Rep. Ryan’s Free-Market ‘Death Panels’

Robert Parry

The con­se­quences of three decades of anti-gov­ern­ment Rea­gan­ism and free-mar­ket extrem­ism are now com­ing clear­ly into view, a cru­el and brutish Amer­i­ca split sharply between a few lucky haves and many des­per­ate have-nots.

The consequences of three decades of anti-government Reaganism and free-market extremism are now coming clearly into view.

As Rep. Paul Ryan proud­ly declared in unveil­ing the Repub­li­can bud­get plan for fis­cal 2012, This is not a bud­get; this is a cause.”

It is the cause” advanced in the mod­ern era by Pres­i­dent Ronald Rea­gan and econ­o­mist Mil­ton Fried­man. It calls for fur­ther slash­ing the tax rate for the rich­est Amer­i­cans by anoth­er ten per­cent­age points, from 35 per­cent to 25 per­cent, while enact­ing a wide range of domes­tic spend­ing cuts, includ­ing phas­ing out the Medicare health pro­gram for the elder­ly as it has exist­ed since the 1960s.

Under Ryan’s plan, senior cit­i­zens in the future would have to select a pri­vate health insur­ance pol­i­cy with the gov­ern­ment pay­ing pre­mi­um sup­port” worth about $8,000 to the com­pa­ny, thus shift­ing a heav­ier, even crush­ing, finan­cial bur­den onto the elderly.

And, since Ryan’s plan also would repeal Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s health reform, which pro­hibits insur­ance com­pa­nies from exclud­ing cov­er­age of pre­ex­ist­ing con­di­tions,” senior cit­i­zens suf­fer­ing from chron­ic ill­ness­es might find them­selves unable to get cov­er­age of those ail­ments and like­ly con­signed to a pre­ma­ture death.

As med­ical writer Sheila Guil­lo­ton not­ed about Ryan’s plan, What is not clear or even addressed is the prob­lem of putting eli­gi­bil­i­ty to pur­chase health insur­ance back in the hands of the health insur­ance industry.”

Even today, peo­ple just shy of Medicare’s 65-year-old thresh­old find them­selves either shunned by insur­ance com­pa­nies or pay­ing exor­bi­tant amounts. Yet Ryan envi­sions thrust­ing Amer­i­cans over 65 into that same predica­ment, only worse because they are more like­ly to have health prob­lems and are less like­ly to be under a com­pa­ny plan.

For old­er peo­ple the prospect of get­ting and pay­ing for pri­vate health insur­ance is daunt­ing,” Guil­lo­ton wrote For instance, in Con­necti­cut a PPO with a $5,000 deductible would cost a 60 – 64 year old and spouse between $1,400 and $1,900 a month. And that cost pre­sumes that they either are part of a com­pa­ny group plan or have no pre-exist­ing conditions.

The plan to return con­trol of access to health insur­ance com­pa­nies with­out address­ing the issue of eli­gi­bil­i­ty and cost con­trol is sim­ply to return to the very pat­tern of abuse in place before the attempt at health care reform.”

The elim­i­na­tion of Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s health­care reform also would remove require­ments that insur­ance com­pa­nies devote a high per­cent­age of their pre­mi­ums to med­ical ser­vices rather than divert­ing the mon­ey to high­er exec­u­tive salaries and greater profits.

In oth­er words, Ryan’s plan would fat­ten the insur­ance industry’s bot­tom line by squeez­ing the elder­ly on health­care. In effect, the plan would cre­ate a free-mar­ket death pan­el” by forc­ing many senior cit­i­zens to skip nec­es­sary care.

Ryan also would save” large sums by turn­ing the Med­ic­aid pro­gram for the poor into a state block grant sys­tem, which would leave states lit­tle choice but to also turn their backs on many sick and disabled.

No bal­anced budget

Yet, even as Ryan touts his goal of cut­ting gov­ern­ment spend­ing by more than $6.2 tril­lion over the next decade, com­pared to Obama’s bud­get, Ryan’s plan would still not result in a bal­anced fed­er­al bud­get for near­ly three decades, let alone pay off the accu­mu­lat­ed nation­al debt.

That’s because Ryan would accom­pa­ny his steep spend­ing cuts with low­er tax rates for the wealth­i­est Amer­i­cans. And those low­er tax rates – based on an ide­o­log­i­cal devo­tion to Reagan’s trick­le-down eco­nom­ics” and Friedman’s free-mar­ket” extrem­ism – have been a prin­ci­pal cause of the debt problem.

Remem­ber just a decade ago, after Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton and the con­gres­sion­al Democ­rats raised the tax rates mod­est­ly, the U.S. gov­ern­ment was run­ning a sur­plus and was on a path to elim­i­nate the entire fed­er­al debt.

Then, Pres­i­dent George W. Bush and con­gres­sion­al Repub­li­cans began enact­ing tax cuts again.

Those tax cuts – com­bined with Bush’s two wars and the finan­cial cri­sis caused, in large part, by inad­e­quate fed­er­al reg­u­la­tion of Wall Street – flood­ed the U.S. gov­ern­ment ledgers with tril­lions of dol­lars in red ink.

