Thursday, February 4, 2010

More details on the Republican alternative budget...

A couple days ago I mentioned how the Republicans are seeking to destroy Social Security and Medicare.

Well, Paul Ryan has delivered the detailed plan- with some additional cute little touches.

Before we get into the details here, it's important to note this point:

The official line from House Republican leadership is that Ryan's budget is not the GOP alternative. Leadership aides pointed TPMDC to last year's far less specific budget proposal and stressed their plan will be presented during floor debate that is likely to happen this spring. Ryan, the ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee, will write that plan too.

So yes, so far the Republicans are not OFFICIALLY backing this... but Paul Ryan is their go-to guy for budget issues. They specifically chose him for this task- and therefore what he produces is definitely their responsibility, and almost certainly their actual thoughts. Quoting Josh Marshall from the front page of TPM:

Now, Minority Leader Boehner (R-OH) and Minority Whip Cantor (R-VA) have been sort of dancing around the Ryan draft. They're both saying they're putting forward a detailed budget plan and then simultaneously refusing to say Ryan's plan is endorsed by the conference. But Ryan's their budget writer. So this is a bit like (White House Budget Director) Peter Orszag releasing a budget document and having Obama and (WH Chief of Staff) Rahm (Emanuel) saying he's just speaking for himself.


So, taking it as read that this is a serious Republican proposal until and unless the Republican leadership specifically rejects it, here are the salient points:

Social Security benefits will be reduced for those younger than 55, and the retirement age will be increased.

The budget plan states, "All other workers will have a choice to stay in the current system or begin contributing to personal accounts. Those who choose the personal account option will have the opportunity to begin investing a significant portion of their payroll taxes into a series of funds managed by the U.S. government."

. . .

Another big cut is to Medicare - starting in 2021, new enrollees would be given vouchers to purchase private health insurance.

. . .

The plan . . . offers a mix of tax cuts as well as changes to Social Security and Medicare.

It also eliminates income and payroll tax exclusions for employment-based health insurance starting next year.

... limiting malpractice award settlements and rescinding the unspent funds from the 2009 $787 billion economic stimulus plan.

It also includes the same discretionary spending freeze (for 10 years) that Republicans mocked President Obama for proposing last week.

And Ryan's defense:

On Social Security, the Roadmap provides seniors with the option either to stay in the traditional government-run system or to enter a system of guaranteed personal accounts. Neither option is privatized. In the personal-accounts system, the accounts are managed and overseen by a government board -- not a stockbroker or private investment firm. People choosing the reformed system select from a handful of low-risk, government-regulated options -- just as members of Congress and federal employees do.

Yeah. The problem is, under Republicans the government board would be made up entirely of stockbrokers, and the regulators would be the same people who came up with credit default swaps. And, more to the point, the investment of Social Security WOULD be in private stocks, and revenue WOULD be dependent on how those private stocks do, and there WOULD be corporate middlemen taking a cut on the transactions.

So, if not privatization, the next best thing.

And replacing Medicare with insurance vouchers? Even if you could get insurance corporations to accept senior citizens without a legal mandate (which Republicans oppose), the vouchers would be for a fixed value- which means that, as retirees age and premiums inevitably rise, the vouchers would soon fail to provide enough help for the retirees to continue buying insurance. This undermines the whole purpose of Medicare- to provide health coverage for senior citizens who can't afford it.

And, of course, when the vouchers stop being used, Republicans will pare down that part of the budget, aiming towards an eventual elimination of the program altogether- have no doubts on that score.

And the other notable points?

Lower taxes for the rich, but a tax hike on people who get insurance as part of their employment package- in other words, higher taxes for working people, and ESPECIALLY higher taxes on union members.

Limits on malpractice awards- not just pain-and-suffering limits, but OVERALL limits, so if you are permanently crippled or require lifetime medical care because of a botched operation, TOUGH.

And, of course, a spending freeze for ten years, not just three as the President proposed- and was mocked for by the Republicans.

Let's recap. Republicans attacked health care reform for proposing $500 billion in "cuts" to Medicare- cuts that would come from eliminating wasteful spending, not in actual health care provided. Yet at the same time they propose a program that would inevitably lead to Medicare's total destruction.

Republicans want to balance the budget by cutting taxes on the rich and raising them on the working classes.

Republicans want to revive George W. Bush's privatization plan for Social Security- except Bush only proposed an initial 2% privatization, whereas this program goes much farther.

This proposed budget would actually eliminate the deficit... in 2060.

And yet the only way we could punish Democrats for their fecklessness on so many issues- torture, health care, financial reform, Israel, Iran, Iraq- is to replace them with the same people they keep caving in to.

We can't reward Democratic cowardice... but we can't reward Republican greed and evil, either.

We desperately need another option.

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