When my mother became senile and we took over her finances, we discovered that she had been repeatedly conned by companies whose sole business seemed to be preying on the weaknesses of seniors. One company was pulling money directly out of her checking account for “magazine subscriptions” that were more expensive than if she were paying newsstand prices. Others were charging exorbitant premiums for questionable insurance policies.
I was reminded of this when reading about the new Republican budget proposal from Paul Ryan that (among other things) eliminates our current Medicare system and replaces it with a giant giveaway to the health insurance companies.
One of the most fundamental tensions in our politics is that senior citizens are, simultaneously, the demographic group that most benefits from the welfare state and the one most sympathetic to the right-wing push to abolish it. The only age group in which McCain beat Obama was voters 60 and older. Part of the reason Democrats fared poorly in 2010 is that voters 60 and older made up 34 percent of the electorate, up from 23 percent in 2008. Senior citizens were also the group most opposed to Obama’s Affordable Care Act, with 58 percent now in favor of repeal.
This produces all kinds of bizarre, contradictory results, like the iconic Tea Party protester who warned the government to keep its hands off his Medicare.
The Republican Party plays both sides of this game. In 2003 they passed Medicare Part D, a multi-billion-dollar deficit-increasing giveaway to the pharmaceutical companies in the guise of a massive entitlement program that was purely designed to buy senior votes. They attacked Obama’s health care reform effort, claiming it would cut $500 billion from Medicare. Not to mention the (totally false) “death panel” hysteria.
But now they are going to gut Medicare in the name of deficit reduction. Will seniors fall for this con?
UPDATE: Matt Taibbi has a brilliant rant on just how dishonest and calculating Ryan’s budget proposal actually is. A few choice quotes:
The Republicans, quite smartly, recognize that there is great political hay to be made in the appearance of deficit reduction, and that white middle class voters will respond with overwhelming enthusiasm to any call for reductions in the “welfare state,” a term which said voters will instantly associate with black welfare moms and Mexicans sneaking over the border to visit American emergency rooms.
Never mind that each time the Republicans actually come into power, federal deficit spending explodes and these whippersnappers somehow never get around to touching Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid.
The last ten years or so have seen the government send massive amounts of money to people in the top tax brackets, mainly through two methods: huge tax cuts, and financial bailouts. The government has spent trillions of our national treasure bailing out Wall Street, which has resulted directly in enormous, record profit numbers – nearly $100 billion in the last three years (and that doesn’t even count the tens of billions more in inflated compensation and bonuses that came more or less directly from government aid). … But the issue is being presented as if the debt comes entirely from growth in entitlement spending. It’s bad enough that middle-class taxpayers have been forced in the last few years to subsidize the vacations and beach houses of the idiots who caused the financial crisis, and it’s doubly insulting that they’re now being blamed for the budget mess.