Republican leaders claim that they are the party of family values. They are not. They also claim that they understand and respect hardworking Americans. They do not.
The Republican elite’s immorality goes well beyond Donald Trump, who has bragged about sexual assault, and has indeed been accused of it by over a dozen women. It goes well beyond Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, who was banned from a shopping mall to prevent him from preying on minors, and who has been credibly accused of the behavior for which he was banned.
The immorality and disdain of today’s Republican elites shine through in the policies that they embrace. They are embodied in the Republican budget, in their tax legislation, and in their relentless attacks on Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. Those Republican policies benefit the ones they truly value – their super-wealthy donors.
Republicans in both chambers of Congress have now passed tax bills, which, when the smoke clears, involve the upward redistribution of income and wealth. As if today’s obscene level of income and wealth inequality weren’t bad enough, Republican elites want to increase it.
Both the Senate and House versions require millions of middle-class Americans to pay more, while requiring the richest of the rich to pay less. In 2027, taxpayers with incomes between $40,000 and $50,000 will, as a group, pay $5.3 billion more in taxes, while those with annual incomes of $1 million or more will pay $5.8 billion less!
Moreover, hardworking Americans will be hurt in other ways. The increase in the deficit caused by the tax scam will automatically trigger $400 billion in cuts to Medicare. And even that isn’t enough for the party of immorality.
Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) have made it clear what comes next. Rubio recently claimed that we need to change the structure of Medicare and Social Security (code for making huge cuts) because of the deficit. Ryan was even clearer, saying that he is planning to push legislation to “reform” (code for destroy) Medicare and Medicaid because “it’s the health care entitlements that are the big drivers of our debt.”
Republicans have made this bankrupt argument for decades, but it is especially audacious of them to do it at the exact same time that they are planning to add at least $1 trillion to the debt to pay for their tax giveaway to the wealthy. The announced plans to go after Medicare and Medicaid, as well as Social Security, are in addition to the proposed repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, a linchpin to the workability of the law. The Congressional Budget Office has projected that the repeal of that key provision will result in an added 13 million Americans without health care, while millions of others will see their health insurance premiums go up by ten percent or more.
Taking away health care from disabled children and elderly Americans, among many others, in order to give a huge tax handout to billionaires and giant corporations is one of the most immoral policies imaginable. But that’s exactly what the self-proclaimed “moral values party” is proposing to do.
The truth is that Social Security does not add a single penny to the debt. Medicare and Medicaid are far more efficient than their private sector counterparts. Gutting them would make health care costs rise more quickly, not rein them in. It would, however, transfer the costs from the federal government to elderly, impoverished, and disabled Americans who can’t afford them. It would mean the wealthiest among us, who are not paying their fair share now, would pay even less. Like the tax scam, cutting Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid will transfer wealth upward.
Why are Republicans so hypocritical about the debt, constantly using it as an excuse to demand cuts to vital benefits while they happily add one trillion dollars or more to it by giving huge tax cuts to the wealthy? Because they never cared about the debt at all. It’s just a convenient bludgeon for them to use in their decades-long war against Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Indeed, they have opposed these programs ever since they came into existence.
That opposition comes from the fundamental immorality at the heart of the Republican Party. It is a political party united around the principle that only the wealthy have any value. It is a party that has disdain for everyone else. A party that believes hardworking Americans doing backbreaking work at less than subsistence wages are lazy freeloaders.
Republican politicians are usually careful enough to not reveal their true attitude publicly during election seasons. But in unguarded moments, they say what they really mean.
In case the policies are too subtle or opaque, their immorality and their contempt for the rest of us have been made completely transparent by recent public comments from Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA.)
Hatch, in a heated exchange with Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), explained why Republicans have failed to renew CHIP, which provides health insurance to poor children. Shockingly, he said: “I have a rough time wanting to spend billions and billions and trillions of dollars to help people who won’t help themselves, won’t lift a finger and expect the federal government to do everything.”
Social Security and Medicare are benefits that are earned, just like Senator Hatch’s government salary. But his comments had to be referencing their beneficiaries. There is no other way to get to trillions of dollars.
Similarly, Grassley, explaining why the GOP wants to eliminate the estate tax, which only impacts the wealthiest 0.02 percent of Americans, stated: “I think not having the estate tax recognizes the people that are investing, as opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it’s on booze or women or movies.”
Apparently, if working and middle-class Americans didn’t spend money on alcohol, women (who Grassley tellingly refers to as commodities rather than people), or entertainment, they could have $5.49 million to leave to their heirs! And, because Donald Trump has led such a puritanical life, he should be free of paying taxes toward the common good!
Grassley and Hatch’s comments are both woefully out of touch and deeply immoral. But they are not out of step with their party. Ryan frequently talks about “makers and takers.” He has claimed that “we’re going to a majority of takers versus makers in America…They’ll be dependent on the government for their livelihoods [rather] than themselves.”
Ryan insists that Social Security and Medicare, earned benefits that he dismissively calls “safety nets”, are in danger of becoming “a hammock, which lulls able-bodied people into lives of complacency and dependency,” turning them into slothful and lazy “takers.” More crudely and succinctly, former Senator Alan Simpson (R-WY) asserted that Social Security is “a milk cow with 310 million tits [sic]!”
These comments reveal the utter contempt Republican politicians have for hardworking Americans. It is ironic that the Republicans who are pushing to eliminate the estate tax apparently do not consider the heirs of billionaires to be “takers” but save that pejorative label for hardworking Americans who have the audacity to claim the Social Security and Medicare benefits they have earned.
Republican politicians speak of economic growth, “saving” Social Security and Medicare, and the need to rein in the deficit. But the truth is clear to anyone who is willing to really look. Today’s GOP is interested only in doing the bidding of their billionaire donors so that they can retain power. It is a party of politicians who, despite their claim to the contrary, are disdainful of hardworking Americans.
The American people did not vote for this morally bankrupt philosophy. None of the candidates in last year’s election ran on gutting Medicare and Medicaid, denying health care to poor children, or providing a massive tax transfer to billionaires. Republicans never do. Instead, they focus on trumped up scandals, personality, and divisiveness.
But next year, they are likely to find that their tax scam (regardless of if it ultimately becomes law) was a step too far — especially if Ryan acts on his plans to follow it with further attacks on Medicare and Medicaid. Voters will be furious, and they will not be distracted from their anger.
Democrats need to channel that anger by promising to govern in the exact opposite way that Republicans have. They should run hard on a pledge to protect and expand Social Security and Medicare. If they do, voters will know that the Democratic Party is the party of family values; they will know that Democrats are the politicians who respect all Americans, even those that happen not to be wealthy.
(Nancy Altman is President of Social Security Works, and Linda Benesch is Communications Director. Sign the petition to all members of Congress demanding that they reject a tax plan that cuts Medicare, and that they stop their war on seniors and working families. )