R and R (Romney and Ryan)’s Vision For America
When I was in the Army in Vietnam during the war, we used to look forward to R and R, a period of Rest and Relaxation, either in or out of the country. R and R now, Romney and Ryan, will provide anything but rest and relaxation for the next three months until the election, as they explain their plans for the nation’s future.
By choosing Paul Ryan as his running mate, Romney has acknowledged his embrace of Ryan’s economic vision, which encompasses cutting most federal programs aside from defense. Ryan is a disciple of Jack Kemp and supply-side economics. This contends that lower marginal tax rates and capital gains taxes will increase supplies (products) for consumers and grow the economy to a point where tax revenues are the same as when higher rates were in effect. Most main-stream economists believe this theory is fallacious but Ryan remains one of its proponents, which is obviously beneficial to high income earners. (America’s economy has actually grown most vigorously during the periods when taxes have been high.)
Older Americans have the most to lose with Ryan’s economic plans. Though he voted in the past to expand Medicare with an unaffordable prescription drug plan that increased the national debt by hundreds of billions of dollars, he now wants to make Medicare into a voucher program with direct payment to seniors for premium support. Seniors would be given money by the federal government to choose private companies for their medical insurance. Ryan expects this to cut health care spending by competition among insurance companies, and by giving people incentives to choose less expensive care because they will have to bear some of the costs. This is basically what many non-Medicare patients with private insurance have now and it hasn’t worked to lower costs. What the Ryan plan actually does is shift medical costs from the government to older patients, many of whom will not be able to afford expensive care. The plan would not take effect for a decade and seniors could still choose to stay in Medicare, but with reduced benefits.
Partial privatization of Social Security is another of Ryan’s ideas to lower the national debt. People would be able to invest a portion of their Social Security accounts in stock or bond funds or other options to try and increase yield and raise the amount of money they would receive after retirement. However, most people have been shown to lack enough sophistication to handle their own investments and it is likely that their returns would be disappointing. This is particularly true during periods when interest yields are low, as is the case currently. While privatization of Social Security might result in more money for investment managers, it does not mean that greater payouts would be available for Social Security recipients.
Ryan would also like to cut costs by having direct Medicaid block grants to the states, reduced federal spending on infrastructure, education and research, decreasing the food-stamp program and Head Start, and cutting spending on alternative energy programs. By all of these measures, he says corporate and individual tax rates could be lowered while the budget deficits and the national debt could be curtailed. But there would be no government investments for the future, depending entirely on the private sector to meet the nation’s needs.
The conservative R and R vision for America would demolish the safety nets that have been established for seniors, the unemployed and poor people and change the way government functions. There are those among us who for one reason or another cannot fully care for themselves. The R and R vision eliminates compassion from the government, expecting every individual to be fully responsible for the choices they make and the ensuing outcomes. It will be very good for the rich, but hurt the middle class and be tragic for the poor.
Though government certainly needs to be reorganized and spending cut significantly, it must be done with proper concern for the needs of the middle class and the poor. Investing for the future must also be a priority. And it is only fair to increase the taxes of higher income earners to help reduce the budget deficits and national debt.
A VietNam vet and a Columbia history major who became a medical doctor, Bob Levine has watched the evolution of American politics over the past 40 years with increasing alarm. He knows he’s not alone. Partisan grid-lock, massive cash contributions and even more massive expenditures on lobbyists have undermined real democracy, and there is more than just a whiff of corruption emanating from Washington. If the nation is to overcome lockstep partisanship, restore growth to the economy and bring its debt under control, Levine argues that it will require a strong centrist third party to bring about the necessary reforms. Levine’s previous book, Shock Therapy For the American Health Care System took a realist approach to health care from a physician’s informed point of view; Resurrecting Democracy takes a similar pragmatic approach, putting aside ideology and taking a hard look at facts on the ground. In his latest book, Levine shines a light that cuts through the miasma of party propaganda and reactionary thinking, and reveals a new path for American politics. This post is cross posted from his blog.