The economic growth assumptions are also shrouded in mystery worthy of the ongoing papal conclave.

Not to mention the blinding hypocrisy of supposedly balancing the budget in ten years by using the $716 billion in Medicare cuts (used to help fund ObamaCare), cuts that Ryan and his fellow Republicans so famously campaigned against in both 2010 and 2012.

And not to mention the breathtaking dishonesty of using the $600 billion in revenue generated by Obama’s insistence on the restoration of the Clinton-era tax rates on high-income earners, which settled the fiscal-cliff nonsense this year.

This is not a serious proposal and Democrats in the Senate, who have now released details of their own budget, should revise their proposal in response to Ryan and the Republicans by including a series of people-pleasing goodies like: free health care, a free college education, forty acres and a Ford for all, a chicken in every pot, and some pot in every pipe.

Democrats can then start budget negotiations from there.

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If You Don’t Learn Anything Else About Social Security “Reform” Learn This

A frequent contributor to this blog (HL Gaskins) sent in a fantastic and informative clip from MSNBC’s The Last Word that aired last November. I am posting it here because the five-minute essay by Ezra Klein needs to be seen by anyone who gives a damn about Social Security and what it means to so many working people. And after you watch it, pass it on to others.

My parents, both gone, are the kinds of folks Klein is referencing in his piece. When I hear knuckleheads on TV and radio, fretting over the national debt or pretending they want to “save” Social Security and Medicare, saying that we ought to raise the retirement age or the Medicare eligibility age or otherwise penalize working folks for the sins of Wall Street gamblers, I think of my parents. And then I get pissed.

Fortunately, Ezra Klein expresses my outrage in a much more civilized manor:

Fiscal Cliff Frustration

Watching cable news during this fiscal cliff flop can be frustrating.

I actually heard a talking head say on MSNBC this morning that he, a man who held political office as a Democrat but who now works for a Wall Street bank, that there is no way he should get Medicare when he is 65. He should have to wait until he is 67, he proudly said.

That is just part of the talk I have heard everywhere on TV about how Democrats need to cave on “entitlements,” finding some way to get Republicans to make a “deal” before The End of the World comes.

But, again, let’s quickly review what is going on here. From January 2001 until January of 2009, Republicans held the White House, and for a substantial part of that time had effective control of Congress. Thanks in part to Democrats responsibly raising taxes in 1993, Republicans inherited budget surpluses in 2001.

Then, Republicans cut taxes, initiated two wars, cut taxes some more, created a new entitlement program that was a sweet deal for their pharmaceutical industry campaign contributors, and then looked the other way while the economy was looted by reckless, greedy bankers who brought on the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. While all that was going on, the federal debt soared, and, thanks mostly to those past Republican policies, keeps soaring.

As if that wasn’t enough, when the public, sensibly, put Democrats in control of Congress and the White House, Republicans suddenly found Jesus on the issue of government spending, just when we needed the government to keep spending to save the economy and to keep Americans working.

After finding Austerity Jesus, Republicans decided that the best way to save the country from “big-spending” Democrats (!) was to sabotage the economic recovery and hold the country hostage over the debt ceiling (!) until Democrats gave them what they wanted.

Then, because Democrats wouldn’t give them everything they wanted, they decided to create a situation that eventually led to this fiscal cliff fiasco, which amounts to a job-killing sword of Damocles hanging over the economic recovery.

But before we had to face the fiscal cliff, the parties had to face an election. Republicans didn’t do very well. In fact, Democrats gained seats in Congress and the hated Barack Obama was reelected, substantially, it turns out, because he ran on restoring those 1993 tax rates on the wealthy, those to whom Republicans had handed a rather large gift when they were in charge, a gift about to run out at the end of this year.

So, here we are. The fiscal cliff, which we have because Republican hostage takers needed assurance that Democrats would cut our social insurance commitments and not take away that tax gift from wealthy folks, is getting closer. And after that, yet another debt ceiling fight awaits, as Republicans have threatened to hold the country hostage again.

And some chattering schlemiel on television, a former Democratic congressman who now works for a big bank, says Democrats should be willing to raise the eligibility age for old folks, essentially to pay for the profligacy that Republicans inflicted on the country, old folks and all, during their years of governance. The right-wing drowned us in debt via tax cuts and war spending and a new entitlement program, and they want Democrats to tell old people they will have to pay for it.

It is psychotropically frustrating is what it is.

