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Friday, April 03, 2015

What GOP Budgets Say About Intentions To Roll Back Social Programs

Congress criminals are all the same when it comes to their attack on Social Security, Medicare, VA benefits; the want to completely eliminate them  

LET'S FIX THIS COUNTRY.ORG
03/30/2015

A federal budget does not have the force of law, but extending 10 years out, it makes a statement of where the dominant party wants the country to go.


GOP proxies for Obama looting spree
In recent years, the Republican-controlled House, the Democratic majority Senate and the White House each produced its own conflicting version of the future, so budgets went nowhere. With Republicans now in control of both chambers of Congress, the pressure was on to see if the Party is capable of governing, one test being whether its factions can agree on a budget.


Both chambers just succeeded in separately doing so, although reconciling the House and Senate versions could throw off sparks.


Even among themselves, there were fireworks. In the House there was conflict between those such as John McCain who want to see increased defense spending, and those such as Rand Paul who want to withdraw from the world and lower the deficit. But now, we could see an agreed-to budget for fiscal 2016 handed to the committees that decide on the appropriations — the actual dollar amounts doled out to all government departments — with instructions to stick to plan. So maybe we should pay attention this time.


PASSING THE BUCK

The goal of both proposed budgets, as with each preceding Republican draft, is a balanced budget, i.e., no deficit by the 10th year.

But the proposed budgets go beyond mere money, promoting enormous upheaval that would require new laws and a president willing to sign them, even a Republican president. The aspirations expressed by these budgets raise the question of why Republicans want to go to extremes that are guaranteed to alienate we the people?


Proposed cuts target Seniors, Veterans, disabled
Holding to doctrine, both House and Senate versions would diminish the federal government and disperse functions to the states — both Medicaid and food stamps (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP). Now, Congress sets the eligibility rules as part of the multi-year farm bill and the states issue the monthly EBT cards ("stamps" are no longer used) to people for use in groery and other stores. The budget plans hand all of it to the states — some state governors say they don't want it — and Washington's role would be limited to annual block grants.


It is a scheme that easily lends itself to yearly cuts in those grants that would tend to escape notice; a future Congress would no longer be so clearly linked to the specific social programs.

How else can the Senate claim transfer to the states will somehow miraculously save $732 billion over a decade — $913 according to the House — other than by major cutbacks that the budgets evidently already plan for? With federal dollars shrinking yea after year, the states would be left with the problem of either raising taxes to fill in the missing money or continually tightening eligibility rules and taking food off the table.


Reid fishes for answers to bogus budget "problems"
The inevitable result will be disparities in benefits between poor and wealthier states, dividing what should be one country with all citizens treated alike into a patchwork quilt of inequity, and all due to the conservative infatuation with reducing the federal government and breaking programs into 50 pieces, efficiency and uniformity be damned. The 2008 farm bill (enacted over George W. Bush's veto) combined with the financial crash and the recession that followed caused the rolls of SNAP recipients to swell by 69% to 46.5 million households costing $80 billion a year.


It would seem that review of eligibility rules — the net income threshold below which families must earn to qualify, the deductions allowed in arriving at that net income — would be far more productive in cutting costs.

Republicans are deeply suspicious that a large percentage of food stamp recipients cheat. Wouldn't it make more sense to achieve their savings by rooting out fraud — or possibly convincing themselves that the fraud problem may be modest?

OBAMACARE REPEALED

"I want to pull this law out, root and branch", said Mitch McConnell a couple of years ago. Now he has his chance, or at least to express it, since the President's veto of repeal is a certainty. For the House, the budget's call for total repeal of the Affordable Care Act is what that body with nothing else to do has done well over 50 times — we've lost count.


The budget counts on a ten-year savings of over $2 trillion by eliminating Obamacare.

One oddity picked up by media analysts: repeal would end Obamacare's taxes that are slated to bring in approximately $1 trillion over the decade, but while the budget removed the costs of Obamacare, it forgot — if that's the word — to remove the revenue, which is therefore badly overstated.

