Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

Opinion: Take from the sick and old, give to the rich


The Republican budget resolution that the Senate is expected to approve this week cuts $475 billion out of Medicare for seniors over the next decade and cuts another $1 trillion out of Medicaid.¹

Both steps are highly unpopular with voters, which is why you don't hear Republicans bragging about their actions. In a poll taken by the Kaiser Family Foundation in April, for example, just 12 percent of Americans said they support cutting Medicaid. Just 6 percent backed cuts to Medicare.

 

Even among Republican voters, such cuts are highly unpopular. A Pew Foundation poll taken in April, for example, found that just 15 percent of Republicans support cuts to Medicare.

And why are Republicans proposing such major cuts to programs that serve as the foundation of our nation's social safety system? It is certainly not out of fiscal prudence, because the money being saved isn't being used to reduce the debt or the deficit. Instead, that $1.5 trillion is being used to help finance massive tax cuts, "the biggest tax cuts ever," says President Trump.

And according to every nonpartisan analysis that I've seen, most of the benefits of that tax cut will accrue to corporations and the already wealthy. By 2027, the Tax Policy Center estimates, 80 percent of the benefits will be going to the richest 1 percent of Americans, leaving the other 99 percent to squabble over the crumbs. Meanwhile "taxes would rise for roughly one quarter of taxpayers, including nearly 30 percent of those with incomes between about $50,000 and $150,000 and 60 percent of those making between about $150,000 and $300,000."

Like the budget cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, these tax cuts for the rich and for corporations are highly unpopular, even among Republican voters. According to Gallup, just 19 percent of Americans believe that corporations pay too much in taxes, while just 24 percent believe the wealthy are unfairly burdened.

So at this point an obvious question arises:

Republicans face a potentially tough mid-term election in 2018. Yet here they are, fighting to enact major and highly unpopular cuts to programs such as Medicare and Medicaid in order to finance tax cuts for the wealthy that are themselves highly unpopular with voters.

Why on earth would they do that?

Because, money, baby. It's all about the Benjamins. As USA Today reports:

"Republican leaders in the Senate are facing increasingly vocal pressure from some of the party’s wealthy contributors to chalk up a legislative win by quickly passing tax cuts — or see campaign contributions dwindle or shift to their challengers in next year’s midterm elections."

And as the Boston Globe reports from a GOP mega-donor summit organized by billionaires Charles and David Koch, where Vice President Pence pleaded last week for money:

NEW YORK — The message from the billionaire-led Koch network of donors to President Trump and the Republican Congress it helped to shape couldn’t be more clear: Pass a tax overhaul, or else.

As the donors mixed and mingled for a policy summit at the St. Regis hotel in midtown Manhattan last week, just a block south from Trump Tower, it came up again. And again. And again....

“This is the crux issue,” said Chris Wright, a Koch donor and CEO of Liberty Oilfield Services in Denver. He predicted that Republicans would “pay a heavy price” in the 2018 midterm elections if the effort fails, explaining that donors and activists alike would walk away from the party."

In short, we're looking at a political ecosystem in which Republicans attempt to enact highly unpopular proposals that will hurt average Americans and further enrich the already wealthy. If they succeed in helping their wealthy sponsors, they will then be rewarded with massive campaign contributions that they can deploy to deny and obscure and distract from the fact that they have enacted highly unpopular proposals that will hurt average Americans and further enrich the already wealthy.

As the old saying goes, one hand washes the other, in this case in swamp water.

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¹Let's deal with the oft-heard claim from conservatives that these aren't actual spending cuts, but merely cuts in projected growth. As a matter of basic arithmetic, that's true. In terms of human impact, it's nonsense. 

Medicare and Medicaid spending is projected to grow over the next 10 years in large part because every day, day after day, another 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 and become eligible for Medicare and also for long-term nursing home care under Medicaid. And it's pretty simple: More people means higher costs. So when you refuse to account for that growing population of retirees, when you pretend not to see what is right in front of your face by "cutting projected growth," you significantly reduce the per-capita resources available to help those retirees.

That too is arithmetic.


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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.