Chuck Todd, host of MSNBC’s The Daily Rundown, said this morning that “the pubic is craving a compromise.” He said that because of a new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll that found the following:

nbc poll

That poll supposedly indicates that people are beginning to blame “both sides” for the current impasse, which, if true, is a reflection of news coverage and not of reality.

But the poll did confirm a reality that journalists, and pundits on television, ought to pay attention to:

positive negative poll

As you can see, Democrats enjoy relatively strong public support. And look at the bottom of that list. Republicans are 15 points—15 points!—underwater. And looking deeper at those numbers, only 9% of respondents said they had a “Very Positive” view of Republicans, compared to 21% who viewed Democrats very positively.

The bottom line is that the public trusts Democrats to do the right thing during these fiscal cliff deliberations and any deal making that might come from them. And the right thing is not giving political cover to Republicans in Congress—who after recklessly running and ruining the economy, now feverishly want to cut social insurance benefits to rectify their malfeasance.

Journalism, Liberalism, And The Deal

There are very few liberal voices heard on television news, particularly cable television news. Very few. Oh, there are a few liberals here and there, but few liberal voices.

To support that assertion, and, more to the point, to demonstrate how mainstream journalists ignore the liberal voice, I give you an example related to the so-called fiscal cliff negotiations. I will excerpt a tiny part of the opening segment from this morning’s “Jansing and Company,” an MSNBC program hosted by award-winning journalist Chris Jansing.

The segment featured two of her regular guests, Dana Milbank, a liberalish columnist for The Washington Post, and Jackie Kucinich, a political reporter for USA Today, and the daughter of uber-liberal Dennis Kucinich. The topic, and title of the segment, was the “Fi$cal Cliffhanger,” and Jansing introduced a clip of Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who had appeared on Meet the Press on Sunday:

JANSING: When it comes to cuts, especially on Medicare, you know that whole conversation has to be had. Here’s what Dick Durbin said on Meet the Press:

DURBIN: I do believe there should be means testing. And those of us with higher income in retirement should pay more. That could be part of the solution. But when you talk about raising the Medicare eligibility age, there’s one key question–what happens to that early retiree? What about that gap in coverage between their workplace and Medicare?

JANSING: Jackie, are Democratic getting away with giving away less on this deal?

I’ll stop it right there because neither Jackie Kucinich, to whom this ridiculous question was addressed, nor Dana Milbank, bothered to point out how ridiculous a question it was, mainly because they, as Washington insiders, buy into its premise.

And that premise is that for people like Chris Jansing, it’s all about “this deal.” It’s all about the mechanics and politics of this deal. For her, and for most journalists covering this sorry episode in American history, what matters is who wins and loses the political game, not who wins and loses as part of what the political game is supposed to resolve.

In other words, few journalists are actually focused on what the wheeling and dealing is about, in terms of its potential effects on real people. And because journalists like Chris Jansing are fixated on the political deal-making mechanics (“are Democrats getting away with” ), they don’t see that they are perpetuating a false equivalence: that Republicans protecting wealthy constituents are morally on a par with Democrats protecting an old-age health insurance program that non-wealthy people depend on to live out their lives in relative security.

Go back and look at Jansing’s intro to Durbin’s argument against raising the retirement age for Medicare:

When it comes to cuts, especially on Medicare, you know that whole conversation has to be had.

Who says it has to be had? And, if it has to be had, who says it has to be had right now? You know who says that? Republicans, particularly Tea Party conservatives in Congress. The public isn’t clamoring for it. In fact, the latest poll from National Journal found,

a full 79 percent of those surveyed want the fiscal-cliff negotiators not to cut the program at all.

Do you know how hard it is to get almost 80% of the people to agree on anything? And it’s not just Democrats in that poll. It’s Republicans, too. So, it’s clear that the enthusiasm for cutting Medicare doesn’t come from the American people but from right-wing politicians and pundits.

And television journalists, because they like to cover a good fight (and perhaps because most of them don’t worry too much about what it would be like doing journalism in their old age), push as unquestioningly legitimate the Tea Party thirst for cutting Medicare (extending the eligibility age is most certainly a cut), as if quenching that thirst is the price Democrats have to pay to make any deal over the fiscal cliff a “fair” deal.

And the fact that some Democrats are stepping up to protect Medicare from some intolerable cuts is not morally equivalent to a demonstrated Republican willingness to protect rich constituencies by threatening the country with fiscal peril. That’s what we are talking about here. Republicans forced this fiscal cliff nonsense on Obama last year by holding the country hostage over the debt ceiling.

