Last year, the Democrats failed to even do so much as set forth a budget for Fiscal Year 2011, worried about how the ensuing conversations and debates about everything from scientific research to entitlement reform would affect the Democratic Party’s already dismal chances at the polls. Partisan politics and the perpetuation of power took priority over fiscal discipline and governmental prudence.
And now, as the Republican Party struggles to finally address the 2011 budget while at the same time releasing proposals for 2012 and beyond, the Democrats are already taking up defensive poses and brushing off the age-old arguments used to combat conservative frugality. On Tuesday, The New Republic confronted Wisconsin Republican Congressman Paul Ryan’s proposed budget, “The Path to Prosperity” by invoking a tired meme in a passionate piece entitled Ryan to 32M Americans: No Insurance For You. An excerpt:
In the hours and days to come, you’re going to hear a lot of different numbers from his proposal. But let me draw your attention to a figure that’s not in there: 32 million. Based on the available information, that’s roughly the number of people likely to lose health insurance, relative to current law, if the budget were to become reality.
The spending blueprint calls explicitly for repealing the Affordable Care Act. That means taking insurance away from all of the people who are supposed to get coverage in 2014, when the Act is fully implemented. And Ryan’s budget document proposes no alternative mechanism for significantly expanding coverage or making insurance itself more secure.
The professional left’s myopic focus on health care reform betrays the reality that, should the American economy reach the levels that Paul Ryan warned of in his Path to Prosperity and the media tour he embarked on following its release, the federal government will have no means for funding Medicare, Medicaid, or the various institutions created by the Affordable Care Act … at all. Essentially, it is an issue of whether we want to reform (and, in some cases, eliminate) entitlements NOW, in a relatively controlled environment, or if we want to be forced to do so down the road when our economy looks like Japan’s on a good day.
Like Erskine Bowles said yesterday: we are looking at the most predictable economic crisis ever. It’s akin to being run down by a steamroller — you have ample time to slowly change its direction, but if you don’t, it’ll crush you.
Meanwhile, Democrats like New York Sen. Chuck Schumer worry that any cuts made in government spending would adversely affect things like student aid, scientific research, and public broadcasting. Yet, should the economy continue down this road, there will be no jobs to be had by college-educated students, all scientific research and medical manufacturing will be outsourced to thriving economies like those in India and China, and public broadcasting — well, you make an argument on that one.
Similarly, Nancy Pelosi tweeted on Tuesday that Ryan’s proposed budget is a “path to poverty for America’s seniors and children and a road to riches for big oil,” and that the budget “eliminates guaranteed benefits for seniors under Medicare.”
In his Wall Street Journal op-ed the same day, however, Congressman Ryan maintained that his proposal was about “saving Medicare.”
The open-ended, blank-check nature of the Medicare subsidy threatens the solvency of this critical program and creates inexcusable levels of waste. This budget takes action where others have ducked. But because government should not force people to reorganize their lives, its reforms will not affect those in or near retirement in any way.
Starting in 2022, new Medicare beneficiaries will be enrolled in the same kind of health-care program that members of Congress enjoy. Future Medicare recipients will be able to choose a plan that works best for them from a list of guaranteed coverage options. This is not a voucher program but rather a premium-support model. A Medicare premium-support payment would be paid, by Medicare, to the plan chosen by the beneficiary, subsidizing its cost.
In addition, Medicare will provide increased assistance for lower- income beneficiaries and those with greater health risks. Reform that empowers individuals—with more help for the poor and the sick—will guarantee that Medicare can fulfill the promise of health security for America’s seniors.
On one hand, I try not to read too much into Pelosi’s blustering. It’s par for the course for a politician and a party whose default response to any spending cuts advocated from across the aisle is that they adversely affect children and seniors. It’s the Democratic Party playbook: if the race card doesn’t work, bring up grandma. On the other hand, however, there are many people across this country who take Pelosi’s words as rote. When it comes to seniors, I’d be willing to bet that AARP will be listening, and many of her talking points will be echoed in the next issue of whatever periodical the group sends out and leaves strewn about doctor’s offices from coast to coast.
It’s a shame, too, because of what those seniors are hearing. From comments by Pelosi on Monday:
“In one of the bills before us, 6 million seniors are deprived of meals — homebound seniors are deprived of meals. People ask us to find our common ground, the middle ground. Is middle ground 3 million seniors not receiving meals? I don’t think so. We’ve got to take this conversation from a debate about numbers and dollar figures and finding middle ground there to the higher ground of national values. I don’t think the American people want any one of those 6 million people to lose their meals or the children who are being thrown off of Head Start and the rest of it.”
