Safety Net

For 51 years, Medicare has provided millions of seniors with access to life-enhancing health coverage no matter their income or condition. For five decades, Medicaid has provided health benefits to our nation’s most vulnerable citizens, including low-income seniors, people with disabilities, children and women who are pregnant. For 81 years, Social Security has kept generations of seniors, survivors and disabled Americans out of poverty and allowed seniors to live out their Golden Years with dignity. If Social Security weren’t around today, more than 40 percent of Americans over 65 – 14.7 million seniors – would have incomes below the poverty line.

These are guaranteed benefits earned through hard work and are a foundation of American health and retirement security. They are a promise kept from one generation to the next. But history shows the Republican Party opposed these protections at their very inception and have made numerous attempts to take them away in the decades since. Today’s Republican Party is no different.  They want to break these promises on behalf of the big insurance companies and Wall Street donors that want to add Americans’ earned benefits to their bottom line.

Speaker Paul Ryan is the architect behind the House Republicans’ perennial budget proposal to end the guarantee of Medicare by replacing it with a private insurance voucher system that, by design, does not keep pace with health costs and sticks seniors with a balance of thousands of dollars. Under Ryan’s plan, traditional Medicare is threatened when private insurance companies cherry-pick the healthiest seniors, which drives up premiums for everyone else while leaving the program less solvent.  Ryan also recently proposed a ‘gradual’ increase in the Medicare eligibility age, from 65 to 67.  A.K.A., a massive benefit cut.

House Republicans also propose sucking over a $1 trillion out of the Medicaid program by turning it into a block grant, which would add tens of millions of Americans to the ranks of the uninsured and force thousands of vulnerable seniors and disabled Americans out of nursing homes.

The Social Security plank in the official Republican Party platform approved at the recent convention in Cleveland is loaded with code words and dog whistles like turning to “the power of markets to create wealth” that make their intentions clear. Given the chance, Republicans will revive the same privatization scheme for allowing Social Security benefits to be gambled on the stock market that President Bush tried and failed to sell the American public. Not surprisingly, Paul Ryan strongly endorsed the Bush privatization plan in 2005 that would slash benefits by a third and add trillions to the national debt. Just imagine if Bush’s proposal had been law during financial crisis of 2008 that wiped out trillions of dollars of Americans’ retirement savings. How much more damage to the economy would have been done if seniors’ Social Security benefits had been wrapped up in the mess?  How many more seniors would have been left with no choice but to push back retirement plans?

And then there’s the Republican nominee for President, Donald Trump.  Trump has promised on the campaign trail he will not cut Social Security – claims that may have confused readers of his 2000 book ‘The America We Deserve’ where he called Social Security a “Ponzi scheme” and argued for privatization and raising the retirement age, both ideas that lead to a massive benefit cut. But it didn’t take long for Trump to begin walking back his pledge.  According to the Wall Street Journal, a top advisor to the Trump campaign suggested “a Trump administration would be open to reductions in Medicare and Social Security spending if the campaign’s tax cuts don’t achieve extraordinary budget surpluses.”

Republicans like Trump and Speaker Ryan refuse to give up on the notion that top-down economics like more tax breaks for millionaires and outsourcers while cutting vital social programs is the “path to prosperity”. It never has been.

Questions to Ask

  1. The updated official Republican Party platform out of the Cleveland convention includes a plank for Social Security that trumpets the “the power of markets to create wealth”. Isn’t that just a code word for privatization and allowing Social Security benefits to be gambled on the volatile stock market?  Do you stand by your party platform?  If not, what are your ideas for Strengthening Social Security that does not include any benefit cuts or adding to the national debt?  
  2. The House Republican budgets over the last 5 years or so have had a common theme: more tax breaks for the wealthy but deep cuts for social programs like Medicaid, Head Start and Meals and Wheels. How does cutting up the safety net underneath seniors and the most vulnerable Americans create a single job or “make America great again”? It never has in the past.
  3. As it has for the last several years, the latest draft of House Republican budget includes a plan to undermine traditional Medicare by partially replacing it with a private insurance voucher program. Many independent analysts have looked at this and concluded the vouchers don’t keep pace with health costs and could wind up costing seniors thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket expenses to make up for it.  Also, they say it will raise premiums for seniors in traditional Medicare because private insurance companies will cherry pick the healthy seniors. Do you stand by this plan to end the guarantee of Medicare – or will you continue to vote for it? 
  4. The 2016 report of Medicare’s Trustees found that the Affordable Care Act has added at least 11 years to the solvency of Medicare. It’s been 6 years since the law was passed and seniors are enjoying more benefits than they ever had before, including free preventative screenings.  Will you finally admit you and your party was dead wrong in your claims that Obamacare would cut Medicare benefits?