Never doubt that elections matter

Published 11:00 pm Wednesday, April 4, 2012

As the U.S. Supreme Court completed oral arguments to determine the fate of the Affordable Care Act and health reform, Rep. Paul Ryan, GOP chair of the House Budget Committee, released the party’s blueprint for fiscal constraint and prosperity.

Like his budget plan from last year, The Cut, Cap, and Balance bill that passed the Republican House last July, the new proposal is strong on rhetoric but fails to achieve its stated goal of “reducing the federal debt” and returning the nation to a path of fiscal prosperity.

House Republican tea party members, despite their doubts, have agreed to support Ryan’s budget, meaning it will pass without needing much in the form of bipartisan support. Thus, the Republican economics will now move into the presidential debate.

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Voters this election year will have a clear choice in selecting the nation’s much-needed economic goals. During this unpredictable and volatile campaign season, candidates will be required to come up with their plan or recipe for fiscal growth and sustainability. Election 2012 is a chance for the average American to vote their pocketbook.

Democrats, who took control of Congress and the White House in the midst of the greatest economic meltdown since the Great Depression, will have to remind voters that many of the policies enacted at that time halted the fiscal train wreck. And now the country is heading back to economic normality, albeit with concerns over rising gas prices and the continuing worries about European solvency.

The Republicans, who have advocated deep cuts in federal spending, must show how their policies have given the economy a lift during this period when most Americans had to rely on the state or federal governments for food, health care needs and housing assistance.

Voters will have to make the effort to look beyond the Republican’s battle cry of a balanced budget (and stiffer cuts), to see just who will ultimately pay the price.

Working Americans, if the GOP’s plan passes, will get fewer tax breaks while also bearing the lion’s share of the costs of balancing the budget. Ryan’s budget offers bread and water for 99 percent of the taxpayers, and gourmet ice cream for the 1 percent, the wealthiest Americans.

There’s too much in it to digest Ryan’s budget here, but it’s clear that most of the proposals are essentially policies that caused some of the fiscal mess in the first place — essentially, more tax cuts or tax breaks that will starve the federal treasury of the cash needed to bring the country back into balance.

Since the Affordable Health Care Act has been in the news all week while the U.S. Supreme Court heard legal arguments, let’s look at what Ryan would do with both Medicaid and Medicare.

• Cutting Medicaid by about one-third by the end of the decade, which, when combined with repeal of the Affordable Care Act, could result in 50 million people losing coverage, including people with disabilities and seniors in nursing homes

• Ending Medicare as we know it by converting it to a voucher program in 2022 and shifting costs and risk onto America’s seniors.

• The non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that Ryan’s health care for seniors will result in a cut of 34 percent in federal funding to the states by 2022.

In addition, Ryan’s plan will repeal the portion of the current law (Obamacare) that expands Medicaid. It will drop 17 million low-income Americans from health coverage. Further, the Center estimates that by 2050, federal support of health care for the poor, and for children, will be cut by 75 percent.

This estimate is based on a flaw in Ryan’s plan, namely, that it fails to keep pace with the dramatic increase in the numbers of retiring baby boomer seniors, and the subsequent costs of their health care.

Ryan’s privatization of Medicare would shift most funding from the federal government to the states at a time when many of these same states are unable to meet their Medicaid commitment.

The real, passionate opposition that Republican lawmakers have for Obamacare does not stem from any so-called “European experiment” (after all, Obamacare is based on the law Mitt Romney signed as governor of Massachusetts). Rather, it comes from their belief that the federal government has no place in forcing citizens to buy something they dislike or believe they do not need. We’ll see later in June if the majority of the justices see this as an overreach or within Congress’ broad powers under the commerce clause.

For now, the debate will continue over two competing philosophies of the role of the federal government: One side believes in limited government that mainly serves the top 1 percent versus the other vision of a government that looks out for all its citizens — especially during hard times.

Yes, elections matter.

(Donna Brazile is a senior Democratic strategist, a political commentator and contributor to CNN and ABC News, and a contributing columnist to Ms. Magazine)