And even if they were to momentarily concede defeat on the issue of raising tax rates for the wealthy, it is only because they see another opportunity to force Democrats to help them do nasty things to Medicare: the debt ceiling will come up again in a couple of months and they have expressed willingness to hold the country hostage again to get what they want.

And what conservative Republicans actually want is for Democrats to get in bed with them as they do nasty things to Medicare. Republicans can read the polls. They know how unpopular what they want to do to Medicare is. And by playing the game the way they are playing it—which means journalists will cover the game (“this deal“) and not their motives—they hope to achieve a diminution in value of a program they have long hated and long wanted to reign in, if not outright kill. And they hope to achieve it with Democratic cover, as Democrats realize some changes need to be made to keep the program solvent.

Republicans, of course, claim they want to “save” Medicare. Hardly. That’s even laughable. Republicans have already demonstrated that they don’t want it to survive in its present form by voting en masse to voucherize the program (the first Ryan budget plan). And they have demonstrated that they want to dramatically shift Medicare costs to the less affluent (the second Ryan budget plan).

Thus, instead of focusing on the tactics or strategy in the political game, what Jansing and other journalists should be asking is this: What really motivates Republicans, as they appear so willing, so often, to hurt the financial and economic standing of the country?

Word To Democrats: Be Careful On Entitlement Reform

A few Republicans are publicly divorcing themselves from Grover Norquist, which is a good sign. But not enough Republicans are yet ready to absorb fully the meaning of the GOP’s defeat on November 6.

As President Obama has said several times now, if the last election had one clear message, it was that the wealthiest Americans, those who have been doing pretty well despite a sluggish economic recovery, need to “pay a little more” in taxes and thus get things started in terms of fixing our long-term fiscal problems.

On Sunday, John McCain’s lap dog, Sen. Lindsey Graham, clearly abandoned Grover Norquist and his infernal tax pledge. I have heard replayed numerous times the following excerpt from Graham’s appearance on ABC’s This Week With George Stephanopoulos:

I will violate the pledge, long story short, for the good of the country, only if Democrats will do entitlement reform.

In context, though, Graham was not endorsing an increase in marginal tax rates (“I agree with Grover, we shouldn’t raise rates,” he said), but only an increase in revenues by other means, like capping deductions for wealthy families (“If you cap deductions around the $30,000, $40,000 range, you can raise $1 trillion in revenue,” he claimed). But, so be it. In whatever form, it is clear that some Republicans, feeling the heat of November 6, are starting to warm up to an increase in federal revenues and it seems likely that more, perhaps enough to get a deal done, will follow.

Now comes the “if Democrats will do entitlement reform” part.

Appearing with Lindsey Graham on ABC’s This Week was Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat who signed onto the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction plan.

He said a couple of things that illustrate the problems for President Obama and the Democrats, in terms of getting a deal that Democrats like me can support. First, Durbin suggested that Social Security shouldn’t be part of a larger budget deal since it is funded separately and “does not add one penny to our debt.” It’s pretty clear that most Democrats feel the same way. They believe that the relatively simple fixes for Social Security don’t belong in the discussion going on now. So, leave that program out of it.

Then we have this:

DURBIN: Medicare is another story. Only 12 years of solvency lie ahead if we do nothing. So those who say, “Don’t touch it, don’t change it,” are ignoring the obvious. We want Medicare to be there for today’s seniors and tomorrow’s, as well. We don’t want to go the Paul Ryan route of voucherizing it, privatizing it, but we can make meaningful reforms in Medicare and Medicaid without compromising the integrity of the program, making sure that the beneficiaries are not paying the price for it, except perhaps the high-income beneficiaries. That to me is a reasonable approach…

STEPHANOPOULOS: Does that include raising the age for Medicare eligibility?

DURBIN: Here’s my concern about that, George. What happens to the early retiree who needs health insurance before that person’s eligible for Medicare? I had it happen in my family, and I’ll bet a lot of your viewers did, as well. We’ve got to make sure that there is seamless coverage of affordable health insurance for every American. My concern about raising that Medicare retirement age is there will be gaps in coverage or coverage that’s way too expensive for seniors to purchase.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Is that a fair point, Senator Graham?

GRAHAM: Not really. I don’t think you can look at entitlement reform without adjusting the age for retirement, like Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan did. It goes to 66, 67 here pretty soon for Social Security. Let it float up another year or so over the next 30 years, adjust Medicare from 65 to 67 over the next 30 years, means test benefits for people in our income level. I don’t expect the Democrats to go for premium support or a voucher plan, but I do expect them to adjust these entitlement programs before they bankrupt the country and run out of money themselves. So age adjustment and means testing for both Social Security, Medicare I think is eminently reasonable. And all those who’ve looked at this problem have done that over time.