This sort of argument worked when it came to derailing former President George W. Bush’s effort at Social Security reform. The Democrats, working with the senior lobby, were able to convince the nation’s 55-plus crowd that Bush’s plan meant immediate change and inevitable loss, when in reality it was focused on preserving Social Security for future generations while not affecting those currently drawing benefits. The argument worked then, and Pelosi and her crowd are betting that it will work again now.
The Washington Post, however, called out the former House Speaker this morning on some of her factual inaccuracies. They used the term “absurd math,” not me. From the piece:
The first problem with Pelosi’s statistic is that, according to the agency’s budget documents, only about 2.6 million seniors receive such meals. That’s even less than what she decried as the mushy middle ground of compromise.
After we pointed out that fact, Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said “she means meals for seniors — 6 million meals.” In 2011, the agency is expected to deliver a little over 200 million meals, so that’s a cut of about three percent.
That’s a pretty big “oops.” She referred to “6 million seniors,” “3 million seniors” and “6 million people.” We understand slips of a tongue, but three times in a row, so emphatically, is hard to fathom.
But there are other problems with Pelosi’s 6 million number.
First, the administration requested the elimination of $6 million in earmarks, so it seems strange for Pelosi to call that a Republican cut. That should not be included, leaving us with $65 million in possible cuts.
Second, in the administration’s 2012 budget request, President Obama identified $150 million in cuts to the agency’s budget. It seems that those already-identified targets would be a more logical place to start looking for trims than meals for senior citizens, most of whom have incomes of less than $20,000.
Finally, the agency’s budget justification notes on page 55 that it has kept spending on senior meals essentially flat from 2010 to 2012, resulting in 36 million fewer meals for senior citizens. That’s six times higher than the figure that Pelosi has decried as an affront to “national values.” The administration’s budget, in fact, has earned the ire of some advocates for hungry seniors. Perhaps 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue would be a more appropriate place for Pelosi to direct her outrage.
Pelosi’s rhetorical problems aside, what we’re seeing from the professional Left in the wake of the unveiling of Paul Ryan’s “Path to Prosperity” is this stubborn insistence that the United States of America is not facing a big-picture economic crisis, and that even if it were and cuts were needed, certain programs and institutions are off limits.
Frankly, I don’t think it’s fair to pin that sentiment solely on Democrats, either. Budget cuts, in a way, are similar to the prospect of congressional seat turnover. Just as everyone knows that drastic cuts are needed, nobody wants to cut their program, much like Congress could maintain a 19 percent approval rating and yet incumbency rules the day, as people may hate Congress as a whole but are absolutely content with their guy. When it comes to addressing the pending big-picture fiscal problems, Democrats and traditional Republicans alike must realize that sacrifice is the order of the day.
Yesterday morning, as the prospect of a government shutdown dominated the conversation on local morning talk radio, I listened intently to a caller who had been planning a family vacation in our nation’s capital. For a long time now, he and his family were planning to see the sights, visit the memorials, and browse the Smithsonian and other museums. A government shutdown, the caller insisted, would get in the way of those plans, leaving his family able to do little more than “press their faces up to the glass” from outside the Smithsonian. Similarly, down here in Charleston, people are disappointed that the National Park Service hiatus will disrupt plans to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the first shots of the Civil War–uh, I mean The War Of Northern Aggression–at Fort Sumter. At some point, all Americans are going to need to understand that forestalling the realities of the big-picture crisis we will face must take priority above our favorite trappings of the federal government, whether it be shut down or running as usual.
So many on the left want the government to be ultimately responsible for nearly everything, from health care to education to food stamps to CAFE standards. And yet, as the economy spins out of control, what value will the government bring to those industries and sectors? In Britain, we see that reality has finally set in and Prime Minister David Cameron is looking for reform of the National Health Service — not toward more government involvement, but away from it. In Germany, we see increasing private sector development and reliance in an attempt to grow an economy out of the doldrums. In France, we see a government scrambling to get entitlements under control. The lessons are the same across the world, and we need to heed them here.
Either we address the big-picture problems we face down the road now, relatively removed from the throes of immediate crisis, or we address them later amidst the social and societal upheaval that will inevitably come from massive overnight changes that could have been implemented with less impact and over time. We are indeed looking at the most predictable economic crisis ever. We need to fight the urge to focus myopically on single issues at the expense of addressing our problems on a macro level. The looming crisis is real — either we chip away at it while we are still capable of doing so, or we let it crush us later.