Posts Tagged ‘Medicare’

Joe Biden Opens Up a Can on Paul Ryan

Monday, October 15th, 2012

 

Joe Biden was on fire Thursday night.

Lots of debate on whether or not he was inappropriate or rude, but I think it’s hard to argue that he was not effective. Biden dominated the debate, refusing to let Ryan sanctimoniously lecture on the inadequacies of the Obama record and laughing not only at the blows that he tried to land, but at Ryan’s whole persona and the persona of Mitt Romney as well. Obviously this was a tactical decision on Team Obama’s part, and it has roots in the historical messaging of the campaign.

Early on in the campaign, Obama’s campaign had to make a decision on whether to attack Mitt Romney for the far right positions that he took throughout his 6 year campaign for the presidency, or on his historical habit of changing his positions depending on what office he was running for. They chose the former and, aside from destroying the contention that he was a “job creator,” their campaign was mostly about the extreme positions that Romney had based his campaign on to date. Team Obama knew that this was never an either/or choice, because if Romney started to move towards “Moderate Mitt,” they could always go back to the flip-flopper charge.

Just before Romney locked up the Republican nomination, top advisor Eric Fehrnstrom noted that once a nominee locked up the nomination, it represented a reset for the campaign, sort of like shaking up an Etch-a-Sketch. Most people assumed that this, in fact, would be Romney’s strategy.   What most people underestimated was how much the far right prevented Romney from moving to the center. This was made evident in August when Romney campaign spokesperson Andrea Saul dared to mention Romney’s Masachussets health care reform in a positive light and the right wing threw a three stage hissy fit. Ann Coulter even demanded that Andrea Saul be fired for daring to suggest that Romney’s major accomplishment as governor could be seen positively. Given these constraints placed on him by his own party, it was perhaps understandable that Romney would not be able to move effectively to the center, but I think the Obama campaign was surprised how Romney neglected to even try.

Fast forward to last week’s debate, where Romney seemed to disavow many of the themes he ran on. $5 trillion in tax cuts by cutting income tax rates? I don’t have a plan to do that… Cover people with pre-existing conditions? Sure, my plan does that, just like yours… Repeal Dodd-Frank? Well, I’m not for all of it, but we really do need regulation. Business can’t function without regulation, and so on…. Frankly, I think that Obama’s team was surprised by this sudden move to the center because it’s probably unprecedented for a candidate to do it with less than a month to go in the campaign.

The Obama campaign spent millions of dollars convincing America that Mitt Romney was a joke, but in one and a half hours of a debate that Obama just neglected to show up to, Romney effectively turned that on its head, seeming not only presidential, but moderate once again, and in the process, erasing all of the gains Obama made post-convention. Biden’s job last week was to once again make Mitt look like the craven politician that he has always been, and (despite the rhetorical excesses) he did that effectively on Thursday night.

Ryan is the conservative Boy Wonder, but Biden treated him an insolent young punk, laughing when he spoke, looking at him with amazement every time he dared to criticize the Administration, throwing his hands in the air and interrupting him frequently.  The pundit class at Fox was outraged (outraged I say!) at Biden’s debate demeanor. The following day we were treated to Dick Cheney on Hannity saying that Biden seemed unstable and that ”It’s not the type of personality I’d like to see in the Oval Office” Ponder that for a second: the guy who invaded the wrong country, shot a man in the face and told a sitting Senator to “Fuck Yourself” on the floor of the Senate thinks Joe Biden is too “volatile” to be Vice President?

To be sure, I thought Biden did take it a little too far (giggling during a discussion of Iran’s nuclear weapons capability was slightly unseemly), but Matt Taibbi summed it up pretty well, arguing that given what Mitt Romney is trying to pull on America, “We should all be rolling our eyes, and scoffing and saying, ‘Come back when you’re serious.’” 

