If the recent government shutdown and brinkmanship over raising the debt ceiling has shown us anything, it is to crystallize the willingness of the Republican Party to attack, with almost breathtaking fanaticism, programs that are designed primarily to help middle and lower income Americans by strengthening the nation’s tattered safety net.
The Affordable Care Act, whatever its flaws, will cover millions of low-income Americans by an expansion of Medicaid (Oregon has already lowered its uninsured rate by 10% through the Medicaid expansion contained in the ACA) and provide additional millions with the opportunity to buy affordable private health insurance, with government subsidies to help pay the premiums for those who qualify.
At most the ACA is a modest reform of the private health insurance system, with an expansion of Medicaid thrown in for good measure to help those folks whose income puts them beyond the reach of the private insurance system. Yet even this modest law to help our least fortunate citizens is fought with the sort of tenacity and fervor by the right and the GOP that any reasonable person would assume would be directed only at a Canadian-style single payer system. It’s even more perplexing and disgraceful when one considers that the GOP itself has provided no substantive plan of its own that would come anywhere close to the goal of the ACA to provide near universal coverage.
The reason, of course, is that the GOP does not see universal health care coverage as a worthy objective at all.
This blatant disregard for middle and low income Americans is displayed, too, in its budget aims. The GOP insists that any budget negotiations will take place in the context of no new taxes; even loophole closures, being off the table. Instead, the GOP will discuss only government spending cuts. And where do they want to cut? Well, we’ve already seen the GOP House voting to cut $70 billion over 10 years from food aid to the poor from the Farm Bill. And with Democrats desperate to get out from under sequestration cuts to vital domestic discretionary programs, the GOP’s sole offer is to shift the bite to entitlements such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security- more beating up on the poor and elderly (and poor elderly).
The GOP’s justification for slashing important programs that primarily assist the non-wealthy of our society is the magnitude of our national debt and the continuing deficits which we are passing on to our children and grandchildren. Setting aside the fact that deficits are already falling, it’s difficult to view this angst over the burden we are passing to future generations as anything but insincere and self-serving nonsense – merely crocodile tears.
First, if the deficit mattered that much to Republicans, they wouldn’t take revenues off the table. At a time when economic data shows that the wealthiest Americans have increased their share of income following the Great Recession whilst everyone else has seen their incomes stagnate and when Mitt Romney’s unearned income and that of hedge fund managers is no more than 15% while middle-income working Americans pay 15-33%, it is an absurdity bordering on obscene to argue that the rich are overtaxed. Yet for these few, these happy few, the GOP is willing to go to the mat.
Second, Republicans never talk about the other deficits that we will be passing on to our children and grandchildren if we don’t find more revenues; for example $3.6 trillion in infrastructure repairs by 2020. And if funding for scientific and other vital research continues to diminish in real terms, how will we maintain our economic primacy going forward?
Anti-government mindlessness bordering on fanaticism, combined with an almost total disregard for America’s least fortunate citizens and a singular concern only for the wellbeing of its richest – these are the hallmarks of today’s Republican Party. With its deeply misguided aims and despicable tactics, it is doing more damage to America than al-Qaida or any nation that wishes America ill could hope to accomplish. It is well past time America fought back.