Weekly Audit: Republicans' Budget Declares War on Medicare

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

The Republicans are poised to unveil a model budget on Tuesday that would effectively end Medicare by privatizing it, Steve Benen reports in the Washington Monthly. House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan (R-WI) is touting the budget as a strategy to reduce the national debt.

Ryan’s plan would turn Medicare from a single-payer system to a “premium support” system. “Premium support” is a euphemism for the government giving up to $15,000 per person, per year, to insurance companies to defray the cost of a health insurance policy.

As Benen points out, privatizing Medicare does nothing to contain health care costs. On the contrary, as insurance customers weary of double-digit premium increases can attest, private insurers have a miserable track record of containing costs. They excel at denying care and coverage, but that’s not the same thing.

The only way the government would save money under Ryan’s proposal is by paying a flat rate in vouchers. Medicare covers the full cost of medical treatments, but private insurers are typically much less generous. So, after paying into Medicare all their working lives, Americans currently 55 and younger would get vouchers for part of their health insurance and still have to pay out-of-pocket to approach the level of benefits that Medicare currently provides.

Taking aim at Medicaid

The poor are easy targets for Republican budget-slashing, Jamelle Bouie writes on TAPPED. Ryan’s proposal would also cut $1 trillion over the next 10 years from Medicaid, the joint federal-state health insurance program for the poor, by eliminating federal matching and providing all state funding through block grants. Most of this money would come from repealing the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion, which is slated to add 15 million people to Medicaid.

Block grants are cuts in disguise. Currently, Medicaid is an entitlement program, which means that states have to enroll everyone who is eligible, regardless of the state’s ability to pay. In return, the states get federal matching funds for each person in the program. Ryan and the Republicans want to change Medicaid into a block grant program where the federal government simply gives each state a lump sum to spend on Medicaid. The states want to use this new found “flexibility” to cut benefits, narrow eligibility criteria, and generally gut the program.

This is incredibly short-sighted. The current structure of Medicaid ensures extra federal funding for every new patient. So when unemployment rises and large numbers of new patients become eligible for Medicaid, the states get extra federal money for each of them. But with a block grant, the states would just have to stretch the existing block grants or find money from somewhere else in their budgets. Medicaid rolls surge during bad economic times, so a block grant system could make state budget crises even worse.

Ryan’s proposal has no chance of becoming law as long as Democrats control the Senate. The main purpose of the document is to lay out a platform for the 2012 elections.

Fake debt crisis

In The Nation, sociologist and activist Frances Fox Piven argues that the Republicans are hyping the debt threat to justify cuts to social programs:

Corporate America’s unprovoked assault on working people has been carried out by manufacturing a need for fiscal austerity. We are told that there is no more money for essential human services, for the care of children, or better public schools, or to help lower the cost of a college education. The fact is that big banks and large corporations are hoarding trillions in cash and using tax loopholes to bankrupt our communities.

She notes that Republican-backed tax cuts for the wealthy are a major contributor to the debt.

Jesus was a non-union carpenter?

Josh Harkinson of Mother Jones reports on the religious right’s crusade against unions. He notes that James Dobson of the socially conservative Family Research Council tweeted: “Pro-family voters should celebrate WI victory b/c public & private sector union bosses have marched lock-step w/liberal social agenda.”

Harkinson reports that the Family Research Council is backing the Republican incumbent, David Prosser, in today’s Wisconsin Supreme Court election–a battle that has become a proxy fight over Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-collective bargaining bill:

The FRC’s new political action committee, the Faith, Family, Freedom Fund, is airing ads on 34 Wisconsin radio stations in an effort to influence the April 5 judicial election that could ultimately decide the fate of the law. The ads target Wisconsin Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg, who’s running against a conservative incumbent, David Prosser, for a seat on the state Supreme Court. If elected, Kloppenburg wouldalter the balance on the court in favor of Democrats, giving them the ability to invalidate the recently enacted ban on public-employee collective bargaining. “Liberals see her as their best hope to advance their political agenda and strike down laws passed by a legislature and governor elected by the people,” say the ads. “A vote for Prosser is a vote to keep politics out of the Supreme Court.”

Roger Bybee of Working In These Times argues that recalling Republican state senators in Wisconsin is not enough to defend workers’ rights from Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-union onslaught.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy bymembers of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Audit for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The MulchThe Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Weekly Audit: Wall Street Destroyed $8 for Every $1 Earned

 

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Tonight, President Barack Obama will deliver his State of the Union address. A major theme of the speech will be jobs and the economy. Let’s hope the president spares a few minutes for Wall Street reforms that might prevent a repeat of the economic collapse that we’re slowly starting to recover from.

