What Do Conservatives Seek to Preserve?
Where was all this concern with budget deficits and the national debt when Ronald Reagan and the two Bushes were president? Am I the only one to see hypocrisy in a political party that sees nothing wrong with waging war at will with no thought of the cost while demanding budget cuts in domestic spending programs important to the well-being of deserving Americans to pay the costs of recovery from natural disasters?
The Republicans do not really care about deficit spending. If that were the case, they would not have approved of the tax cuts under Reagan at the same time as he was ramping up defense spending, which resulted in easily predictable increased deficits under his watch. The same would have been true of the George W. Bush tax cuts and wars of convenience. As long as the money is being spent to further goals they are pursing, be they military or economic, no questioning of where the money is going to come from to pay for it is made.
The main goal of the GOP in Congress seems to be to preserve the economic advantages gained by the wealthy and large corporations through the past thirty-plus years of tax code manipulation. The tax laws have resulted in the greatest degree of income and wealth inequality this nation has seen since before the Great Depression. The middle class and poor have seen real wages stagnate and even decline at a time when corporate profits are at record levels and incomes at the top have skyrocketed. Lowered marginal tax rates for high incomes, capital gains, interest and stock dividends have also contributed in an increasing concentration of wealth in the hands of the top 1% of the population. The wealthy are thriving at a time when it has become increasingly difficult for many of the rest of us to maintain our standard of living.
Tremendous increases in productivity have resulted in increased profits for corporations and huge salary increases for CEOs and other high-level corporate executives, but have not been shared anywhere near equitably with the workers. Many jobs have been lost to cheaper labor overseas and workers who are treated and paid at levels which would be deemed criminal and/or inhumane by American standards. Free Trade Agreements which make it easier for capital to move around the globe ignoring national boundaries, working conditions and environmental impacts contribute to this inequality on an international level as well. Tax codes that enable such manipulation don’t help anyone except those at the top.
Because needing to pay our bills is something easy for politicians to sell to people familiar with having to pay their own bills on a daily basis, some way to ease the deficit without increasing income/revenue has become the main theme of the Republicans in their quest to maintain the status quo. Some of the most costly programs, other than the sacrosanct defense department, are the social programs created during the New Deal and Great Society in order to ease the extremes of poverty for both the sick and elderly, including Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, but also other programs like food stamps. The rapid rate of cost increases in health care in recent decades, along with the overall aging of the population has seen a trend for even greater increases in expenditures in these programs as time goes on.
While rising health care costs and an aging population are easily verifiable conditions in our economy, cutting benefits to recipients of these programs is not the only way to address future funding of them. Costs can be cut without forcing individuals to pay out of pocket money they do not have for medical treatment. Shifting more of the burden for medical care on the elderly by turning Medicare into a voucher system as proposed each year by Paul Ryan since he became chair of the House Budget Committee, is unfair because it obviously means that those who do not have money will be unable to get medical care. Period. Taking revenues off the table entirely is an unreasonable demand, especially if it is done so just to maintain income and wealth inequality that does nothing to add to our economic prosperity. Time has proven this extreme economic inequality does little to contribute to our welfare as a society or the health of our economy.
The industries which have remained highly profitable, even with the advent of the Affordable Care Act, at least so far, have been the health care providers, health care insurance and pharmaceutical companies. Each of these expended enormous sums of money lobbying during the crafting of the legislation to ensure that their interests would not be severely damaged by the final product. I have heard of no significant drop in their profits or any major bankruptcies in any of these sectors since its implementation began. Further cost savings in health programs can be made. Some have already started to change the future cost projections under the Affordable Care Act as it is in the process of implementation. Why not allow for bargaining of prices for prescription medicines, for example? Why do drug have to be more expensive in the US than Canada?
The point of these programs is precisely to shift resources to those who need them from those who have more than they need. Isn’t the goal to enable more people to be able to live long, healthy lives, rather than die of neglect and poverty? Do we wish to see our nation become one where we see living conditions deteriorate for some of our people, not because resources do not exist to help them, but because those who control those resources refuse to allow them to be helped?
Social Security is still at the forefront of those seeking to cut the social safety net, despite the fact that it neither caused the problem in the first place nor faces an insurmountable funding gap anytime in the foreseeable future. The whole Chained-CPI argument, even being espoused by the Obama Administration itself, would do little other than worsen living conditions for those already nearest or beneath the poverty level among our retirees. We are not talking about cutting the incomes of millionaires appreciably here, but people who already use food stamps, housing subsidies, heating assistance and other programs( which are also facing calls for cuts, by the way) just to make ends meet cannot afford further benefit cuts. Increasing the cap and broadening the scope of what is taxed by the Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes would be more than adequate to address the need of these programs without resorting to faulty calculations of cost-of-living adjustments. Social Security should be increased, if anything, to ensure that even fewer retirees are living in poverty.
The wealthy do not get that way in a vacuum, by pulling themselves up by their bootstraps as some seem to claim. Nobody “deserves” to be a billionaire, nor even needs to be by any stretch of the imagination. If allowing too few people to control a disproportionate amount of our resources means that more of us go hungry, homeless and without adequate medical treatment or education, we have our priorities screwed up and need to work on creating a more just system. Remember, we are told to support our troops, but many live on the streets after risking their lives for us. Are they less important to us than keeping millionaires eating food at expensive restaurants served to them by people making less than minimum wage and depending on their largesse in providing them enough in tips just to make ends meet?
The President put forth many progressive ideas in his State of the Union address back in February, including raising the minimum wage, reforming immigration law, creating jobs that people need to get our economy going strong again and decreasing the economic inequalities that exist. The Republican leadership in Congress seems intent on thwarting any progressive initiatives from getting off the ground. They seem to want to perpetuate the inequalities that exist in our economy, health care system, education and society at large and protect the perceived interests of their benefactors over the very real interests of their constituents. I only hope there are enough people left in Washington who will refuse to cave to their demands and hostage-taking and to lead the way to the changes needed to improve life in the United States for all of us.