So, the log­i­cal rem­e­dy would seem to be to com­bine some rea­son­able spend­ing cuts with a sur­tax on mil­lion­aires and bil­lion­aires. There also could be huge sav­ings if the Unit­ed States shift­ed to a Medicare-for-all” health sys­tem that elim­i­nat­ed the expen­sive pri­vate insur­ance middlemen.

But that would go against Reagan/​Friedman dog­ma about giv­ing vir­tu­al­ly all pow­er to cor­po­ra­tions and trust­ing in the mag­ic of the mar­ket.” There­fore, Ryan’s solu­tion” is to sav­age domes­tic gov­ern­ment spend­ing, weak­en gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­to­ry pow­ers and pass more tax cuts for the wealthy.

Since he unveiled his bud­get plan this week, Ryan has been wide­ly hailed by the main­stream U.S. news media as a coura­geous” vision­ary, a thought­ful guy who is brave enough to make the tough choices.

In watch­ing the cor­re­spon­dents on CNN and CNBC – not to men­tion Fox – it’s almost as if the rev­enue side of the bud­get cri­sis is non-exis­tent. Polit­i­cal courage” only comes from destroy­ing the rem­nants of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and Lyn­don Johnson’s Great Soci­ety, if not Theodore Roosevelt’s pro­gres­sive era.

Why not repeal the entire 20th Cen­tu­ry and take the nation back to an era of two Amer­i­c­as, a few liv­ing in the lap of lux­u­ry and most liv­ing hand-to-mouth?

Most media talk­ing heads appear to be either devo­tees of free-mar­ket econ­o­mist Mil­ton Fried­man or careerists who know that no one ever lost a pro­mo­tion by pro­mot­ing the anti-gov­ern­ment doc­trine of Ronald Rea­gan. (Rea­gan, of course, got his big start in pol­i­tics in the 1960s by decry­ing Medicare as social­ist oppression.)

The cost of Reaganism

The Amer­i­can peo­ple are now pay­ing the price for the lack of near­ly any crit­i­cal cov­er­age of the Rea­gan pres­i­den­cy, as was appar­ent last Feb­ru­ary in the hagiog­ra­phy broad­cast and writ­ten about the 40th pres­i­dent around the cen­ten­ni­al of his birth.

The syrupy han­dling of Rea­gan and his lega­cy has had a pow­er­ful impact on the judg­ment of the Amer­i­can peo­ple. Accord­ing to a recent Gallup poll, Amer­i­cans rat­ed Rea­gan the great­est pres­i­dent ever, five per­cent­age points ahead of Abra­ham Lin­coln, who came in second.

When the Rea­gan mythol­o­gy is com­bined with the pow­er­ful influ­ence of the right-wing media, it shouldn’t be a great sur­prise that many aver­age Amer­i­cans don’t blame Rea­gan and his anti-gov­ern­ment poli­cies for why their incomes have stag­nat­ed or sunk over the past three decades.

Instead, many Amer­i­cans, espe­cial­ly white men, have been encour­aged to blame guv-mint” and its sup­posed favoritism toward minori­ties and the poor. So, some don rev­o­lu­tion­ary war” cos­tumes and join Tea Par­ty groups, which are often qui­et­ly fund­ed by polit­i­cal­ly savvy billionaires.

Unlike the duped aver­age guys, the bil­lion­aires – the likes of the oil mag­nate Koch broth­ers and media mogul Rupert Mur­doch – are keen­ly attuned to their class inter­ests. They know the only seri­ous check on their extra­or­di­nary pow­ers would be a democ­ra­tized and ener­gized fed­er­al government.

So, they invest in the faux pop­ulism of the Tea Par­ty and Fox News to rile up the white guys with anti-gov­ern­ment rage.

Mean­while, on the oppo­site side, Amer­i­can pro­gres­sives have tend­ed to be inef­fec­tive in pre­sent­ing a con­sis­tent or coher­ent mes­sage to the people.

Though many pro­gres­sives rec­og­nize the prac­ti­cal val­ue of reforms like Medicare in mak­ing the lives of aver­age Amer­i­cans longer and more ful­fill­ing, some on the Left preach an unre­al­is­tic per­fec­tion­ism that finds lit­tle val­ue in imper­fect reforms. They almost invite the worst social pain as the only route to some rev­o­lu­tion.”

The com­bi­na­tion of these fac­tors – a well-orga­nized Right against a large­ly dis­or­ga­nized Left – has brought a bleak future into sharp focus.

It can be seen through the lens of Paul Ryan’s bud­getary cause.” It would leave sick elder­ly to die and the nation’s domes­tic infra­struc­ture to decay, while insur­ance com­pa­nies would reap more prof­its and the super rich would be taxed even less.

It’s an out­come that would have put a crooked smile on the lips of Ronald Rea­gan and Mil­ton Friedman.

This arti­cle was orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished at Con­sor­tium News.

Robert Par­ry broke many of the Iran-Con­tra sto­ries in the 80s for the Asso­ci­at­ed Press and Newsweek. He is the author of Neck Deep: The Dis­as­trous Pres­i­den­cy of George W. Bush and Secre­cy and Priv­i­lege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Water­gate to Iraq. He is the edi­tor of Con­sor­tium News.
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