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A “No New Taxes” Pledge Is A Death Trap For Seniors

This has to be one of the funniest political stories of recent weeks: On Tuesday, 42 freshmen Republican members of Congress sent a letter urging President Obama to stop Democrats from engaging in “Mediscare” tactics — that is, to stop saying that the Republican budget plan released early last month, which would end Medicare as we know it, is a plan to end Medicare as we know it.

Now, you may recall that the people who signed that letter got their current jobs largely by engaging in “Mediscare” tactics of their own. And bear in mind that what Democrats are saying now is entirely true, while what Republicans were saying last year was completely false. Death panels!

Well, it’s time, said the signatories, to “wipe the slate clean.” How very convenient — and how very pathetic.

Anyway, the truth is that older Americans really should fear Republican budget ideas — and not just because of that plan to dismantle Medicare. Given the realities of the federal budget, a party insisting that tax increases of any kind are off the table — as John Boehner, the speaker of the House, says they are — is, necessarily, a party demanding savage cuts in programs that serve older Americans.

To explain why, let me answer a rhetorical question posed by Professor John Taylor of Stanford University in a recent op-ed article in The Wall Street Journal. He asked, “If government agencies and programs functioned with 19% to 20% of G.D.P. in 2007” — that is, just before the Great Recession — “why is it so hard for them to function with that percentage in 2021?”

Mr. Taylor thought he was making the case for not increasing spending. But if you know anything about the federal budget, you know that there’s a very good answer to his question — an answer that clearly demonstrates just how extremist that no-tax-increase pledge really is. For here’s the quick-and-dirty summary of what the federal government does: It’s a giant insurance company, mainly serving older people, that also has an army.

The great bulk of federal spending that isn’t either defense-related or interest on the debt goes to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. The first two programs specifically serve seniors. And while Medicaid is often thought of as a poverty program, these days it’s largely about providing nursing care, with about two-thirds of its spending now going to the elderly and/or disabled. By my rough count, in 2007, seniors accounted, one way or another, for about half of federal spending.

And in case you hadn’t noticed, there will soon be a lot more seniors around because the baby boomers have started reaching retirement age.

Here are the numbers: In 2007, there were 20.9 Americans 65 and older for every 100 Americans between the ages of 20 and 64 — that is, the people of normal working age who essentially provide the tax base that supports federal spending. The Social Security Administration expects that number to rise to 27.5 by 2020, and 31.7 by 2025. That’s a lot more people relying on federal social insurance programs.

Nor is demography the whole story. Over the long term, health care spending has consistently grown faster than the economy, raising the costs of Medicare and Medicaid as a share of G.D.P. Cost-control measures — the very kind of measures Republicans demonized last year, with their cries of death panels — can help slow the rise, but few experts believe that we can avoid some “excess cost growth” over the next decade.

Between an aging population and rising health costs, then, preserving anything like the programs for seniors we now have will require a significant increase in spending on these programs as a percentage of G.D.P. And unless we offset that rise with drastic cuts in defense spending — which Republicans, needless to say, oppose — this means a substantial rise in overall spending, which we can afford only if taxes rise.

So when people like Mr. Boehner reject out of hand any increase in taxes, they are, in effect, declaring that they won’t preserve programs benefiting older Americans in anything like their current form. It’s just a matter of arithmetic.

Which brings me back to those Republican freshmen. Last year, older voters, who split their vote almost evenly between the parties in 2008, swung overwhelmingly to the G.O.P., as Republicans posed successfully as defenders of Medicare. Now Democrats are pointing out that the G.O.P., far from defending Medicare, is actually trying to dismantle the program. So you can see why those Republican freshmen are nervous.

But the Democrats aren’t engaging in scare tactics, they’re simply telling the truth. Policy details aside, the G.O.P.’s rigid anti-tax position also makes it, necessarily, the enemy of the senior-oriented programs that account for much of federal spending. And that’s something voters ought to know.

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, May 12, 2011

May 13, 2011 Posted by | Budget, Congress, Conservatives, Death Panels, Democrats, Economy, Federal Budget, GOP, Government, Health Care Costs, Lawmakers, Medicaid, Medicare, Politics, Republicans, Seniors, Social Security, Tax Increases, Taxes, Voters | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

‘Government Shutdown Prevention Act’ Undermines Democracy

Legal training is not a requirement to serve in Congress, although many of the members are, and have been, lawyers. Nor is it necessary for a House or Senate member to have served in another government post, although many have, and their experience at forging alliances and compromises has been helpful. We no longer have literacy tests for voters, a technique southern states used until the 1960s, effectively to disenfranchise African-American voters.