Democrats would, of course, agree to means-testing entitlements. No doubt about that. But raising the eligibility age for retirement and old-age health care? Not so fast.

Paul Krugman, a leftish economist, is definitely opposed to the idea, as he indicates in this short post, his generalized objection based primarily on the differences in life expectancy between economic classes (folks with lower earnings don’t tend to live as long as those with higher earnings, thus raising the eligibility age would have a disproportionately harmful effect on lower wage earners).

There have been more specific objections to raising the age, including these:

  • folks with physically demanding jobs would likely be forced to hang on another few years to keep their insurance;
  • cost-shifting to retirees who won’t have adequate income to absorb the increase;
  • an increase in the number of uninsured Americans (especially among low-income groups, including African-Americans and Hispanics);
  • the obvious increase in the cost to those employers who offer health care benefits to retirees (the employer plan would become the primary payer), which would, among other things, discourage employers from offering such retirement plans.

Now, an astute reader might suggest that some of these objections could be answered by provisions already in place in the Affordable Care Act. In fact, I heard a commentator this weekend suggest that raising the eligibility age for Medicare was no big deal since ObamaCare will provide coverage for those seniors who can’t afford it.

Well, that turns out to be partially true, at least according to a study done by the Kaiser Family Foundation, which looked at raising the age in the context of the Affordable Care Act (it assumed an increase in the Medicare eligibility age to 67 that would go into effect in 2014, just for simplicity). I suggest all those interested in this topic read that study, but its conclusion was as follows (highlights mine):

Previous studies conducted prior to the enactment of the 2010 health reform law concluded that raising the age of Medicare eligibility would produce significant federal savings, but would also increase the number of uninsured older adults and shift risk and additional cost onto retirees who lack health insurance and onto employers that offer retiree health plans. Our analysis, which takes into account the coverage expansions and subsidies in the ACA, finds that net federal savings to the federal government would be considerably lower than previously estimated because the federal government would incur new costs associated with expanded coverage for 65- and 66-year olds under Medicaid and premium tax credits and cost-sharing assistance for lower-income individuals in the new health insurance Exchange.

We estimate that nearly one-third of the 65- and 66-year-old adult population who would be affected by an increase in the age of Medicare eligibility [about 5 million people]—those with low incomes who would qualify for Medicaid or generous premium tax credits and cost-sharing assistance through the Exchange—would face lower out-of-pocket costs than they would have paid under Medicare in 2014 as a result of this policy change –generally those with incomes below 300 percent of the FPL [federal poverty level]. However, two-thirds would face higher out of-pocket costs, on average, due to higher premium contributions for employer-sponsored coverage and for coverage in the Exchange. The shift of adults ages 65 and 66 from Medicare to the Exchange is also projected to increase premiums that would be paid by adults younger than age 65 in the Exchange, as older adults enter the Exchange risk pool. In addition, Part B premiums paid by the elderly (ages 67 and over) and by disabled Medicare beneficiaries would be expected to increase, as the healthiest and lowest-cost segment of the Medicare population is removed from the Part B risk pool and shifted to the Exchange or to employer-sponsored plans. States and employers are also expected to see increased costs.

The study warns:

Given the magnitude of the changes that we estimate would occur by raising the Medicare eligibility age, this analysis underscores the importance of carefully assessing the distributional effects of various Medicare reforms and savings proposals to understand the likely impact on beneficiaries and other stakeholders.

It’s just not as simple as Republicans, like Lindsey Graham above, make it. And Democrats need to be careful about getting giddy over a possible Republican retreat on raising revenues and under the influence of such giddiness make a bad agreement on entitlements.

In short, Democrats need to remember who their constituents are.

Unbelievable, Almost

Democrat Tammy Baldwin has an 84% chance of beating former Governor Tommy Thompson in the race for Wisconsin’s Senate seat, according to the incomparable Nate Silver.  A particularly devastating ad she is now running is this one:

That ad not only hurts the former governor, who was once very popular in Wisconsin, but it shows how Republicans in general can’t be trusted to reform Medicare and Social Security. If only Democrats would make this larger point against Republicans as concisely and forcefully as Baldwin’s campaign has made it against Thompson.

