Yesterday I sat in my hot car with the radio on listening to the President’s speech and press conference on the pending debt limit.
I agree with some of the President’s critics that Social Security and Medicare have to be protected. There are too many people who want to raid these programs for short-term gain. The ‘privatization’ idea is scary. Who wants to find out at retirement that the stock market has crashed and there’s no income, or trade Medicare for a coupon and a booklet of private insurances that might accept you? Radical dismantling is not the way.
But we are looking at a demographic bulge, my own generation. We may have to raise the retirement age over time. I’m not totally ‘hands off Social Security’. Maybe I should be. There are so many bad faith efforts to ‘improve’ what is one of the programs that’s actually working.
Medicare will always need adjusting. You can’t say ‘hands off’ a huge community hospital and resolve not to change a thing. A program that big and complicated is organic and will need to change and improve as a natural function of serving the increasing number of Americans using it. I don’t think it’s realistic to think we can save money with cuts– Medicare would function better if it were expanded to cover more people, in fact. We can use the money more efficiently. Waste and fraud are like the dishes– you can’t just do them once, it’s a constant chore. Medicare has vast documentation of the effectiveness of medical treatments and is a first line of defense against our tax dollars being wasted on medical procedures that are ineffective or even harmful. Unfortunately, public health experts are attacked with cries of ‘rationing’ and ‘death panels’ if they publish study results that question accepted practices. A recent paper on the right age for starting routine screening mammograms in women without known risk factors made headlines– apparently no one noticed the word ‘routine’. On the other hand, lack of an affordable national health insurance option has us in such a state of insecurity it’s no wonder there’s panic.
So, that’s the ‘entitlement’ side of the debate.
The other side is taxes. Listening to the Republican vows of ‘no tax increases’ is like being back in the holy roller church. I think it’s a religious thing. How else could taxes be a terrible, disabling punishment to the rich, and cuts a bracing, fortifying tonic to the poor. Why does loose money make rich people industrious and poor people lazy? Are the rich really different from you and me?
‘Cuts’ are a tax increase. They are a regressive tax that is highest for those most in need. The tax on the poor has always been heavy, but in this economy the tax has been rising for the middle class as well.
Everyone pays sales tax. Sales tax is a higher proportion of income for low-income people. Everyone who owns property pays taxes. As the Federal government shrinks, the states have to pick up the slack, so our state taxes go up.
When public transit cuts routes and increases wait times, that’s a tax on the poor. Time is money, no more so than when you work for minimum wage. When neighborhood schools close and the scramble to get the kids out of the house in the morning gets tougher, that’s a tax. When ‘deregulation’ allows polluters to foul the air, and your kid gets asthma, and your Rite Care insurance gets cut, and you take on a second job to afford the inhalers– that’s robbery. And that example is not fiction.
It’s discouraging to hear the President use the phrase ‘lean and mean’. How about ‘thin and nasty’? That’s the state of most programs for the public good. Forget the phrase, ‘safety net’. We’re all invested in the public good.
Medicare and Social Security are the healthiest programs. They need constant adjustment, and I can understand the Democrat’s ‘hands off’ when the Republicans are itching to make those adjustments with an ax. But ‘hands off’ is not realistic.
‘No taxes’ is even crazier. I pay taxes, you pay taxes– the world will not end if the Kardashians pay taxes. If the deficit is a fire in the house, but you can’t touch the water in the swimming pool because Biff needs to do his laps in the morning, how serious is this really?
I heard a woman on the radio, a registered Republican, who said she would not mind paying more taxes if she knew the money would be used for the public good. I would not mind paying more taxes if the money went to health care, education, public safety and job creation. And if everyone paid their fair share.
When a library closes, when a park is neglected, when a bridge fails and construction workers are idle– that’s a tax. When elderly and disabled people see their benefits shrink, that’s a tax. The middle class, the low-wage workers, the poor and the people who depend on public assistance are maxed out. It’s time for the the people who have benefited most to do the right thing.