By Leo W. Gerard
Republicans concocted death panels in an attempt to terrify Americans about health care reform, then propagated the lie because they wanted insurance corporations to profit from illness and injury unfettered.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passed anyway, but now the GOP has announced that it plans to kill the reform, and Medicaid and Medicare too.
In one fell swoop, Republicans would foreclose on Americas’ long-held and cherished expectation that they’ll receive health coverage from their government in their old age, impoverishment or infirmity. For the elderly, poor, unemployed, disabled and juvenile who can’t afford insurance, the GOP offers no death panels, just death from lack of care.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Budget Committee, disclosed the GOP scheme to massacre Medicare and Medicaid. Instead of the government directly paying for medical services for the elderly and impoverished, Republicans would shift costs to states and the elderly.
Under their plan, instead of Medicare, the federal government would give seniors an unspecified amount of money toward the cost of premiums for private health insurance.
Also, instead of Medicaid, the GOP would give states some money to help pay for insurance for the poor, which includes nursing home care for the elderly. States and the elderly then would be stuck paying insurance costs above the amount provided by the federal government. Ryan and his GOP gang transfer medical costs to the elderly and impoverished to compensate for federal revenues lost when they slash income taxes levied on the rich and corporations by an additional 30 percent.
The GOP message to the rich and to corporations: keep your tax break and take another 30 percent. The GOP message to the middle class: pay more and lose your safety net.
The founders of the United States intended the government to serve the people not prostrate itself to the privileged. The signers of the Declaration of Independence and framers of the U.S. Constitution discarded the doctrine of the divine right of kings, the idea that monarchs derived their authority from God and thus were not subject to the will of the governed.
Instead, the founders and framers determined that rich and poor, men and monarchs are equal, that they possess inalienable rights and that the function of government is to secure those rights. Their vision of government is an organization operating with the consent of the people to protect the people. That is, to protect their inalienable rights, to protect them from inequities, to protect them from internal and external threats.
The GOP budget is a manifestation of a very different government philosophy. It subjugates the people to the divine right of corporations and the rich.
If the wealthy and corporations had paid their share of federal income taxes over the past 30 years since successive Republican presidents began cutting them, the federal deficit would be relative peanuts, if it existed at all. If the wealthy paid their share of social security taxes, the program would not face shortfalls after 2036. If corporations and the wealthy paid federal income taxes at the rates they did during the presidencies of Republicans Dwight D. Eisenhower or Richard Nixon, no one would be talking about killing off Medicaid and Medicare.
The nation’s largest corporation, General Electric, accumulated $26 billion in American profits over the past five years, while demanding $4.1 billion in “rebates” from the IRS and paying absolutely no federal income taxes last year. Two out of three U.S. corporations paid no income taxes from 1998 through 2005. The effective tax rate for the wealthy – the rate after loopholes and special deals - is nine points lower than that paid by the typical worker.
Still, Paul Ryan and his Republican crew insist that corporations and the rich are paying too much and demand that they pay an official rate of 25 percent instead of 35 percent. Because that will mean billions in lost revenue, the GOP slashes programs that protect the masses in the middle, education, health care reform, veterans benefits, public transportation, health and safety regulation, food and import inspection, Medicaid and Medicare. The GOP guts government for the people.
Because of those huge tax cuts for the rich and corporations, the Republican budget doesn’t even end the deficit until 2040. In fact, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office determined the tax cuts would increase the deficit’s share of the economy for the first 10 years of implementation. Under the GOP plan, public debt would rise to 70 percent of GDP by 2022. If the government maintained its current tax and spending levels, the debt would grow to 67 percent of GDP by 2022.
The GOP budget shows Republicans believe corporations and the rich are super citizens with divine rights, while the vast majority of the nation’s citizens, the middle class, are lesser beings who are to be taxed but not protected by their government.
Many of these citizens – the elderly, the poor, the disabled – won’t be able to afford health insurance under the GOP scheme. They’ve paid taxes all their lives to support programs like Medicare. Now, the GOP intends to rip that out from under them, to take away the protection that they believed their government - government for the people - would provide.
The GOP announced this week that it believes new tax cuts for the rich and corporations are more important than Medicare and Medicaid, more important than the lives of vulnerable Americans who will die for lack of health insurance to pay for care.
Leo W. Gerard is the international president of United Steelworkers (USW).