You could be excused for listening to the news yesterday and not getting the message. A news item about a proposed republican budget is, after all, not as exciting as a plane crash or bombing Iran. Yet the message behind the news is just as concerning (and maybe as destructive) as a bunker buster. While Paul Ryan’s budget will never be passed, it will dominate the debate in Congress over the real budget. And with a republican House and right-leaning Senate eager to “send a message” during an election year there is a good chance many of the draconian values represented in this proposal will see their way into legislation. In an era of high unemployment and low net worth this can only have a negative impact on the budgets that really matter, yours and mine…
The Careless House Budget
Opinion | NYTimes | 20 Mar 12
As he rolled out his 2013 budget on Tuesday, Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman, correctly said that he and his fellow Republicans were offering the country a choice of two very clear futures. The one he outlined in his plan could hardly be more bleak.
It is one where the rich pay less in taxes than the unfairly low rates they pay now, while programs for the poor — including Medicaid and food stamps — are slashed and thrown to the whims of individual states. Where older Americans no longer have a guarantee that Medicare will pay for their health needs. Where lack of health insurance is rampant, preschool is unaffordable, and environmental and financial regulation are severely weakened.
Mr. Ryan became well known last year as the face of the most extreme budget plan passed by a house of Congress in modern times. His new budget is, if anything, worse, full of bigger, emptier promises. It is largely in agreement with the plans of the Republican presidential candidates.
It vows to balance tax cuts for corporations and the rich by closing loopholes, but never lists the loopholes. It is, however, quite specific about cutting Medicaid by about 45 percent, leaving 19 million people without care, and eliminating plans to provide health insurance for 33 million who lack coverage now.
Worst of all, it undermines a hard-fought agreement Democrats and Republicans made last August to set spending targets for 2013. Under pressure from House conservatives, Mr. Ryan cut nearly $20 billion from spending levels set in the debt-ceiling pact, breaking faith with the Senate and potentially leading to a government shutdown this fall. Much of that reduction is likely to come from programs like Head Start, Pell grants for college students and state aid.
It also tries an end run around an agreement Republicans signed last year to reduce the deficit over 10 years with equal $55 billion annual cuts to military and domestic programs after the Congressional supercommittee failed to agree on a plan. Mr. Ryan wants to increase defense spending and shift all the cuts to domestic programs, which will probably include food stamps, the federal payroll and mortgage guarantees. Very little of Mr. Ryan’s plan will get through the Senate, but it sets a disturbing precedent for future agreements.
Over all, about half of Mr. Ryan’s $5 trillion in cuts over a decade would come from health care. His plan to convert Medicare to a “premium support” system, though less damaging than last year’s proposal, still weakens a guarantee to the elderly and risks driving up costs for future beneficiaries. He would still offer the elderly a fixed amount of money to shop for their own health insurance, but allow the option of enrolling in traditional Medicare.
Unfortunately, that could lead to higher costs and premiums in traditional Medicare because it would attract older and sicker patients who would be expensive to cover, while healthier, cheaper patients flocked to private plans. In the long run, the premium support plan could shift costs to beneficiaries because it would limit annual per capita spending growth to well below the level required by the health care reform act. The plan would also cap the federal contribution to Medicaid by turning the program into a block grant to states.
These extreme cuts and changes would greatly impede the nation’s economic recovery, and hurt those on the middle and lower economic rungs who suffered most from the recession. The contrast with President Obama’s budget, which raises taxes on the rich to protect vital programs while reducing the deficit, could not be more clear.
This article appears at NYTimes.com »
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