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.

 

 

"Community Unionism"

TNR has a new blog: The Study, aggregating academic papers and thinkers.  For all my efforts to avoid TNR, I'm a sucker for this stuff, and so far, it hasn't disappointed.  Clicking around, I stumbled on this post by Georgetown's Michael Kazin on the revival of "community unionism" in the fallout of Walker's attack on public workers in Wisconsin:

[...] the massive support the unions drew from students, faculty, small farmers, and immigrant rights groups, among others, imparted an old lesson that progressives often forget: to advance its interests, labor needs to look less like an interest group and more like a moral cause that appeals to allies from outside the wage-earning class.

...

A century ago, the horrific Triangle fire helped garment workers make a case for unions as well as safe workplaces. In the 1930s, auto and steel workers gained public sympathy when they struck for “industrial democracy” against autocratic employers. In the 1960s, the plight of low-wage, mostly Mexican-American farmworkers became a favorite cause of liberals.

This year at Georgetown University, another such labor moment occurred—in a modest but still instructive fashion. After a campaign that began in the muck of July, the roughly 200 men and women who work either at the student cafeteria or at one of a handful of campus fast-food outlets (including a Starbucks) are close to winning recognition from Aramark, their employer, whose $12 billion annual revenue makes it one the largest service providers in the nation. The workers, most of whom are black or Latino, have become members of Unite Here, the leading union in the culinary trades.

But they have not done it alone.

Kazin describes a "community union" coalition grown out of frustration, aligning '90s era organizations, College Democrats, the student chapter of the NAACP, and minority workers in a strategic move to tell the personal stories of university service employees to the community (culminating in a MLK day "testimonial" at a local church). 

After a more than a decade fighting for better conditions, just a few weeks ago, according to Kazin, nearly 80% of employees signed in support of representation by the international service union Unite Here.

The fight in Wisconsin has breathed new life into the ideas behind unionization and workers rights.  But to turn the energy into a movement, it's going to require reinforcing the connection between unions and the dinner table.  Conservatives have succeeded to some extent at numbing the country to workers rights, and the dominance billionaires enjoy in the dialog.  Progressives need to take back the frame, and remind the country that, just like the 1930's, unions provide a voice not as easily shouted down by Supreme Court sanctioned corporate "persons." 

What's happening at Georgetown is a microcosmic example that better coalition building between workers and the broad "organizational left," tying the framework to simple dignity and personal experience, is an opportunity to drive the message home.

 

"Community Unionism"

TNR has a new blog: The Study, aggregating academic papers and thinkers.  For all my efforts to avoid TNR, I'm a sucker for this stuff, and so far, it hasn't disappointed.  Clicking around, I stumbled on this post by Georgetown's Michael Kazin on the revival of "community unionism" in the fallout of Walker's attack on public workers in Wisconsin:

[...] the massive support the unions drew from students, faculty, small farmers, and immigrant rights groups, among others, imparted an old lesson that progressives often forget: to advance its interests, labor needs to look less like an interest group and more like a moral cause that appeals to allies from outside the wage-earning class.

...

A century ago, the horrific Triangle fire helped garment workers make a case for unions as well as safe workplaces. In the 1930s, auto and steel workers gained public sympathy when they struck for “industrial democracy” against autocratic employers. In the 1960s, the plight of low-wage, mostly Mexican-American farmworkers became a favorite cause of liberals.

This year at Georgetown University, another such labor moment occurred—in a modest but still instructive fashion. After a campaign that began in the muck of July, the roughly 200 men and women who work either at the student cafeteria or at one of a handful of campus fast-food outlets (including a Starbucks) are close to winning recognition from Aramark, their employer, whose $12 billion annual revenue makes it one the largest service providers in the nation. The workers, most of whom are black or Latino, have become members of Unite Here, the leading union in the culinary trades.

But they have not done it alone.

Kazin describes a "community union" coalition grown out of frustration, aligning '90s era organizations, College Democrats, the student chapter of the NAACP, and minority workers in a strategic move to tell the personal stories of university service employees to the community (culminating in a MLK day "testimonial" at a local church). 

After a more than a decade fighting for better conditions, just a few weeks ago, according to Kazin, nearly 80% of employees signed in support of representation by the international service union Unite Here.

The fight in Wisconsin has breathed new life into the ideas behind unionization and workers rights.  But to turn the energy into a movement, it's going to require reinforcing the connection between unions and the dinner table.  Conservatives have succeeded to some extent at numbing the country to workers rights, and the dominance billionaires enjoy in the dialog.  Progressives need to take back the frame, and remind the country that, just like the 1930's, unions provide a voice not as easily shouted down by Supreme Court sanctioned corporate "persons." 

What's happening at Georgetown is a microcosmic example that better coalition building between workers and the broad "organizational left," tying the framework to simple dignity and personal experience, is an opportunity to drive the message home.

 

Charlie and the CBS Factory (and other news)

 

by Walter Brasch

 

          There has been a lot in the news this past week.

          Most important, if measured by getting most of the ink and air time, is the continuing soap opera, “Charlie and the CBS Factory.”

          The latest in a seemingly never-ending story is that after Charlie Sheen melted down, was fired, and spread himself to every known television talk show, declaring himself to be a winner and announcing a $100 million forthcoming law suit against CBS for breech of contract, the president of CBS announced he wanted Sheen back in “Two and a Half Men.”

