Sunday, August 12, 2012

Ryan's candidacy and the Social Security/Medicare/Medicaid debate

David Dayen has a good post putting the Ryan nomination and its likely effect on the Presidential race into the context of the larger need to defend Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, Thoughts on the Paul Ryan VP Selection FDL News 08/11/2012.

One of the failures of the Obama Administration from the progressive viewpoint is that he has made a willingness to cut benefits for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid his own position and made it respectable in the Democratic Party. Those cuts are at the core of his cherished goal of a Grand Bargain that he apparently sees as a triumph for postpartisan harmony, but it actually just cuts benefits for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and maybe ends home mortgage interest deductions. Because all he's asking from the Republican side as concessions are cosmetic adjustments to tax rates for the wealthy.

David makes a couple of important points. One is that the conventional assumption that Ryan's nomination shifts the focus of the debate somewhat away from unemployment and the economy and more toward the debt, the deficit and social insurance programs is probably right. Although if that is the case, it reflects a real weakness in the political system's ability to focus on the results of the current depression and remedies to it:

The Obama campaign will attack on the budget, on Medicare, on Social Security, and with Ryan as a true believer, the Romney campaign will defend it. And the fact that we’re wasting human capital by maintaining a low aggregate demand, tolerating slow growth, keeping millions of Americans out of work and on the sidelines, will not get more than a passing inference. It's really amazing.
But he also points out that Obama's own Grand Bargain support for benefits cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid means that the terms of the debate have shifted very much against those programs compared to 2008. The Republicans want to end those programs, though the Romney/Ryan campaign will not say that exactly, despite the reality that Ryan's voucher program for senior health care would end the Medicare program, whether or not they christen the voucher program "Medicare". The Democrats don't want to end the programs, "only" to cut the benefits they provide in major ways.

This will complicate the campaign, because Obama's support for cutting benefits on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid has blurred the Democrats' ability to straight-up defend those programs. I'm a bit optimistic about this, in that a campaign in which the Democrats try to convey a message that the Republicans want to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and the Democrats defend them will provide supporters of those programs a more favorable political context in which to fight Obama and the Republicans over the Grand Bargain in the lame duck Congressional budget fight.

Van Jones is right in saying that progressive have two major fights on the national level this year, November: getting Obama re-elected; and, December: preventing Obama and the Republicans from cutting benefits to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. I like David's formulation of the options in the December round, which is the second important point he makes:

That’s the firmament on which this election will be decided [Romney/Ryan oppose the programs, Obama only wants to cut them badly], and unless more leaders go into government who shift that fault line to the left, around adequate safety nets and progressive taxation, nothing will change. Either that, or an independent movement outside government makes it impossible for the side touting their protection of Medicaid and Medicare and Social Security to do anything but actually protect it. I believe this is a real choice; there is a difference between ending it and just cutting it. But we shouldn't fool ourselves about what that choice is. [my emphasis]
A Grand Bargain that includes the kind of cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid will put American politics into what I think of as a post-New Deal phase. Right now, with both parties dominated by corporate money and committed to a neoliberal ideology that at best leaves democracy only a minor role in state affairs, the range of choices in politics is dangerously narrow, as in the case of Social Security/Medicare/Medicaid cuts.

And to be clear, it is not economics that requires cutting those benefits: it's ideology and class politics of the wealthiest against the rest.

And the drift that David identifies on social insurance is broadly true on issues across the board. There are real and substantial differences between Democrats and Republicans. But the Republicans are driving the drift their way, and are willing to block any progress at all on individual issues in order to wrest concessions from a Democratic Administration and a Democratic Party that are far, far too willing to offer them up.

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