The Romney/Ryan ticket decided, with incredible cynicism, that that they were going to promise this massive tax break, not explain how to pay for it, and then just hang on until election day, knowing that most of the political press would let it skate, or at least not take a dump all over it when explaining it to the public. Unchallenged, and treated in print and on the air as though it were the same thing as a real plan, a 20 percent tax cut sounds pretty good to most Americans. Hell, it sounds good to me.

The proper way to report such a tactic is to bring to your coverage exactly the feeling that Biden brought to the debate last night: contempt and amazement. We in the press should be offended by what Romney and Ryan are doing – we should take professional offense that any politician would try to whisk such a gigantic lie past us to our audiences, and we should take patriotic offense that anyone is trying to seize the White House using such transparently childish and dishonest tactics.

Taibbi points to this specific dodge on tax policy, but that analysis can be applied to any number of characteristics of the Romney-Ryan campaign: from his high profile shifts on long held positions like health care, abortion rights and gay rights, to his claim to be a “job creator” when his firm was a “pioneer in outsourcing” American jobs, to his claim that he views debt as a moral imperative, while his tax and defense plans dig a $7 trillion hole in the budget before they try to balance anything, or to the idea that he claims to be someone who wants to tell America “hard truths,” but refuses to name any of the sacrifices he would ask of Americans in order to get to where we need to go, or to Ryan’s derision of the stimulus as “green pork” when he actually wrote to Biden asking that constituents in his district be awarded green energy contracts since the programs “would create jobs and growth,” or to Romney and Ryan’s laughable assertion that they are the would be saviors of Medicare when they were both in favor of a plan to dismantle it last year, or to his constant criticism of Presdent Obama’s foreign policy when they are offering NOTHING different save their vague promises not to “apologize for America.” The only thing consistent about Mitt Romney seems to be his inconsistency and Joe Biden put that into stark relief last week.

Now that Biden has softened up the target, expect that to be a big theme in Tuesday’s debate between Romney and Obama.

GOP Wake Up Call

Friday, May 27th, 2011

Thank You Paul Ryan!

Kathy Hochul waves to the crowd in Williamsville, N.Y. after winning the race in the 26th district. | AP Photo

His plan to end Medicare (which the House Republicans embraced as orthodoxy as they marched off the cliff like lemmings) has been nothing but trouble.

The latest: Republicans lose a special election in the reddest of the New York state House seats.

NY’s 26th District has been a reliable Republican seat for years. In 2008, it went for John McCain while the rest of the state shifted decisively to Barack Obama, and in some recent elections, Republicans have garnered almost 70% of the vote.

Not this year. Kathy Hochul knocked off her Republican opponent in a race that centered on one thing: the Republican’s support for Paul Ryan’s plan to end Medicare.

This could make for an interesting 2012.

Jon Stewart Explains the Ryan Plan

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

The Daily Show – Ryan’s Private Savings – Path to Prosperity
Tags: Daily Show Full Episodes,Political Humor & Satire Blog,The Daily Show on Facebook

If you have more than a few minutes, here is the intro.

“Starve The Beast” Unmasked

Sunday, April 17th, 2011

Here’s Lawrence O’ Donnell with analysis on Obama’s Wednesday speech.


The real analysis starts at the 2:30 point. O’ Donnell explains how the Republican strategy of “Starve the Beast” got us to the point we are at today. As Reagan said:

You know, we can lecture our children about extravagance until we run out of voice and breath, or we can cure their extravagance by simply reducing their allowance.

O’Donnell continues:

Reducing their allowance. If you’re a conservative republican you can reduce the government’s allowance by cutting taxes, and then sit by and try to watch the democrats preserve their spending programs when they don’t have the money to do it…

“Starve the Beast”…Starve it, cut taxes, don’t collect the money the government needs to run its programs and those programs will then have to be cut. This has been the republican strategy since Reagan. It is the Republican strategy now. If you don’t understand that it is the republican strategy, then you do not understand what you’re up against.