During last week’s vice-presidential debate, there was only a brief mention of the issue of Medicare not being able to use its clout to negotiate with drug companies for lower prices. In the middle of Paul Ryan’s defense of his indefensible scheme to voucherize Medicare, Biden brought it up:

BIDEN: Martha, if we just did one thing, if we just — if they just allowed Medicare to bargain for the cost of drugs like Medicaid can, that would save $156 billion right off the bat.

RYAN: And it would deny seniors choices.

Deny seniors choices? You mean like whether to buy drugs at a lower cost?

It is a fact that there are some 47 million Medicare beneficiaries and almost 28 million enrolled in its prescription drug plan, Part D (most other Medicare beneficiaries also have drug coverage, but receive it through TRICARE, FEHB, and the VA, or are active workers with other insurance).

It is almost unbelievable that Medicare is prohibited by law from negotiating on behalf of its beneficiaries. One study found that*,

For each of the top 20 drugs prescribed to seniors, the lowest price charged by any of the top Part D insurers is higher than the lowest price secured by the VA.

Among those top 20 drugs, the median difference between the lowest Part D plan price and the lowest VA price is 58 percent.

That’s money coming out of the pockets of seniors and taxpayers and going into drug company coffers. I say this situation is “almost” unbelievable because, after all, we are talking here about Republicans. You can go to OpenSecrets.org and look at political contributions by the drug industry for the year 2002, just one year before Republicans passed their pharmaceutical-friendly Part D program. You will see there the following:

That pretty much tells us why it is that Medicare is prohibited by law from using its bargaining power on behalf of its beneficiaries and taxpayers, and it tells us why Tammy Baldwin may just upset the favored former governor who helped make it possible .

_____________________________________

*Also from the study:

The price differential between the lowest VA-negotiated price and the lowest price available from a part D private plan is often substantial (table ). For example:

For Zocor (20 mg), a lipid-lowering agent, the lowest VA price for a year’s treatment is $127.44, while the lowest Part D plan price is $1,485.96—a difference of $1,358.52, or 1,066 percent.

For Protonix (40 mg), a gastrointestinal agent, the lowest VA price for a year’s treatment is $214.52, while the lowest Part D plan price is $1,148.40—a difference of $933.88, or 435 percent.

For Fosamax (70 mg), an osteoporosis treatment, the lowest VA price for a year’s treatment is $250.32, while the lowest Part D plan price is $763.56—a difference of 513.24, or 205 percent.

For Toprol XL (100 mg), a beta blocker, the lowest VA price for a year’s treatment is $250.06, while the lowest Part D plan price is $395.52—a difference of $145.46 or 58 percent.

For Celebrex (200 mg), an anti-inflammatory, the lowest VA price for a year’s treatment is $632.09, while the lowest Part D plan price is $946.44—a difference of $314.35, or 50 percent.

ObamaCare At Work

Buried on page 7B of Monday’s Joplin Globe was more good news from ObamaCare:

As of Monday, Medicare will start fining hospitals that have too many patients readmitted within 30 days of discharge due to complications. The penalties are part of a broader push under President Barack Obama’s health care law to improve quality while also trying to save taxpayers money.

And about the inevitable squawking:

“It’s modest, but it’s a start,” said Dr. John Santa, director of the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center. “Should we be surprised that industry is objecting? You would expect them to object to anything that changes the status quo.” […]

If General Motors and Toyota issue warranties for their vehicles, hospitals should have some similar obligation when a patient gets a new knee or a stent to relieve a blocked artery, Santa contends. “People go to the hospital to get their problem solved, not to have to come back,” he said. […]

Medicare deputy administrator Jonathan Blum said he thinks hospitals have gotten the message.

“Clearly it’s captured their attention,” said Blum. “It’s galvanized the hospital industry on ways to reduce unnecessary readmissions. It’s forced more parts of the health care system to work together to ensure that patients have much smoother transitions.” […]

Under Obama’s health care overhaul, Medicare is pursuing efforts to try to improve quality and lower costs. They include rewarding hospitals for quality results, and encouraging hospitals, nursing homes and medical practice groups to join in “accountable care organizations.” Dozens of pilot programs are under way. The jury is still out on the results.

Well, maybe the jury’s still out. But at least, thanks to Democrats, there is a jury.

Republican Admits “Do Away With Medicare” Is The Goal

If you have paid close attention to the debate over Medicare vis-à-vis Paul Ryan’s budget plan—a plan endorsed by Mitt Romney as well as nearly every Republican in Congress—you will often hear fact-checkers and Republicans say a version of the following, as expressed in a Fox “News” headline in August of this year:

Fact Check: Obama running against outdated version of Ryan Medicare plan

Here is the argument, as presented in the article:

The Obama campaign would like voters to believe that Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan would “end Medicare as we know it” — privatizing the whole system and costing seniors more than $6,000 extra a year.