Yet, it might not be a bad idea to require incoming members of Congress to take a basic test in civics.

How else, other than an alarming misunderstanding of the basic of American government, to explain the effort of House Republicans to shut the Senate out of the budget process? Their sanctimoniously titled “Government Shutdown Prevention Act” would do just that, deeming that if the Senate failed to pass a measure to keep the government running amid the current budget dispute, that the House-passed version would become law.

The idea is bizarre on so many levels—not least because the Senate would actually have to pass the Government Shutdown Prevention Act for the House to assume a dictatorial role in one of the three branches of the world’s greatest democracy. The current fashion of anti-intellectualism in politics aside, do the House Republicans not understand the elementary-school fundamentals of how a bill becomes a law.

The freshman GOP lawmakers are annoyed with the Democratic-controlled Senate, this time for failing to cave in on the dramatic cuts the House Republicans want in the budget. Join the club, folks: The House has long been irritated by the Senate. Ask the House Democrats, who approved more than 300 bills in the last Congress that ended up dying in a Senate that failed to pass them or even consider them.

But the rudimentary lesson of lawmaking (FYI—a bill has to be passed by both the House and the Senate, then signed by the president, to become law. If the president vetoes a bill, each chamber of Congress must summon a two-thirds majority to override the veto) are nowhere near as important as the lesson about getting things done in a country of diverse interests. The Tea Party crowd ran campaigns of anger and frustration, blaming Congress for its failure to get balanced budgets and myriad other things. There’s a reason for that, and it’s not because members are stupid (they’re not, and some of them are absolutely brilliant) or lazy (they work longer hours than most Americans imagine) or weak. It’s because this is a country of wildly divergent attitudes and perspectives, reflected in the lawmakers those citizens send to Congress. The Tea Partyers believe they were sent to Washington with a mission, and they likely were. So were Nancy Pelosi and other liberal members whose constituents have drastically different perspectives than those in the Tea Party team’s districts. And their views are no less valid.

Legislating requires compromise, and compromise is hard, especially during times of economic stress. Being a congressman is a difficult job, forcing them to balance their districts’ needs with the national interest. The new members signed up for this job. They should do it.

By: Susan Milligan, U.S. News and World Report, April 1, 2011

April 2, 2011 Posted by | Budget, Congress, Conservatives, Democracy, Democrats, Dictators, GOP, Ideologues, Politics, Right Wing, Voters | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Without the Campaign Donors, This Wouldn’t Be Possible

Even by Washington’s low standards, the House’s Republican freshmen are turning pandering into a high art. At a recent transportation hearing in his home district, Representative James Lankford of Oklahoma heaped praise on a panel of private sector witnesses. Three of the four executives so publicly favored were later discovered to be donors to Mr. Lankford’s campaign.

Nothing illegal in that, nor in the enthusiasms of another freshman, Mike Pompeo of Kansas, dubbed the Congressman from Koch for championing the conservative agenda of the billionaire Koch brothers, Charles and David. They contributed handsomely — $80,000 worth — to Mr. Pompeo’s campaign kitty. Once elected, Mr. Pompeo hired a former Koch Industries lawyer as his chief of staff.

Mr. Pompeo said he ran for Congress because as a businessman (whose business included some Koch investment money) he saw “how government can crush entrepreneurism.” His contributions to the House Republicans’ budget-slashing legislation included two top priorities of Koch Industries: killing off funds for the Obama administration’s new database for consumer complaints about unsafe products and for a registry of greenhouse gas polluters at the Environmental Protection Agency.

The congressman said he was concerned that the database would encourage false accusations about good products and that the registry would increase the E.P.A.’s power and cost jobs. Those arguments are nonsense, but Mr. Pompeo represents an early warning of the shape of things to come when the Supreme Court’s misguided decision to legalize unfettered corporate campaign donations fully kicks in next year.

The Koch brothers are planning to spend tens of millions in the 2012 campaign, as are Democratic power brokers and unions. Ordinary voters may be making a show of demanding real political change, but they are being increasingly outbid at the big money table where American politics happens.

By: Editorial, The New York Times, March 30, 2011

March 31, 2011 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Congress, Conservatives, Consumers, Corporations, Elections, GOP, Ideologues, Koch Brothers, Politics, Public, Republicans, Supreme Court | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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