Republicans have floated a few ideas but, even though a Supreme Court decision in June (covered here) could sink Obamacre, they are not ready with any replacement.


Are they telling us that we should return to the status quo ante when insurers refused pre-existing conditions and were free to conjure specious reasons to cancel when policy holders fell seriously ill?

CUTTING MEDICARE ADRIFT

And then there's the plan to drive away voters of an entire demographic group.

The House budget retains Paul Ryan's deliverance of Medicare to the private insurance industry. Instead of signing up once and seeing their medical bills paid thereafter, seniors would receive a voucher every year — scrip from the government convertible into a certain amount of money that tells seniors they are back on their own and need to go shopping for an insurance policy.

Here again, Republicans would put themselves in a position to, year after year, reduce the dollar value of the vouchers as their way to cut entitlement spending. If a policy costs more than the dollars on the voucher, seniors would need to come up with the difference. This approach is a subterfuge that avoids proposing above-board adjustments to unsustainable costs Medicare is facing as the baby boomer generation enters its final years. Democrats are equally guilty; they refuse to confront the subject at all, and insist on no changes.



But researching health insurance and its fine print is what those who are now seniors had to do all their grown lives. That's what they are so glad to be rid of now that, as partial compensation for growing older, they are at least relieved to be eligible finally for hugely popular Medicare.

Seniors are retired. They have time to go to the polls and they vote disproportionately compared to other groups. And they lean Republican. So, how many votes are Republicans trying to lose with their free-market uprooting of Medicare?

Not many, they apparently think, by the ruse of starting their plan only with those who are 56 and younger today. The hope seems to be that those already in the senior ranks will be unconcerned for what is to happen to those who follow them.

The Republican plan would hand an enormous bonanza to the insurance industry, again with huge inefficiencies. The job of paying medical bills would be scattered across 50 states and among multiple insurance companies within each. And in each company a layer of administration is introduced, with money siphoned away from medical care for big paychecks to executives and the corporate profits they seek to maximize. Medicare itself would be reduced to little more than printing and mailing coupons.

No mention is made of rules for insurance companies. As with killing Obamacare, would private insurers be free to turn away oldsters with pre-existing conditions? Would their policies be cancellable?

THREE-CARD MONTE TO PAY FOR DEFENSE

In an increasingly chaotic world, even the White House thinks the defense budget needs to be raised, yet no action was taken by either chamber of Congress to modify the caps for defense and other so-called discretionary expenses chiseled in granite by the 2011 Budget Control Act — the so-called sequester. By slashing costs uniformly and indiscriminately across the board without regard to what should be cut and what shouldn't, that Act was designed to be so unpalatable that certainly the administration and Congress would forge a better agreement. They didn't. They still haven't.

The sequester sets a base of $496 billion a year for defense. The President wanted $538, but insisted on a matching increase for the other discretionary accounts, which include social programs. Congress refused to budge, at least in the budget. Instead, both houses of Congress resorted to trickery. Separate from the budget and not subject to the sequester cap is the Overseas Contingency Operations account — the variable funds for fighting wars and supporting troops abroad that must be free to fluctuate as world events dictate. In a cynical end run that blows past the cap and gets the military what it wants but not the other programs, Republicans simply padded the Overseas account with an extra $40 billion, thus moving basic operating costs into an account meant only for war fighting and related. It's a sure bet that we will see this chicanery replicated year after year.

FUDGE FACTOR

In the final years the projections of the House budget didn't quite eliminate the deficit, so a magic elixir called "Macroeconomic Impact on Deficit" has been inserted as a line item. [2] From a modest $1 billion in revenue in 2020 and 2021, it zooms to $83 billion in the final year, 2025. The authors are saying that the pronounced changes elsewhere in the budget, while they provide savings on their own, create a prosperity that will produce a bonus to balance the budget. The line item might have been captioned "Chickens counted before hatching."




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