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.

 

 

How Many Secularists and Non-Secularists Can Dance on the Head of a Pin?

Poobah Self Disclosure: I’m an atheist. You may be a Christian…not that there’s anything wrong with that.

America is an unhappy place these days. Opposing forces not only bludgeon each other bloody, but as Mitch McConnell recently announced, they make it a political priority to wipe out their opposition like Genghis Kahn scorching the earth of the steppes. Nowhere is this fighting as pointless and picayunish as in the Secular v. Non Secular Death Cage Match.

As a rule of thumb Republicans are the logical home of the stupidly religiously zealous. Folks like the Family Research Council, Glenn Beck, and loopy Michele Bachmann trumpet vuvuzela the superiority of the God-ed while practicing the most shockingly unchristian behavior against the ungod-ed. Even their captive audience of soft-headed, opportunistic political drones have trouble with them – especially when they stop donating money and votes.

The religious zealots have a huge David and Goliath thing going on. “Dear God, give me a slingshot and guide mine rock into the eye of my Godless oppressors, the libruls.”

But fundamentalists have no lock on the asshat zealot market. Stop by a Jesus Freakery and read the comments. Go to a Atheisterie and the words seem plagiarized from the same source, “You’re a know-nothing asshole who’s a traitor intent on wiping out what crumbs of democracy we still have left.”

And one more similarity. Almost all the over the top bloviation mentions how much anyone who disagrees is some sort of hate-filled, brainless zot – as though we’re all Little Georgie Shrubs.

Most Christians are reasonably sane and the same goes for the secular crowd. All the reasonable ask is a bit of wiggle room because they’re entitled to it. They want to go to church (or not), put up the occasional Christmas Holiday tree (or not), and be safe from the incessant yawping of people who would staple the 10 commandments to everyone’s forehead or consign religious gatherings to a dank cellar with the lights turned out – sort of an ecumenical Gitmo.

But out there on the dark edge of Firebase Freedom lurk nuts to the left of us and nuts to the right of us, as unreasonably pissed about the, “In God We Trust” motto as they are by the, “Christians über alles and the hell with anyone else” brigade.

The balance between freedom of religion and freedom from religion is delicate and a very narrow gap. One person’s “absolute” freedom is another’s horrible shackle.

As with all Constitutional rights, we don’t get to vote on them or change them at will to suit our fancy. However, there’s nothing wrong with a legitimate argument about where the line lays. But, meanness for the sake of meanness is meaningless, rude, and counter-productive.

So everyone, let’s kiss and make up so we can go back to something important, like hating Congress and the President.

You know, something useful.

Cross posted at The Omnipotent Poobah Speaks!

Unsustainable Lunacy

Just when you think Republican candidates can't say anything more buffoonish along comes Dan Maes, a Tea Party candidate running in the GOP gubernatorial primary in Colorado, who told a crowd of 50 Tea Party loons at a July 26th rally in Centennial, Colorado that a bike-sharing program advocated by John Hickenlooper, the current Mayor of Denver and the Democratic candidate for Governor, would lead to United Nations control of Denver and that such a program threatens the freedom of Americans. 

“This is all very well-disguised, but it will be exposed,” Maes told the lunatic fringe. “This is bigger than it looks like on the surface, and it could threaten our personal freedoms."

"These aren't just warm, fuzzy ideas from the mayor," Maes added as his audience foamed at the mouth. "These are very specific strategies that are dictated to us by this United Nations program that mayors have signed on to."

The UN program to which Maes is referring is the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, an association with more than 1,200 cities as members, half of which are in the United States. Denver became a member in 1992. The ICLEI helps communities design and implement sustainable living practices such as Denver's bike sharing program.

The B-Cycle biking sharing program places a network of about 400 red bikes for rent at stations around the city. It is funded by private donors, such as the HMO Kaiser Permanente, and from grants.  Additional revenue comes from memberships and transaction fees. The program was launched in April and it is the nation’s first large-scale citywide bicycle sharing program.