With a nod to Naomi Klein’s “The Shock Doctrine,” this is basically an argument that the Republican theories and policies (along with Democratic enabling) basically created this crisis knowing that it would bankrupt the country. Now that the bill for endless tax cuts with no accompanying spending cuts has come due, they tell us that we have no other choice but to dismantle the social programs that Americans have worked decades to build up and maintain.

O’ Donnell, again:

That plan, the Reagan plan, the Starve the Beast plan, controls our governing dialogue today. This is not an accidental legacy of Reagan’s. This was his plan. This didn’t happen because George W. Bush lost his way and forgot to pay for things, it was because George W. Bush faithfully executed the plan.

This is why the Ryan Plan and Obama’s response to it represent a turning point in the debate, and indeed in America’s history.

The Republicans just spent all last year arguing that tax cuts for the richest 2% had to be preserved. They filibustered benefits for 9-11 responders so that they could preserve these tax cuts. Now that they’ve seized the House, they turn around and say: we have no choice as Americans. We now have to dismantle the safety net that has been in place for over 40 years.  

Bullshit.

The Republicans will tell you that we are “broke.” Don’t believe that for a second.

We’re the richest country in the world. We’re fighting two wars, one in Asia and one in the Middle East. We’re supporting an air campaign against another dictator in North Africa and running a covert drone based bombing campaign in a fourth country.  We have 12 aircraft carriers that allow us to project force anywhere in the world on short notice. We have hundreds of thousands of troops stationed in countries where we fought wars over sixty years ago. We’re the strongest economy in the world and we have more billionaires than any other country in the world by a mile.

We also have one of the lowest tax rates of any industrialized country and our taxes are the lowest they have been in fifty years. 

To be sure, there will need to be decreases in spending across the board and entitlements need to be a part of that. But Americans need to make some tough decisions about what kind of a country we want to be. Medicare is the 2nd most popular social program in the country and the Republicans just voted to dismantle it because they say that we’re broke. But we’re apparently not so broke that we couldn’t afford to pass even more tax cuts for the rich as part of the same budget.

The time for maintaining  high levels of defense spending, moderate levels of social spending and low taxes is over. Americans now need to decide whether we would rather deny poor, disabled and the elderly the health care that they need, or whether we should cut back out military commitments around the world. We need to decide if it’s more of a priority to have low taxes for the top 2% or if we can go back to the tax levels of the Clinton years (when the economy created 23 million new jobs) and cushion the cuts to the social programs that most Americans now view as a right. 

I honestly cannot believe that the Republican House actually passed the Ryan budget yesterday. If their vision of America is one where the safety net is no longer guaranteed and seniors no longer have their medical bills paid so that the rich can get more tax cuts, then you’ve got to give them credit for standing up for their beliefs. But I think they’ll soon find that what they believe differs significantly from what the American people believe in.

Finally: Obama Comes Out Swinging

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

I have to admit that the president’s performance during the budget negotiations was disheartening. It’s not so much that I care if $38 billion is cut from the very small pie of non-defense discretionary spending, but that Obama and Senate negotiators gave so much away in the face of Republican threats to shut down the government.  The negotiations made me question what would be left of the social safety net that so many American generations fought for after the president finished compromising. 

The speech he made yesterday could be a turning point. It was a strong statement that he realizes how important this moment in our history is and is ready to fight for the principles that liberals have fought for and the programs that are under attack from the Radical Republicans. Not only was it a shrewd statement politically, it was probably the most specific and eloquent defense of liberalism that I’ve heard in some time. 