But the campaign, even before Ryan was selected as Mitt Romney’s running mate, has effectively been running against the wrong Ryan plan.

The president’s accusations largely refer to Ryan’s 2011 plan, ignoring the fact that the House Budget Committee chairman rolled out a different version in 2012 — taking into account Democratic critiques. Though the 2012 plan is more moderate, Obama and his surrogates have all but ignored the newer version as they amp up their accusations against the Romney-Ryan ticket.

Most glaringly, the campaign has omitted a key point.

While Ryan’s 2011 plan proposes to give seniors a government payment to buy private insurance, his 2012 plan offers seniors a choice.

Under the blueprint, seniors could use the payment to buy private insurance or stay in traditional Medicare.

Forget that phrase, “taking into account Democratic critiques,” which, the biased article alleges, compelled Ryan to change his plan. The point here is that the newest version of Ryan’s extremist plan gives seniors a “choice” between private insurance and Medicare as we know it, and that revised plan, despite what conservatives claim, still endangers traditional Medicare.

Democrats have argued that the choice, even under Ryan’s “more moderate” plan (!), would result in much higher costs for seniors, particularly sicker seniors, and would result in the end of Medicare as we know it because there is no requirement that private insurers “provide a standard set of benefits—allowing them to design benefits that attract healthier beneficiaries,” according to policy analysts at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

Those analysts say:

Since the mid-1980s, private Medicare plans have attracted the healthiest, lowest-cost enrollees from the Medicare population—a phenomenon known as “adverse selection.” This trend would accelerate under the Romney-Ryan plan. If less healthy, more costly beneficiaries are left behind in traditional Medicare, then premiums for traditional Medicare would rise. In turn, more beneficiaries would leave traditional Medicare, causing premiums to rise further, and so on—creating a so-called “death spiral.”

Now, thanks to Tommy Thompson, former governor of Wisconsin, former Secretary of Health and Human Services under George Bush (“under his watch” the government was prohibited from negotiating drug prices on behalf of seniors), and currently the GOP candidate for U.S. Senate from Wisconsin, we can confirm the Democrats’ argument.

I hadn’t seen it until Monday night, but a video created in May of this year has Thompson saying:

… be able to take away the litigation that the trial lawyers are doing, so that doctors don’t have to keep doing extra things to protect themselves from getting sued, which drives up our costs.

Change Medicare and Medicaid like I did welfare — and who better than me, who’s already finished one of the entitlement programs, to come up with programs to do away with Medicaid and Medicare? 

Let’s block-grant what the state has, and allow the states to determine what’s going to go into Medicaid. And Medicare, let’s wait until everybody that’s right now that’s under 55—that reaches 55 by age [sic] 2020—and give them a choice whether or not they want to purchase health insurance with a subsidy from the federal government, or stay on Medicare. I’m here to tell you, when you look at the situation nobody’s going to accept it, because Medicare’s going broke by the year 2022.

That’s the plan, folks. That’s what even the revised Ryan plan, or a similar one Tommy Thompson has in mind, is designed to accomplish. From the lips of a seasoned, “American conservative legend“:

Do away with…Medicare.”

 

The Ryan Speech

Should not the multitude of words be answered? And should a man full of talk be justified? Should thy lies make men hold their peace? And when thou mockest, shall no man make thee ashamed? For thou has said, “My doctrine is pure, and I am clean in Thine eyes.”

But, oh, that God would speak and open His lips against thee…

—The Book of Job

aul Ryan claims he is a good Catholic boy. And now we know that good Catholic boys make incredibly good liars.

Lying in politics mostly comes in the art form of spinning the facts to one’s advantage. Every politician does that and it is part of the profession. But sometimes there comes along a practitioner of the political arts who goes beyond spin, beyond the normal bounds of the business.

Paul Ryan essentially began his journey toward a new national political career and conservative stardom by denying his philosophical mentor, Ayn Rand, three times before the Romney-cock crowed with the news that he wanted Ryan to be his partner in a new limited liability company, Romney-Ryan.

And once he shamelessly denied his undeniable teacher, once Ryan said, “I reject her philosophy,” it was easy for this good Catholic boy to become part of a campaign that is brazenly attempting to elect Romney-Ryan, LLC, on a platform of secrecy, subterfuge, and slander.

Wednesday night’s convention speech was Ryan’s introduction to low-information voters, those folks who don’t much follow the news or pay attention to politics until it is forced upon them by the networks.

