4 Ways Romney & Ryan Would Roll Back the 20th Century
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Sharon Day, co-chair of the Republican National Committee, asserted at the opening of her party’s national conference last week: “[This] is the most important election in our nation's lifetime."
Well, it depends. That probably isn’t true if your number-one issue of concern is drone attacks, the endless conflict in Afghanistan, the drug war, civil liberties, or the seemingly endless expansion of executive power. None of these are minor issues and the parties presently do not differ greatly on any of them.
But this election will decide the future of our welfare state. The strongest comparisons, for barroom purposes, are 1964, when LBJ ran on medical and hospital care for the elderly against Barry Goldwater, who compared such frivolousness to giving free cigarettes to smokers. Or perhaps the better comparison is 1932, when Americans voted in the New Deal against the disastrous austerity of Herbert Hoover.
In either case, the choice is just as stark between Barack Obama – and the Affordable Care Act (ACA) – and Mitt Romney, who endorsed Representative Paul Ryan’s House budget (before he was even selected as the VP nominee) that would cut $3.3 trillion from a multitude of programs for working Americans. Depending on who wins in November, the welfare state battles of the next four years, and beyond, will either be over the implementation and possible strengthening of a new universal healthcare scheme, or a series of rearguard battles to defend the safety net stitched together over the last 80 years.
“Many people believe the issue is that are we going to repeal healthcare reform and go back to what the world looked like in 2008,” says Harold Pollack, professor at the University of the Chicago School of Social Service Administration and expert on health care and anti-poverty policy. “That’s one of the issues, but it goes much deeper than that. The Republican platform is a direct attack on the post-New Deal structure of American social insurance. I applaud the selection of Paul Ryan: I think it brings a clarity to this election.”
The wave of “Vote Democrat: Save Medicare” posts that swept Facebook within minutes of the Ryan pick immediately showed that the Democrats, quite sensibly, are trying to fight this election on the safety net issues that enjoy the most support. (He plans to shift Medicare cost increases onto the backs of seniors and raise the retirement age.) Less frequently mentioned is the ACA which does not go fully into effect until 2014. The actual universal healthcare potion of the law will probably be unassailable once it’s actually in place, so 2012 may be the last chance for Republicans to kill it.
But all the acrimonious debate around Medicare, the ACA and Social Security (privatization is not featured in the GOP platform, but Ryan targeted it repeatedly in the past) diverts attention from the equally devastating consequences of a Republican victory. Programs that specifically assist low-income Americans—Medicaid, along with food, education and housing assistance—are first on the chopping block. These programs don’t only help the jobless and destitute. They are there for the 43 percent of American families that would fall below the poverty line in the event of a crisis, like a layoff or a serious accident.
Here are four ways Romney-Ryan would decimate our already threadbare social safety net.
1. Gut Medicaid
Medicaid is best known as the public healthcare program for the poor, but that doesn’t mean that all poor people are able to access it. (It is not just low-income adults who benefit from the program, most of the beneficiaries are retirees, children and the disabled.) The program is funded partially by the states and partially by the feds, but it is the former that control the income limits and other restrictions that determine eligibility. One of the most important aspects of the Affordable Care Act is that it would universalize Medicaid accessibility under 133 percent of the poverty line.