The Freak Show: Let The Battle Be Joined

The President and Congress are in the midst of a serious battle over the budget. And not just the budget for the rest of this year and next, but on the strategy of how to deal with massive deficit spending, and with programs such as Medicare and Social Security, for the next decade.

The first blow in the battle came from the Republicans, with a plan rolled out by Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan that actually calls for some radical changes to our present system. A major part of it calls for an end to Medicare as we know it. For all you youngsters out there, Medicare is the program that pays for health care for senior citizens who can’t get it because private insurance companies don’t want to insure older people because of the likelihood of high expenses. It is a very expensive program,

The proposal changes Medicare into a voucher program, giving grants of money to the states to use as they see fit to insure older Americans. It starts with an amount of $15,000 per senior citizen, and gives it to them to buy health insurance. It sounds like a reasonable proposition, until you think about the fact that private insurance companies raise rates so steadily that it wouldn’t take long until that wasn’t enough, and if we had to increase the amount given away, we’re really not saving anything in the long run.

The plan also repeals the health care legislation that was passed last year, so forget about the restrictions on insurance companies turning down people with preexisting conditions. Can they really, seriously think that will work? I think it’s obvious a lot of seniors won’t be able to get coverage without forking over a lot more of their own money, in addition to what the government gives them.

But the biggest joke of the proposal is that it won’t actually reduce the deficit to a level lower than what it’s been before the recent orgy of spending, starting in the Bush years and continuing with Obama. That’s because he slips in a large tax cut for the wealthy. He proposes lowering the top rate to 25 percent. He does add in that he would get rid of some tax loopholes, which would alleviate some of the affect of the tax cut, but he doesn’t say exactly what they are.

So as ridiculous as some of it is, we do have to give them credit for at least coming to the table with a plan, something the Democrats haven’t done. The President did give a speech last week espousing his own plan, and it was a speech full of great rhetoric, but short on specifics.

The plan has four elements. First, it calls for lower domestic spending. A grand idea, but one that has never come to fruition in any budget passed in several decades. Secondly, he calls for cuts in the defense budget. Again, a worthy endeavor, as time and again there has been found massive waste there. But getting anything passed to combat it has been a tough sell, and to think they can do it now, with our troops in active conflicts in the Middle East, is a pipe dream.

The third part of the plan calls for continued reform of the health care system, which is a major cause of the problem and should be a major part of the solution. The President called for reducing waste and inefficiencies (something we’ve never heard before, right?). But he’s right about reforming these programs. They need massive reform, just not giving up on them and turning it over to the insurance companies, as the Republican proposal does. That’s having the fox guard the henhouse if I ever heard it. Insurance companies are the prime culprits who got us into this mess; thinking they are part of the solution is ludicrous.

The final step of the President’s proposal is to fix the tax code. He pledged to not again give in and let the Republicans ram through tax cuts for the wealthy. He called for limiting tax deductions for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans. Again, a good start, but nothing that is going to make a dramatic difference.

What we need is a combination of lower spending and slowly raising the cap on Social Security and Medicare withholding. Right now, a person who makes $1 million pays the same amount into Social Security as the person who makes $106,800, because it’s capped. Let’s just get rid of the cap and be done with it. Yes, the Republicans will call it a tax increase and fight it tooth and nail, but in one fell swoop we can alleviate a big part of the Social Security and Medicare problems.

Then we can tackle issues like lowering spending and ending waste. No more funds to subsidize oil companies, and paying farmers to not crow crops. Let’s stop research into cow flatulence and building bridges to nowhere. If our leaders are serious about this, they will sit down and do this stuff. Of course they’re not, or they would have done it already. But one can always fantasize that someday they will really care more about what they do than they do about gaining political advantage, which is what drives every debate they have.

A study of recent government press releases found that 27 percent of all the releases put out by members of Congress were devoted to condemning the other party and their ideas. Until we can get past that and start to really concentrate on the issues at hand, we won’t have a solution to complex problems such as these.

It will take leadership. So far none of the budget battle combatants have actually shown that. Hey, anyone up there listening? Let’s sit down like adults, stop attacking each other, and figure out how to spend less, raise some revenue, and before you know it we’d have a cohesive plan. If you can’t do it, get out and let someone else in who can. I could do it. Let’s see what you’ve got!