World-wide more than 50 cities have biking sharing programs. In North America, both Montreal and Mexico City have had successful biking-sharing programs up and running for over a year. And just last week Chicago started up its program which is modeled after the Paris program. Each bike comes with a lock, lights and brakes. The first hour is free and each additional half-hour is $2.50 for members, $10 for nonmembers. So far, there are 100 bikes and six locations. Minneapolis and Philadelphia are other cities with bike-sharing programs.

The Denver Post followed up with more extended interview in which Dan Maes, now the front-running candidate in the GOP primary, doubled down on his John Birch Society views.

"At first, I thought, 'Gosh, public transportation, what's wrong with that, and what's wrong with people parking their cars and riding their bikes? And what's wrong with incentives for green cars?' But if you do your homework and research, you realize ICLEI is part of a greater strategy to rein in American cities under a United Nations treaty," Maes said.

He said he's worried for Denver because "Mayor Hickenlooper is one of the greatest fans of this program."

"Some would argue this document that mayors have signed is contradictory to our own Constitution," Maes said.

I'd like to think that lunacy that now reigns supreme in the GOP is unsustainable but I suspect before long another of these paranoid, conspiratorial-minded Tea Party loons will open his or her mouth and offer something even more outlandish and buffoonish.

The Christian Right & Tea Party Movement Intersecting

 

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. -- 2 Chronicles 7:14

Suddenly 2 Chronicles 7:14 is all the rage among the Christian right wing. I first caught this watching Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council promoting his Fall2Call campaign which is calling on Americans to fall on their knees in "humility and repentant prayer" with the expectation that God will then forgive our collective sins and heal our land. Some 470,000 people signed up to collectively have this mass prayer which was held yesterday on the Fourth of July. Here's their agenda:

A Nation on Verge of Moral Collapse -- All careful observers can see "the handwriting on the wall." The course charted by President Obama and a liberal Congress follows decades of declining moral and social standards and conduct. Clearly, we are witnessing what could prove to be irreversible, irreparable harm to our nation. The sanctity of life, of marriage and of our cherished religious liberties are under attack as never before.

The Fear of God -- The reasons for our federal government's failure to solve our problems are many. But we needn't look far to find the root. Our Forefathers founded our nation upon the moral pillars of the Ten Commandments -- they had a "fear of God." They considered biblical morality as essential to the survival of our Republic. In the Declaration, they asserted that our rights as human beings come from our Creator -- not the government. This has been the sure foundation of all of our liberties to this day. Frequent public days of prayer and fasting demonstrated the Founders' sense of dependence upon God. Now, the White House snubs the National Day of Prayer and a Federal Judge has ruled the Day unconstitutional. Yet we have hope in God! Foreseeing the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple, Jesus assured His disciples, "Heaven and earth shall pass away, buy my words shall not pass away" (Mt 24:35).

Economic Tyranny -- Approaching July 4th, 2010, our nation faces potential economic collapse. This week the leaders of the world's most powerful national economies listened to and rejected our President's plan to cure global financial woes with massive new borrowing, taxes and deficit spending -- the very plan he and the liberal Congress have implemented here in the U.S. Earlier this year, the President and liberals in Congress engineered a government takeover of the American health care industry, 17 percent of the American economy. Seventy percent of Americans opposed the plan. Now, large parts of the American auto, insurance and investment banking industries are also under government control.

Immoral Social Agenda -- June was declared by our President to be "Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered Equality Month." At a White House party for homosexual activists, the President recounted his pro-homosexual record and promised a host of new benefits, rights and special protections for the LGBT community. But this privileged new class, whose members are identified by their bizarre sexual practices, presents many threats to society: threats to public health, public morals, the wellbeing of children, threats to religious liberty and, indeed, to themselves. Our Creator condemns their practices as "abominable" and morally reprehensible (see Lev 18:30). Historically, many American states have had laws against homosexual behavior, yet now it is celebrated in the White House. Scripture warns that those who practice and those who approve these things are objects of God's wrath (Rom 1:32). Scripture warns that these practices will cause the very land to "vomit out its inhabitants" (Lev 18:25). Thus, public approval is a threat to us all. The President's commitment to implement the LGBT agenda (e.g., the so-called "Hate Crimes" law, the proposals to repeal both the military's policy of prohibiting homosexuals from serving and the "Defense of Marriage Act," the pro-homosexual "Employment Non-Discrimination Act," and other measures) has far-reaching implications for America. God reminds us in the New Testament that "by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly" (2 Pet 2:6); and "In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire " (Jude 7).