As Kai Wright points out in ColorLines, the State of the Union is the unofficial kickoff of the 2012 election season:

The still churning foreclosures and mounding debt in black and brown neighborhoods don’t suggest a stabilized economy anywhere except Wall Street, but let’s set that familiar fight to the side for now. The point is that whether we’re talking about creating jobs or seating district court judges, the time for making policy is gone. Starting tomorrow night, it’s all talk until we vote next.

Amy Dean of Working In These Times shares Wright’s skepticism. With the Republicans in control of the House and the Democrats hanging on to the Senate, we’re looking at a legislative stalemate until the next election. Dean argues that activists should use this lull in the action to refocus their organizing at the grassroots level.

Wall Street destroyed $8 for every $1 it earned

In AlterNet, Les Leopold asks why bankers are earning such huge bonuses while the financial system is in disarray. According to standard economic theory, your compensation reflects the value of your work. Yet, according to Leopold’s back-of-the-envelope calculations, the financial sector has destroyed $8 worth of wealth for every dollar it earned over the last 5 years. His estimate includes the wealth-destroying impact of the subprime mortgage crisis and other epic Wall Street blunders.

The free market might not be as generous with bankers as the current system of government bailouts. If financial firms were allowed to fail, Leopold notes, bankers who drove their own firms out of business wouldn’t get paid. However, under the current “too big to fail” rules bad decisions lead to taxpayer rescues, not unemployment. So, the bonus checks keep rolling in.

Social Security switcheroo

James Ridgeway of Mother Jones predicts that Obama is gearing up to cut Social Security:

Having “retooled’’ his Presidency for a more open accommodation of the center right, Obama will soon be overseeing the battle to launch a dismantling of the Social Security system. [...] Without entirely destroying the popular program, he will support cuts that go beyond anything that should rightly happen during a Democratic administration.

Ironically, Ridgeway notes, our current Democratic president is to the right of many of yesterdays conservative Republicans. The legendary arch conservative Sen. Robert A. Taft (R-OH) was a staunch defender of Social Security. Republican President Dwight Eisenhower spearheaded the largest expansion of Social Security in the largest expansion of benefits in the history of the program.

Michelle Obama and Wal-Mart

Michelle Obama has enlisted the world’s largest corporation (and largest grocer) in her Let’s Move! campaign against childhood obesity. George Warner of Campus Progress takes a closer look at the skewed economics behind the “Nutrition Charter” signed by Wal-Mart last week. Amongst other things, Wal-Mart pledged to cut added sugar in its products by 10% by 2015; make healthy food more affordable; and develop a “nutrition seal” to alert shoppers to ostensibly healthier foods.

Yet, Warner notes that Wal-Mart is contributing to ill-health by employing a massive workforce at less than a living wage. Even if Wal-Mart follows through on its relatively modest pledges to promote healthy eating, it continues to put its own workforce at risk of ill health simply by paying them poverty-level wages. Studies show that for every job a new Wal-Mart store creates, it destroys three existing jobs, which paid an average of 18% more.

Poverty is one of the strongest predictors of obesity and poor diet.

Beck vs. Piven, Round 2

Last week, the Audit covered a bizarre right wing trend of demonizing 78-year-old CUNY political science prof Frances Fox Piven for an article she wrote in 1966. Glenn Beck and other leading lights of the right claim that Piven’s 45-year-old article is being used right now by liberal elites in their sinister plot to violently overthrow capitalism.

Piven is receiving death threats by email; and death threats are popping up on Glenn Beck’s website, including: “Snap her little chicken neck. This pinko filth needs a long dirt nap.”; “Somebody tell Frances I have 5,000 rounds ready.”, and “We should blow up Piven’s office and home.”

In actuality, Piven’s article argued that everyone who was eligible for welfare should sign up for benefits in order to expose the structural flaws in the system. Say what you will about the plan, it was non-violent. It involved a lot of paperwork. Far from overthrowing the federal government, Piven sought to usher in a federal guaranteed federal income as an alternative to the patchwork of state and local welfare agencies doling out benefits.

Matthew Rothschild reports in the Progressive that the Center for Constitutional Rights has sent a letter to Roger Ailes of Fox News asking him to reign in the anti-Piven demagoguery.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Audit for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Mulch, The Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Weekly Audit: What Will The GOP Cut?

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

The Republicans won control of the House and picked up seats in the Senate in the midterm election on nebulous promises to slash spending and reduce the size of the federal government.  House Speaker John Boehner has pledged to reduce spending to 2008 levels, as per the GOP’s campaign manifesto, known as the “Pledge to America.”

