Sunday, April 10, 2011

If you would just explain a few things

Rep. Paul Ryan, GOP from Wisconsin, has proposed a federal budget for 2012. His targets are Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare. Eric Cantor, a head GOP honcho in the House, put it this way, "We’re going to have to come to grips with the fact that these programs cannot exist if we want America to be what we want America to be." And who is "we" in that sentence?

Essayist Terrence Heath uses the welfare reform battle of the mid 1990s to decode what Ryan, Cantor, and the GOP mean. The goal then (and now) was not to put programs into place so that fewer poor needed help because they were able to raise their economic standing. The goal was to simply stop people from getting help. Still didn't have a job after welfare ran out? Too bad. Welfare reform was a catastrophic success. It did exactly what the GOP wanted to be done, therefore it was a success. It was catastrophic to those affected. I'll let you read Heath's essay for the details and how it all applies to Medicare. I want to comment in a slightly different direction.

Heath notes that Medicaid covers elderly, disabled, poor adults, and poor children. It is only these last two categories that can be seen as "welfare." While poor children make up 49% of the enrollees, they make up only 20% of the costs. The biggest expenses are for elderly and disabled, many who are (or had been until they got sick) middle class. Yet, it is the "welfare queen" aspect that the GOP is pushing, saying essentially these people don't deserve to be cared for. The GOP is complaining about the poor to kill a program that mostly benefits the middle class. Again.

As the gay community has faced one ballot defeat after another our political leaders have learned there isn't enough time between when an issue is placed on the ballot and the vote to make our case. Leaders have started to organize and present our issues between proposals. Then we have time to show others who is affected and how.

The GOP is very good at this tactic, especially in the area of taxes and spending. They have been loud and consistent for a long time about how taxes and government spending are a bad thing (though they got rather quiet about the spending part while Bush II was in office). They have been so successful at it that even Democrats have now essentially conceded the basic point of both issues.

I'll put it another way. Very few Democrats, including the prez. (the only one that comes to mind is Bernie Sanders of Vermont who gave that day long filibuster last December in attempt to stop extending the Bush tax cuts), have said anything in support of their spending priorities. No one is saying, "This is where your tax dollars go. This is why we need these programs. This is what happens when those programs disappear. These programs, of course, cost money. You, as a citizen (and including corporations), benefit from these programs these ways. Even if the benefit doesn't go into your pocket, the society as a whole benefits in these ways. We believe in fiscal responsibility and will tax accordingly. Taxes have to come from the rich and here is why. Let's at least have a debate about these programs rather than the simplistic Taxes are bad. Spending is bad." Such discussions with citizens must be ongoing, even part of the election campaign, and as relentless as the GOP chant.

Is any Democrat actually doing that? The silence is deafening.

Which is why independent and even Democratic voters look at the current government and say, "The GOP represents the rich. But the Democrats don't represent the poor, working class, and middle class. Therefore neither party represents me. Why vote?"

Jill at the blog Brilliant at Breakfast (from an Oscar Wilde quote) asks the question, How much do the rich have to accumulate before they have enough? A related question, from Nicole Sandler, is "What does this country look like when they get everything they want?" We've seen glimpses, but really don't want to contemplate it. No answer to those questions is available.

I mention these questions because the blog entry included The Economic Policy Institute's chart of wealth distribution (as of 2009).

My pie chart skills aren't as good, but here is one showing the relative population sizes mentioned in that first chart. The darker blue is 80%, maroon is 15%, yellow is 4% and aqua is 1%. Compare to the previous chart.

Economist and Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz lists some common sense ways to reduce our federal debt.

1. "The best way to reduce the deficit is to put America back to work."

2. This is the best time to improve America's infrastructure. We can put people to work and finance projects for remarkably low costs and boost the economy.

3. One percent of the population captures 25% of income, so tax the top.

4. Fixing the health care system will solve a lot of our monetary problems. Capping Medicare and Medicaid does not "fix" them.

5. Look for waste in the Pentagon budget (where items are in the budget based on what district builds the item), subsidies to drug companies, and other corporate welfare.

Of course, none of these ideas are discussed in today's Washington.

A bit of good news from another essay Terrence Heath reports that the louder the Tea Party gets the lower their overall approval rating. Heath shared this sign.

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