On Tuesday, Paul Ryan, the chair of the House Budget Committee, released a 2012 Republican budget proposal that eviscerates America’s safety net and support structure for the elderly, poor, and disabled to finance massive corporate subsidies and tax cuts for the wealthy. Ryan’s budget would restructure the government as we know it, and is the most honest reflection of the Republican vision for America’s future: a country where the most disadvantaged are given little help or support, while the wealthiest laugh all the way to the bank.
Ryan’s budget claims savings of $6 trillion over the next decade. Many of these savings are unspecified or based on faulty assumptions, but if we did assume reasonable claims, it’s important to keep in mind that the cuts finance enormous giveaways to wealthy Americans. The budget not only wants to make the Bush tax cuts permanent, which has been estimated to cost $4 trillion over the next 10 years, but it would cut top tax rates to 25 percent—10 percent lower than they currently are. The inhumane cuts in the safety net and sensible government programs will go towards funding welfare for the wealthy.
The major cuts in Ryan’s budget come to Medicare and Medicaid. The plan will end Medicare as we know it, replacing government health insurance for the elderly with vouchers to buy private healthcare insurance. Forcing seniors onto a private health insurance market will definitely make it expensive for the sick elderly to buy health insurance and difficult for them to receive decent healthcare. Instead of trying to reform the healthcare delivery system to reduce Medicare’s expenses as the Affordable Care Act does, this bill would cut costs by forcing seniors to try to buy expensive private healthcare insurance.
Medicaid will see even more draconian cuts. Medicaid, which provides basic healthcare services for poor, disabled, and elderly, is one of the most crucial programs for the most disadvantaged Americans. Ryan’s budget would repeal the expansion of Medicaid in the Affordable Care Act, the component of the healthcare reform bill that finally brought about universal healthcare coverage by guaranteeing healthcare for many poor and middle-income Americans.
In addition, Ryan converts Medicaid into block grants to states, which he argues would save $771 billion and give states more flexibility to implement Medicaid, language that masks the fact that this would be an enormous cut in a program that currently efficiently finances long-term care for the disabled and takes care of poor kids when they get sick. Block grants end the federal guarantee to increase funding for Medicaid during difficult times, or to account for significant healthcare cost growth. To quote the Congressional Budget Office, “The large projected reduction in payments would probably require states to decrease payments to Medicaid providers, reduce eligibility for Medicaid, provide less extensive coverage to beneficiaries, or pay more themselves than would be the case under current law.”
Food stamps would also be converted into block grants, which will also end federal funding during challenging times and which will cut funding from an already unfunded program that is the only safety net for the hungry. Funding for Pell Grants and cheap housing will be dramatically curtailed. Other radical unspecified cuts to mandatory and discretionary spending programs will unavoidably fall on programs such as Head Start and TANF that provide essential education and assistance to the poor.
Ryan’s budget relies on some absurd economic assumptions. It claims the enormous tax cuts for the wealthy will stimulate massive growth, which didn’t happen in 2001, and the CBO has concluded that it will take decades for this bill to reduce the deficit and it will actually increase it within a decade. There are sensible ideas that can fairly reduce the deficit in a few years, including restoring Clinton-era tax rates, implementing a carbon tax, and further reforming the health-care delivery system, but Ryan’s budget unfairly reshapes government for uncertain long-term savings.
The Republican budget employs bad economics, but perhaps most importantly, it is morally reprehensible. Two-thirds of the budget cuts are taken from programs that help the poor. Without Medicare, poor and middle-class elderly citizens will be left helpless and alone if they can’t afford healthcare after leaving the workforce. Without Medicaid and SNAP, the poor and their children would be mired in a grinding poverty trap, without the healthcare or food necessary to live a decent life. To top it off, the cuts in all of these programs will go to fund extremely low tax rates for the wealthiest Americans. The House Republicans are forcing us to ask ourselves whether we are a country that cares for our least-fortunate citizens, because they certainly do not.
Ravi N. Mulani ’12, a Crimson editorial writer, is an applied mathematics concentrator in Winthrop House.