Thus, the temptation to tell the most audacious lies possible to that audience was irresistible, because first impressions are important, especially when a campaign has enough Koch and other billionaire money to keep impressing, to keep the lies going, fact-checkers be damned.

Ryan has lied about a GM plant closing in his hometown of Janesville, saying on August 16 of this year:

I remember President Obama visiting it when he was first running, saying he’ll keep that plant open. One more broken promise.

During his convention speech last night, he lawyered up that claim and put it this way:

A lot of guys I went to high school with worked at that GM plant. Right there at that plant, candidate Obama said: “I believe that if our government is there to support you … this plant will be here for another hundred years.” That’s what he said in 2008.

Well, as it turned out, that plant didn’t last another year. It is locked up and empty to this day.

You see the serpent’s subtlety here? The sophist’s sophistication? In this version of things, Ryan is not now claiming Obama broke his promise to keep the plant open—because he never made such a promise—but he is connecting Obama with the plant’s closing in a way that makes it appear Mr. Obama was responsible for it.

The problem is the plant closed just before Christmas in 2008, a month before the newly-elected president took office.

Ryan also lied during his speech about the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, co-chaired by Democrat Erskine Bowles and Republican Alan Simpson:

He created a bipartisan debt commission. They came back with an urgent report. He thanked them, sent them on their way, and then did exactly nothing.

Notice the “they” in that sentence construction. “They came back with an urgent report.” But Mr. Ryan was part of that debt commission, part of that “they.” And he voted to kill the effectiveness of that “urgent report.” He did that. He voted to kill that report, which fell three votes short of being adopted and sent to Congress for an up or down vote.

And then Ryan claimed that Obama did “exactly nothing.” Hardly. As CNN pointed out:

Obama never fully embraced the Bowles-Simpson recommendations. But he incorporated some of the recommendations the co-chairs made in a plan he sent to Congress the following April, one that called for a mix of spending reductions and tax hikes.

All that and more is bad enough. But the most brazen of lies Ryan told on Wednesday, the one that should have literally brought the building down upon him if God were paying attention, was this one:

…the biggest, coldest power play of all in Obamacare came at the expense of the elderly.

Now, not only is that a lie, it is one of those lies that the liar knows is a lie, as opposed to a simple friendly spin of the facts. Because there are no facts here to spin. This is an utter lie and it has time and again been exposed as one by fact checkers. But Romney-Ryan, LLC, are not in the fact business. That’s not their trade, not their expertise.

What they are good at is taking an admittedly effective lie and simply repeating it, again and again and again, against the wind of truth, as if the wind blows right through them—no, as if there is no wind.

Obamacare came at the expense of the elderly,” he said. He actually said that. He stood there in front of millions of people, his Catholic Christian credentials on his sleeve, and told older Americans that Mr. Obama, using “the biggest, coldest power play of all,” was using them—folks on Medicare, for God’s sake— for his scheme of “government-controlled health care.”

How does such wicked hubris get born?  Where does such dark audacity come from?  From the same place this comes from:

So our opponents can consider themselves on notice. In this election, on this issue, the usual posturing on the Left isn’t going to work. Mitt Romney and I know the difference between protecting a program, and raiding it.

Never mind that Mr. Ryan’s famous budget, which Mitt Romney enthusiastically embraced, included the same smart reductions in spending—not a penny of which “came at the expense of the elderly“; and never mind that Obamacare makes Medicare more solvent and offers older folks free preventive services and closes the prescription drug donut hole; and never mind that when Romney-Ryan, LLC, get finished with Medicare, “raiding it” may be impossible because there may not be an it to raid.

I know some Democrats today are a little nervous. Ryan’s speech, replete as it was with falsehoods, was a powerful one. Lies can be quite seductive. And I know some on the left are worried that successfully combating such a blatant and well-funded disregard for the truth may be impossible.

But of course it is not impossible. There is plenty of time. We will have our turn in the spotlight. We have our message. But part of that message must include a new offensive against the devilish disdain for facts that characterizes the brand of Republican politics that Romney-Ryan, LLC, are trying to sell to that razor-thin slice of the electorate who remain open to persuasion.

Democrats must, they simply must, begin today to call both Mr. Ryan, a former altar boy, and Mr. Romney, a fiercely loyal Mormon, what they are: liars of a rare breed who simply continue to lie despite being shouted down by the facts.

A rare breed of liars with a treasure chest of riches that can buy enough 30-second ads to shout down those shouting facts and smother the fact checkers. A breed so rare that we may never—must never—see their likes again.