If you missed it, I highly recommend watching or reading it but here are my highlights:

Obama gave a nod to the idea of an America of “rugged individualists, a self-reliant people with a healthy skepticism of too much government.” But also spoke of “another thread running throughout our history”:

A belief that we are all connected; and that there are some things we can only do together, as a nation. We believe, in the words of our first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, that through government, we should do together what we cannot do as well for ourselves. And so we’ve built a strong military to keep us secure, and public schools and universities to educate our citizens. We’ve laid down railroads and highways to facilitate travel and commerce. We’ve supported the work of scientists and researchers whose discoveries have saved lives, unleashed repeated technological revolutions, and led to countless new jobs and entire industries. Each of us has benefited from these investments, and we are a more prosperous country as a result.

Part of this American belief that we are all connected also expresses itself in a conviction that each one of us deserves some basic measure of security. We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, hard times or bad luck, a crippling illness or a layoff, may strike any one of us. “There but for the grace of God go I,” we say to ourselves, and so we contribute to programs like Medicare and Social Security, which guarantee us health care and a measure of basic income after a lifetime of hard work; unemployment insurance, which protects us against unexpected job loss; and Medicaid, which provides care for millions of seniors in nursing homes, poor children, and those with disabilities. We are a better country because of these commitments. I’ll go further – we would not be a great country without those commitments.

Without naming the Ryan Plan specifically, he savaged it.

He savaged it in soaring rhetoric when he explained how much we could accomplish if we invested in our country:

It’s a vision that says if our roads crumble and our bridges collapse, we can’t afford to fix them. If there are bright young Americans who have the drive and the will but not the money to go to college, we can’t afford to send them. Go to China and you’ll see businesses opening research labs and solar facilities. South Korean children are outpacing our kids in math and science. Brazil is investing billions in new infrastructure and can run half their cars not on high-priced gasoline, but biofuels. And yet, we are presented with a vision that says the United States of America – the greatest nation on Earth – can’t afford any of this.

Then he savaged it with specifics:

It’s a vision that says America can’t afford to keep the promise we’ve made to care for our seniors. It says that ten years from now, if you’re a 65 year old who’s eligible for Medicare, you should have to pay nearly $6,400 more than you would today. It says instead of guaranteed health care, you will get a voucher. And if that voucher isn’t worth enough to buy insurance, tough luck – you’re on your own. Put simply, it ends Medicare as we know it.

He drew attention to the fact that the Ryan budget proposes to dismantle the health care systems for the poor, the disabled and the elderly and plows that savings into even more tax cuts for the wealthy. Along the way, he pointed to the rising inequality that accompanied the tax cutting spree of the Bush years:

Worst of all, this is a vision that says even though America can’t afford to invest in education or clean energy; even though we can’t afford to care for seniors and poor children, we can somehow afford more than $1 trillion in new tax breaks for the wealthy. Think about it. In the last decade, the average income of the bottom 90% of all working Americans actually declined. The top 1% saw their income rise by an average of more than a quarter of a million dollars each. And that’s who needs to pay less taxes?

They want to give people like me a two hundred thousand dollar tax cut that’s paid for by asking thirty three seniors to each pay six thousand dollars more in health costs?

That’s not right, and it’s not going to happen as long as I’m President.

When I watched the section above, I had to rewind the Tivo once or twice to understand the math he was explaining: giving one person a two hundred thousand dollar tax cut and financing it by asking thirty three old people to pay six thousand dollars more in health care costs. This is the Republican’s plan for the future.

Just as he did in his Libya speech, Obama consistently drew on the ideals of American Exceptionalism that Republicans have unfairly knocked him for not honoring:

The America I know is generous and compassionate; a land of opportunity and optimism. We take responsibility for ourselves and each other; for the country we want and the future we share. We are the nation that built a railroad across a continent and brought light to communities shrouded in darkness. We sent a generation to college on the GI bill and saved millions of seniors from poverty with Social Security and Medicare. We have led the world in scientific research and technological breakthroughs that have transformed millions of lives.

This is who we are. This is the America I know. We don’t have to choose between a future of spiraling debt and one where we forfeit investments in our people and our country. To meet our fiscal challenge, we will need to make reforms. We will all need to make sacrifices. But we do not have to sacrifice the America we believe in. And as long as I’m President, we won’t.