          Details are to be worked out. CBS said it would work with creator/executive producer Chuck Lorre and producing studio Warner Brothers, The relationship among Sheen, Warner Bros., Lorre, and most of the cast and crew may be a bit more difficult since Sheen’s warm-and-friendly on-air persona didn’t match his vitriolic attacks upon his co-stars and anti-Semitic remarks about Lorre.

          CBS probably wouldn’t be as eager to bring Sheen back if the show wasn’t the best-rated comedy on the schedule. The SitCom brings in about $2.89 million in advertising revenue per show, about $63 million per season. A ninth and possibly final season also makes it even more lucrative for all the parties when the show goes into full syndication.

          The boozing, possibly drug-induced self-destructive Sheen earns about $1.8 million an episode. In contrast, Mark Harmon, star of “NCIS,” the top-rated scripted show on TV, and also broadcast by CBS, is paid about $400,000 per episode, the same as any of the “Desperate Housewives,” according to TV Guide. In contrast to Sheen, Harmon is happily married, and his professional and personal lives have been devoid of scandal.

          Also devoid of scandal, except for an adulterous affair and subsequent marriage to Richard Burton, was Elizabeth Taylor, one of the greatest film actresses, who died at 79 from congestive heart failure. Unlike Sheen and dozens of sub-par actresses, Taylor set the standard for both acting and a social conscience, being one of the first major celebrities to support not only AIDS education but the victims of the disease at a time when it could have been career-damaging to do so. She won numerous awards, including two Oscars for her acting. But, her most important honor may have been a special Oscar for her humanitarian work, proving her beauty was far more than skin deep.

          But, there were still other stories this past week.

          ● Barry Bonds is in trial, charged with lying about taking steroids. He acknowledges taking steroids but was never told what they were by his trainers. Don’t Congress and the federal judiciary system have far more important things to worry about than baseball players who do or don’t take steroids? How much money has already been spent by Congressional investigations and the subsequent trial that could very well, according to several impartial legal experts, result in a minimal sentence or no sentence at all?

          ● Because of the disaster in Japan, a few hundred million Americans are now concerned about problems of nuclear energy. When America’s nukes were being planted throughout the country in the ’70s and ’80s, these were the same Americans who bought into all the propaganda about how “clean” and how “safe” nuclear power is. More important, these were some of the same people who not only disregarded but mocked those who, with facts, disputed the claims of the power companies.

          ● Two passenger jetliners landed at Reagan National Airport without air traffic controller assistance. The lone controller may have been asleep. That, alone, is bad enough, but there are greater issues not being discussed in the media. In one of the busiest airports, one located in the nation’s capital, and with the government well aware that air traffic control is one of the most stressful jobs, why was there only one controller on duty?

          ● The U.S. launched about $175 million worth of Tomahawk missiles into Lybia this past week. Perhaps another $100–$300 million was spent on tactical operations. President Obama told us the reason for the attack, supported by the UN, was because dictator Muammar Khadafi was attacking civilians in his country. If that’s the reason for the attack, why has the U.S. military been silent on the ethnic slaughter in Darfur/the Sudan? Why have there been no attacks on Iran, North Korea, or other dictatorships that suppress the rights of people? Is it because Libya has more strategic importance, and oil, for the U.S. than Darfur? A more important question is why are we attacking a country in a civil war? Khadafi’s attacks upon rebels may be harsh, but he’s protecting his country. Apparently we learned nothing from the war in Viet Nam. What if England invaded the U.S. on behalf of the Confederates or France provided military assistance to President Lincoln during our own Civil War?

          ● Finally, labor has come under intense attacks the past couple of months. Wisconsin has eliminated collective bargaining, against the largest protests since the Viet Nam war. Other Republican-controlled states are in full battle gear. And, in Maine, Republican Gov. Paul LePage has proven that he cares nothing about the working class when he ordered murals of workers taken down from the halls of the Department of Labor. He claimed, without providing any proof, that some businessmen said the panels, which have no political theme, just depictions of workers, was anti-business. But, no matter what radical conservatives believe, about two-thirds of Americans still believe in collective bargaining, even if they aren’t in unions, according to several recent national polls.

 

[Walter Brasch has been a journalist and editor for 40 years, covering everything from PTA meetings to the White House and federal court system. His forthcoming book, Before the First Snow, looks at the problems of the nuclear power industry. The book is available for pre-order at amazon.com ]

 

 

 

 

Feingold to Give Opening Keynote at Netroots Nation

Day old news, but still worth a mention.  Russ Feingold will deliver the opening keynote at Netroots Nation 2011 in Minnesota.  Feingold's announcement brings it full circle, outlining the fight progressives have taken up:

If you've been following what's going on in Wisconsin, then you're seeing what I'm seeing: the ever-increasing, corruptive power of corporations that continue to invade our system of government.

And that's why I just launched Progressives United, a new organization that will bring together progressives like you to fight back against that corporate influence.

Many of you have already been hard at work standing up for the American people and fighting back against the hundreds of millions of dollars from corporate special interests. But our real fight is ahead, as special interests will try to buy their way to victory in 2012.

Feingold's direct involvement in protests and push-back against Walker's "budget" in Wisconsin position him well.  Reaction to events in Wisconsin have helped to define a clear narrative for this year's conference on the vigourous (and organized) GOP attack on unions, mass progressive push-back, and linking it all back to increased coporate influence through Citizens United.

Defining a progressive strategy and narrative will be key to constructing an ongoing mass movement out of mass outrage.  Feingold can help lead that charge.

 

 

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