And if Democrats fail to push back and win against such brazenness, if the dark partnership of Romney-Ryan is successful with its strategy of deceit, if they walk into the White’s House on a red carpet of fiction and fraud, then that rare breed of liars will no longer be so rare. They will beget a legion of imitators.

And our politics, our democracy, will never be the same.

____________________________

Tough Love Is For The Other Guy

Paul Ryan said Saturday morning to a gathering of pale-faced Republican geezers in Florida,

Our solution to preserve, protect, and save Medicare will not affect your benefits.

Yesterday I posted a piece on how Republicans, in order to sell their plan to radically revamp Medicare, are appealing to the selfishness of current seniors, hoping those seniors won’t begin to wonder how long young folks will keep paying for benefits those young people will never get.

A retired local conservative commenter, who is living on a military pension, responded to my piece with this:

…cutting military retirement benefits is coming, like it or not by anyone. But you would not do it I hope for those that have planned their lives and are living on such benefits today.

Same with Medicare. People have planned their lives for that program and need it to live as planned.

The idea here is that “I’ve got mine” and it is too bad if folks in the future have to take less, but they should keep paying for “mine.” Nothing could better illustrate what I was trying to say in the piece I wrote than that conservative’s comment.

Another commenter on the piece characterized the conservative’s thoughts this way:

Being a silver-haired geezer myself, I can see that they want to do the same thing to Medicare and Social Security that has been done to the educational system. Hey, WE got our valuable college degrees for peanuts and earned the big bucks during our peak years, but now we realize it wasn’t fair, and so YOU are going to have to suck it up, kid. And don’t come begging at grandpa’s door, because I now believe in tough love!

Amen. Tough love, if you will notice, is almost always directed at someone else.  When Paul Ryan, for instance, had the chance to practice some tough love during the Bush administration and demand that the expanded drug benefit or the two wars be paid for, he made the decision to defer the tough love until later, which happened to be when a Democrat was in the White’s House.

And Ryan’s tough love was in full force when he opposed Obama’s stimulus plan to help start the economic recovery, even though he later sent letters requesting some of the money so his constituents wouldn’t have to suffer from his tough love. (And then, taking lessons from Romney, he lied about doing so.)

But our local conservative commenter, again a man who lives on an inflation-protected military pension that he earned from his years of service, wasn’t finished with his own tough love campaign. He wrote:

The GOP has said economic processes MUST CHANGE today because our national wants far exceed our national resources.

Here is my response to that comment:

What you call our national wants are actually national needs, unless you think we don’t need the social stability that Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid provide, or unless you believe we can stop funding the Defense Department.

But even if you consider those things “wants,” you are still wrong in claiming that those wants exceed our national resources. In fact they don’t. We have plenty of national resources, as we are very wealthy.

What we have is a political party, which you almost always support, that has designated most of our national economic resources as untouchable, except when it comes to the military.

And they have decided that the uneven distribution of income in America is not to be feared but to be embraced, as it will somehow inspire the have-nots to work harder so they too can someday send their excess dough to the Cayman Islands for some much needed rest.

The truth is that conservatives controlling the GOP today do not value the stability that comes from social programs, programs they routinely disparage openly and without apology.

For instance, Mr. Obama has been falsely called “the food stamp president” by Newt Gingrich, as if providing food stamps to folks who need them in bad times is worthy of condemnation. It turns out that George W. Bush was actually the food stamp president and God bless him for it. It was the least he could do for helping screw up the economy, which made food stamps such a necessity for many folks.

And you know what your conservative intellectual hero-columnist Charles Krauthammer recently wrote about Bush? He denigrated him for his,

philosophically undisciplined, idiosyncratically free-spending “compassionate conservatism.”

You see, for ideologues like Krauthammer, compassion has no place in conservatism, a point I am happy to make every day.

People like Gingrich and Krauthammer and Rush Limbaugh and a horde of Republican politicians often refer to an “entitlement society,” as if people—they want you to think it is mostly black people—who receive government help aspire to do nothing more than lie around the house and get fat on food purchased with money stolen from taxing “job creators.” That is what the Romney ads falsely claiming that Obama waived the work requirement for welfare benefits is all about.

You see, these folks have always hated the social safety net because most of them have never needed it or have arrived at a place where they know they never will. In one way or another, they’ve got theirs and to hell with everyone else.

And it is that sentiment that serves as the subtext of the Ryan-Romney campaign and that will be what voters affirm or reject in November.

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