Finally the fight is joined. For years, the Republicans have engaged in a “Starve the Beast” strategy which consistently cut taxes and then blamed the shortfalls that ensued on runnaway social spending.

But the Ryan plan is a bridge too far. It shows the real vision that the Republicans have for the country, and the argument that we need to dismantle Medicaid and Medicare and provide even more tax cuts for the rich just isn’t going to fly.

Yesterday, the President provided an alternative to that vision and indicated that he is willing to fight for it. How much he is willing to fight remains to be seen, but I’m feeling better than I did a few days ago.

Lockbox

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

A few weeks ago, NBC debuted SNL’s Best of the 2000′s. Included was the now classic skit where Al Gore and George W. Bush are asked to sum up their campaign in one word. Gore (Darrel Hammond) thinks a while and then replies in his thick-as-honey Tennessee accent “…Lockbox.” Bush (Will Ferrell), looks straight at the camera and says with Bushlike certainty “Strategery.”

That skit has become iconic, but when I saw it, I was reminded that at least one politician did see the oncoming crisis and had a plan to deal with at least part of it. For the past year and a half (ever since Barack Obama was elected and the Republican’s discovered that deficits were bad), I have wondered many times how we could have gotten into this situation. For years it was clear to anyone who took a look at budget projections that Baby Boomers were going to start retiring and becoming eligible for Medicare and Social Security soon. Entitlement spending would increase at the same time that the number of people paying into the system was going to decrease. This system resembled a ponzi scheme more than a funding mechanism.  Who, I thought to myself, is responsible for the fact that we now are facing this situation and everyone seems to be acting as though it is a surprise to them?

Well, the answer is that we all are. For years, we elected politicians who said that they were going to balance budgets, but when the rubber hit the road, didn’t. Not only did we not kick these people out of office, we encouraged them to act irresponsibly by punishing any politician who promised to increase taxes or actually did increase taxes in order to balance the budget, and we punished any politician that tried to cut benefits by kicking them out of office (Think Walter Mondale in 1984, Gorge HW Bush in 1992, or Congressional Democrats in 1994).

Being good at their profession (getting elected), it didn’t take the politicians long to figure out this game. Anyone who acted responsibly and asked for sacrifice from individuals for the good of the nation was punished, so politicians just gave the voters what they were requesting through their votes: big government and low taxes.

On each side of the aisle, you can see the cynical calculations taking place over the past decades. The Republican strategy was called “Starve the Beast.” The idea was that you would continue to cut taxes so much that there would be no money for social programs. Then when a crisis hit, the “Permanent Majority” that Karl Rove was carving out would cut social programs and say that they had no choice.

The longstanding pattern was pushed to its most outrageous lengths under the Administration of George W. Bush. Bush and Congressional Republicans pushed through close to $1.8 trillion in tax cuts, while at the same time increasing both domestic discretionary spending and fighting two wars. For the first time in American history, taxes were decreased while America was at war. Included among Bush’s increased domestic spending was a ($500 billion over 10 years) Prescription Drug Entitlement Bill. This bill was passed with absolutely no funding.

Think about that for a second. For all of the Republican fulminating about the gimmicky accounting for the funding of the health care bill, at least it has funding. This prescription drug benefit’s costs were tacked on directly to the deficit. Imagine if Obama had tried to do this in 2010. The Republican’s would have tried to gouge his eyes out. In 2003, they barely batted an eyelash.

Republican’s have made stimulus a bad word over the past year and a half, but looking back, the entire Bush presidency looks like a giant stimulus plan, with trillions of dollars being pumped into the economy through tax cuts and increases in government spending.

Like most politicians, Barack Obama learned his lessons from this history. Not to be outdone by Republican’s, Obama ran on a platform of rescinding the Bush tax cuts for the top income tax bracket, but leaving in place all other Bush tax cuts. In addition, he also proposed an additional tax cut of $500 for individuals and $1000 for families not among the top 5% of earners, even if those families or individuals only paid payroll taxes for the year.