But as Andy Kroll reports in Mother Jones, while the Pledge calls for a 21.7% reduction in spending on non-security discretionary programs, it doesn’t commit to any specific cuts. Medicare and Social Security are safe from this round of cuts because they are not discretionary.

The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities tried to give a glimpse of what the federal government might look like if all eligible agencies took a 21.7% budget cut across the board. As Kroll notes, it’s more likely that some programs will be spared, some trimmed, and some eliminated entirely.

However, the CBPP’s analysis gives a stark picture of the magnitude of the proposed cuts, Kroll writes:

What it found was grim, with middle class Americans set to lose the most.

K-12 education funding, the CBPP found, would drop by $8.7 billion, and food stamps for at-risk pregnant women, infants, and young children would lose $1.6 billion in funding. State- and local-run housing programs would lose $6.9 billion, and children and family social services would lose nearly $2.2 billion.

Already pinched state budgets would take massive hits as well, losing out on $31.6 billion in federal funding.

Cuts to state budgets mean even deeper cuts to education and social services that benefit working families. Starving the states is also a strategy to force state governments to default on their pension obligations to unionized public sector workers.

But the magnitude of these cuts might be giving the GOP cold feet. In January, Speaker Boehner told Brian Williams at NBC that he couldn’t name a single program that he planned to cut.

Inequality is personal

Paul Buchheit points out on AlterNet that if middle- and upper middle-class families had the same share of the economic pie that they did in the 1980s, they would be making $12,500 more per year. In other words, the economy has become vastly more productive over the last 30 years, but the extra wealth has become overwhelmingly concentrated in the hands of the very richest Americans at the expense of working families.

U.S. GDP quintupled since the 1980s, but most of the extra wealth has gone to the top 1% of earners. Nobody begrudges entrepreneurs a healthy return on their capital, but what about the 99% of earners who provided the labor. Where’s the return on their investment?

With looming government spending cuts to domestic programs, the middle- and upper-middle classes will face an even bigger hit to their real standard of living. Local and state governments are cutting back on services while hiking taxes and fees.

The richest 1% won’t feel these cuts as acutely as middle class families. If you have your own private swimming pool, you may not notice that the public pool is closed because the city can’t afford lifeguards. If you send your kids to private universities, you won’t be biting your nails over potential tuition hikes at public universities.

MLK’s legacy

The nation honored the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on Monday. Roger Bybee of Working In These Times points out that, while King is remembered as a civil rights leader, he was also deeply committed to economic justice for all Americans. The politicians who praised King’s legacy on Monday should remember that Dr. King’s last great crusade was on behalf of sanitation workers in Memphis, public employees struggling for a decent standard of living.

Beck sets sights on 78-year-old CUNY prof

Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! interviews Frances Fox Piven, a 78-year-old distinguished professor of political science at the City University of New York, who may be the first person to inadvertently spark prime time conspiracy theory in the pages of a Media Consortium outlet. Right wing talk host Glenn Beck has identified Piven as the co-author of a violent blueprint to crash capitalism itself.

As Piven explains to Goodman, the bile stems from the suggestion made by her and her co-author Richard Cloward in a 1966 article in The Nation that social activists should help poor people access the benefits they were already legally entitled to. At that time, Piven recalls, the welfare system denied benefits to more than half of its eligible recipients. She and Cloward believed that the poor would become a more politically powerful and visible part of society if society suddenly had to make good on its promises of aid.

In July, Richard Kim of The Nation explained how an obscure 40-year-old article was recast as the “Rosetta Stone” of lefty politics, the blueprint to usher in an economic crisis which the left could exploit to bring about socialism.

Since Beck seized on Piven’s work and labeled her a violent revolutionary, she has been the target of death threats by commenters on Beck’s website. Political operatives posing as students came to her home to interview her. The interview later showed up on Andrew Breitbart’s conservative website.

Piven seems both concerned and bemused that her brief for reforming the welfare system of the 1960s has been labeled as a blueprint for destroying the capitalist system.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Audit for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Mulch, The Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Letter to President Obama calling for a basic income for all

As our economy continues to implode, a new solution with a long history has gained support among a group of academics, activists, and economists who gathered this past weekend at the 8th Congress of the US Basic Income Guarantee Network in New York.

Leading intellectuals such as Stanley Aronowitz and Frances Fox Piven are among those who signed a letter to President Obama urging him to consider providing a basic income to all Americans as the most effective way to stimulate the economy, increase economic equality, and promote income security for all.

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