An Old Ideological Struggle Threatens Entitlements Again
President and Chief Executive Officer
An Old Ideological Struggle Threatens Entitlements Again
Right now, the latest battle in a decades-old war over a public policy is being waged.
It’s more than just a disagreement among friends.
It’s a fundamental dispute about the role of government.
It goes back to the days when Franklin D. Roosevelt was President, although, really, its roots go back even further than that, to the early days of the 20th Century.
The basic issue is whether our government has the authority to, or should, tax its citizens for a social program that benefits one segment of the population while making the rest of us pay for it. Although you don’t hear much said about that these days.
We did hear it expressed, however, in the “socialism” refrain repeated throughout the debate over Obama’s health care program.
The U.S. Supreme Court, by the way, decided this matter back in 1937 in the case of Social Security.
Just as the concept of a social security insurance fund didn’t sit well with certain folks, neither has that court decision.
The primary target of this debate has been Social Security, with Lyndon Johnson’s Medicare program a close second. Then, there is also Medicaid, another Great Society program,
Both FDR and LBJ were masterful politicians who used their strength and determination – and ability to twist arms – to get their revolutionary entitlement programs approved.
Through the intervening years, those who are ideologically opposed to this concept have sought to reverse the course.
The Great Communicator – conservative Ronald Reagan – tried to change Social Security, long seen as the “third rail” of politics, but gave up. He instead agreed to steps to address the program’s shortfalls and secure its future for many decades.
In the late 1990s, Bill Clinton was given a series of proposals to make significant changes in Medicare, including raising the eligibility age. President Clinton rejected these suggestions.
Since Clinton’s days, however, the opponents have been gathering strength. Even through the George W. Bush years, though, they weren’t able to gain much traction. In fact, President Bush’s signature social program – the Medicare prescription drug plan – added significantly to the cost of government-provided health care for those 65 and older. His attempt to privatize Social Security went down in flames.
Another attack on these programs is being mounted today, led pretty much by right-leaning Republicans and tea partiers in the House of Representatives, along with a handful of House Democrats,
Their “man at the moment” is House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, who has put forth a 2012 House “reform” budget plan that would transform Medicaid and Medicare.
Medicaid would become a block grant program, giving states a lump sum of money to care for low-income persons, under Representative Ryan’s plan. For Medicare, he would have the federal government contribute money to be used by beneficiaries to purchase private health coverage, making it a voucher program, effectively ending the existing program.
The House budget chairman’s plan stays away from Social Security. It seems that most Republicans in the House don’t feel the time is right to take it on.
Ryan and his supporters don’t exactly shy away from their dislike of these programs, but they do say that they are motivated by fiscal concerns. They claim that they are actually shoring up these costly entitlements, and addressing the need to solve the nation’s financial problems.
The House Republican plan, it’s claimed, would save $1 trillion over the next ten years.
It’s hard to see how such a significant cut in spending in some way preserves these vital programs.
Despite the fact that, yes, there are genuine concerns about the cost of these programs, this is not, and never has been, about money.
Those today who want to strike at the heart of entitlement programs are the ideological descendants of those who opposed Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson with all their might.
The nation’s current fiscal problems and huge deficit represent a great opportunity for them to try to change our direction.
Why did we pursue these entitlements in the first place?
It was for the betterment of the lives of the needy and older adults – addressing poverty and a lack of affordable access to health care. We stepped in to protect our older citizens, who are among our most economically vulnerable.
The other day, Rep. Jan Schakowsky, an Illinois Democrat, told The New York Times: “Mr. Ryan and the Republicans are declaring war on entitlements, and war on the elderly and the poor.”
Keep in mind that for those who would abandon our most neediest citizens and try to bring an end to entitlement programs, words such as “reform” and “privatization” are simply code words for budget cuts and eliminations.
Representative Ryan, in fact, has stated that he sees the House plan as fulfilling a “moral obligation” to address the nation’s deficit and debt.
But there’s really no intent here to preserve or improve entitlement programs.
Using the guise of fiscal responsibility, those who fundamentally oppose the concept of entitlements are undertaking perhaps their greatest challenge yet in this long-standing ideological struggle.
They don’t care about the consequences.
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