The Democrats in Congress and President Obama followed up their tax cuts (slightly cut down and lasting for only two years) with a long awaited plan to move the country toward providing the benefit of health care that every other industrialized country has. But instead of having a real debate about the coming deficit avalanche, they pushed through Health Care Reform with a budget that was narrow enough to fund the specific plan, while ignoring the fixes that will be needed for the coming crisis. In fact, as funding for half of their plan, they used $500 billion of cuts in Medicare services over a 10 year period. While this technically qualifies as funding, it basically cuts an existing “entitlement” program that is in crisis to fund a new entitlement. The tactics here are different, but the strategy is the same: put a popular status quo (near universal health care) on the table as the starting point for negotiations.

The cumulative result of this recklessness is dramatic. In 2010, tax rates were the lowest that they have been in 50 years (47% of people paid no federal income tax) and federal spending was the highest it has ever been. Not coincidentally, deficits were also at record highs.

To be fair, much of this is an artifact of the unprecedented steps the government has made to keep us out of a Great Depression and I support many of them. In the short term deficits are appropriate and necessary. But for the long term, we need a plan to get our accounts back in balance.

In a recent debate with my conservative uncle, he tagged me for always referring to Bush Tax cuts as “Tax Cuts for the Rich” and pointed out that everyone got a tax cut under Bush (although, to be fair, the rich got hell of a lot more). “Do you support rescinding the Bush Tax cuts for the other 95% of the population,” he asked (assuming that he knew the answer). I thought about it for a second and then responded: Yes. Yes, of course. Because this is a huge crisis and what’s at stake is the future of America.

Look, I know what it feels like to get a check that barely pays your bills and then have the government take more out of it. And I’m sure that if I was lucky enough to be making over $200K, it wouldn’t be fun to have 40% taken out of my paycheck from that point forward. But as conservatives like to say, “Freedom Aint Free.” You can’t maintain a military that polices the globe and provide even the lamest social safety net for 300 million people without raising a lot of revenue.

So I’m open to ideas on how to solve this mess, but I think we need to level with ourselves and accept that it can’t be done without cuts in spending as well as tax increases. If anyone tells you something different, they’re either lying or they don’t know what they’re talking about.

The bottom line here is that, for years, politicians acted irresponsibly and voters allowed them to or even encouraged them to continue those policies. For the past few decades, the question shouldn’t have been “how big of a deficit should we be running,” but “how much of a surplus do we need to be saving so that we don’t have to face a massive fiscal crisis once the Baby Boomers retire?”

Unfortunately, for the past decades we didn’t ask those questions, our politicians didn’t encourage us to ask those questions and the media was (as always) asleep at the switch. Now we face the worst of both worlds. Just as we are recovering from the worst recession since the Great Depression, we are going to be forced to make tough choices that will necessitate sacrifice from all of us.

I don’t expect any progress to be made on this in the months ahead. Requests for sacrifice will not be on the minds of too many congressmen in the months before the election. But the months after the election will be key. Whether the Democrats maintain control of the House is an open question. But certainly, the House will be more conservative in 2011. Soon after their election, the new Congress will be splashed in the face with a cold bucket of water called the Simpson/Bowles Budget Deficit Reduction Commission. In it will be a plan to cut deficits to $550 billion by 2015. The debate that follows should highlight the crisis that we are in…as well as the stakes of failure. It will allow us to take real measure of the seriousness that our elected leaders bring to their job. As we watch the debate unfold, we are going to see whether each party can finally live up to the rhetoric it has espoused for years. We will finally see if Republicans are really concerned about deficits, or if they just want tax cuts. We will finally see if Democrats are willing to ask Americans to sacrifice for the benefits that they have supported for years through borrowing.

The results should be illuminating.