Corporate Sin and Guilt -- Ours is a government "of the people." We share the guilt of our collective national sins. But we have also sinned in our private lives. Popular culture is riddled with flagrant disregard for God, and we participate in them too often and too widely. Our personal sins impact not only ourselves, but the welfare of our families, churches, communities and nation. Those with authority in any sphere bear an extra weight of responsibility for our country's welfare and condition. Whether we are pastors, churches, parents, educators, businessmen, entertainers, or the media, our influence makes an impact, either by our righteous involvement, overt sin or passive neglect. America's recent treatment of Israel, widespread abortion, the subjection of our children to immoral "sex education," pornography, promiscuity (40 percent of births now occur outside marriage), divorce, same-sex "marriage," violent entertainment, and more, all add to our guilt (see catalogue of sins).

The Unique Role of God's People -- God holds His people, those who claim Jesus as Savior and Lord, uniquely responsible for our nation's condition. We are sent to be salt and light (Mt 5:13). He calls us to holiness (Heb 12:14); to proclaim the message of repentance and faith (Mt 4:17; 28:18-20), and gives us power through prayer. He expects us to humble ourselves, to pray for our nation, to seek His face and to turn from our own wicked ways (2 Chr 7:14). That is why Tony and FRC have launched the Call2Fall.

As Kyle Mantyla of Right Wing Watch notes it is "really remarkable how the Family Research Council is slowly transitioning from a political group with a religious agenda to a religious group with a political agenda." Of course, the FRC is as delusional as ever. Who knew that my "bizarre sexual practices" will lead to the nation's extinction? And I am even more surprised to learn that I am part of a "privileged new class." 

And then watching this video from Krista Branch, a Texas based Christian Evangelical singer, that is becoming the Tea Party anthem, I noticed the citation to 2 Chronicles 7:14 at 2:04 mark when a rather defiant little girl holds up a placard. What strikes me about the song are the religious references and the use of images from the Tea Party protests. The lyrics, as vacuous as they come, are below.

 

Pay no attention to the people in the street crying out for accountability.
Make a joke about what we believe.
And say you don't matter cause you disagree.
Pretend you're kings, sit on your throne, look down your nose at the peasants below.
I've got some news, we're taking names, we're waiting out for the Judgment Day
I Am America one voice united we stand.
I Am America one hope to heal our land.
There is work to be done.
I will not rest until we've won
I Am America.
You preach tolerance but lecture me. Is there no end to your hypocrisy?
Your god is power, have you got no shame?
Your only interested in political gain.
You hide your eyes and refuse to listen. You play your games and abuse the system.
You stuff your pockets while Rome is burning.
I’ve got a feeling that the tide is turning.
I Am America one voice united we stand.
I Am America one hope to heal our land.
I will not give up on this fight
I will not fade into the night
I Am America.

Weekly Pulse: Why the Stem Cell Reversal Is Not a Total Victory

By Lindsay Beyerstein, TMC MediaWire Blogger

This week, President Obama made headlines by reversing George W. Bush's executive order barring researchers who receive federal funds from researching all but a handful of stem cell lines created before 2001.

"Promoting science isn't just about providing resources, it is also about protecting free and open inquiry," Obama wrote. "It is about letting scientists like those here today do their jobs, free from manipulation or coercion, and listening to what they tell us, even when it's inconvenient especially when it's inconvenient. It is about ensuring that scientific data is never distorted or concealed to serve a political agenda and that we make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology."

There's more...

Diaries

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