2011-04-22 / Columnists

The Rockaway Beat

Commentary By Howard Schwach

Republican Representative Paul Ryan has drawn up what he calls a roadmap to solvency.

What it really is, however, is a roadmap that ends at a cliff for many senior citizens and those who will one day become senior citizens – as if there were an alternative other than death.

Take a look at what Ryan proposes, a proposal that has made him the darling of the Tea Party regulars and the conservative Republican majority.

It would double the share of health care spending for which Medicare recipients would be responsible. The plan would provide those senior citizens with health care vouchers to be used for private insurance rather than benefits, as it does currently. The plan is a boon for the major private health care providers, who would get millions of new customers and billions in new revenue. Who would suffer? Only the senior citizens, and who cares about them?

His plan would also repeal the recently-enacted health care law, so that the donut hole would once again appear full-blown.

That would be a boon for the large pharmaceutical companies and the health care providers. Who would suffer? Only the senior citizens who must use drugs to maintain life and fitness, and who cares about them?

It would also halve Medicaid grants to states, forcing some seniors to provide medical support for their indigent children and grandchildren. If you don’t think that seniors supporting kids and grandkids is a problem, you haven’t been paying attention.

Ryan, of course, says that his plan is all in the name of budget reduction, but the math just doesn’t add up.

The Congressional Budget Office, a non-partisan agency set up to review budget proposals, says that Ryan’s plan would cost from 44 percent to 67 percent more than traditional Medicare, from which people turning 65 in 2022 would be barred.

In fact, Ryan needs to cut Medicare and Medicaid because he needs the money to fund massive tax cuts for the rich – including tax cuts in the top tax rates from 39.6 percent to 25 percent for those earning more than $375,000.

Tax the old and the poor to subsidize the rich.

That is what the Republicans and the Tea Party are all about.

Even eight years ago, no politician in his or her right mind would have pushed a plan to cut sacrosanct programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. Notice that even the Tea Party will not mess with Social Security – for now. The plan to force seniors into the stock market for their Social Security benefits is very much alive and will resurface as soon as Medicare is addressed and gutted.

Now, however, with the repudiation of the progressives in the November election, conservatives are emboldened to push for things they only dreamed of in the past.

Of course, pushing a bill that changes Medicare comes with some baggage as well as some political peril.

Republican strategists have warned House leaders that the bills could backfire and that even proposing them could well spell disaster in the next election.

Conservatives, however, think that the ground has shifted enough so that they can pull off changing Medicare without losing the Congress.

They are probably wrong.

“We are going to use the budget to prove to Americans that every time Republicans chose to protect oil company profits while privatizing Medicare for seniors, seniors will choose the Democrats,” said Representative Steve Israel, who is leading the Democrat’s campaign program.

Then there is the American Association of Retired People (AARP), an organization made up of those more than 55-years-of-age, that has become one of the most powerful lobbying organizations in the nation and which will lead the opposition to any bill touching either Medicare or Social Security.

The AARP is particularly strong in some of the states the Republicans will have to hold in order to win – Florida, New York, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. All of those are states with large numbers of senior citizens, many of whom switched to the Republicans over economics and anger at the Obama administration, but they will surely come back to the Democrats if the Republicans are perceived as messing with their entitlements.

And, in my opinion, they are right. The new health bill has benefited my family, and I will do what everybody else does – vote my self-interest. There is nothing wrong with that concept, especially if it means the difference between living comfortably and getting whatever medications we need, and scrimping on everything else to pay for those medications.

For example, a member of my family is diabetic and uses insulin.

At the beginning of the year, a 90-day supply of Lantus is about $120. When in the donut hole, however, the same medication costs $420. Last year, the new health bill provided a $250 subsidy. This year, it will pay half of the cost of the Lantus throughout the year.

We’re not talking pennies here.

We’re talking the difference between $1,400 and approximately $650.

If seniors vote their self-interest, then Republicans are toast if they mess with Medicare or Social Security.

Republicans might say that the seniors are taking the easy road by demanding entitlements that are hurting the nation at large as well as future generations, but it is the seniors who built this nation, and the rich businesspeople and Wall Street interests who have destroyed it.

Which group is entitled to some consideration?

Decide for yourself.

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