Tuesday, June 07, 2011


Rep. Paul Ryan - true believer or con artist?

Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin has proposed a national budget to reduce the need to borrow money to pay our bills.  His plan does not include revenue enhancement (e.g., letting the Bush tax cuts expire) but achieves the result in part by abolishing Medicare as we know it.  Present retirees enrolled in Medicare, like me, would not be affected.  Workers ten years or more away from retirement would find Medicare replaced by a system of vouchers to help them afford private health insurance plans.  These new retirees would pay more toward the cost of their health care than present retirees.  One result of the Ryan plan would be to impose more suffering, more poverty on elderly retirees who have no chance to earn additional money by going back to work (who would hire them?) but no additional burden on wealthy individuals who have gained financially from the Bush tax reductions that were enacted in 2001 and intended to expire by 2010.

I have seen Mr. Ryan defend his proposals in a television interview on the NBC program "Meet the Press."  He sounded sincere and convincing.  My recent experience with a con man who tried to sell me some unnecessary (and non-existent) repairs to my car leads me to thing that perhaps Mr. Ryan is trying to perpetrate a swindle.  He is more convincing than the con man I encountered, to be sure.  The purpose of his swindle is to extract a large share of the reduction in the federal deficit from elderly, relatively un-rich individuals and not impose any inconvenience on an important constituency of the Republican Party.

I have another thought about Mr. Ryan.  He may be a great fan of the writer Ayn Rand.  Ayn Rand was a Russian immigrant from Communist Russia who had seen at first hand all of what was wrong with communism and socialism and none of its potential benefits.  She was extremely opposed to any government policy that took wealth from one class of society (i.e., the rich) and distributed it among the poor and middle class members of society.  If he is a follower of Ayn Rand, Mr. Ryan probably argues that the government has no right to take my money and give it to someone else.  If so, his proposal to abolish Medicare by degrees makes good sense to him.

Republicans who recognize the political problem that Mr. Ryan's plan poses for them in the 2012 election try to change the subject by stating that, well, at least Republicans have a proposal to deal seriously with the budget deficit.  It is a proposal for negotiating, a starting point in a debate about the deficit, etc., etc., etc.  They deny that they want to abolish Medicare.  They say that all options are on the negotiating table - except an increase in taxes.  Mr. Bush's tax cuts, recognized in 2001 as a political gift to wealthy constituents, have become fixed in stone if one is to believe these Republicans.

What can we do?  Democrats must point out the unfairness of the Ryan budget as loudly and as wide-spread as they can.  If the Democrats simply "make nice" with the Republicans, the public will not be aware of the basic unfairness of the Ryan proposal.  Many Republicans do not recognize this unfairness.  They believe that individuals should take care of themselves, just as they did 100 and 200 years ago.  They argue that it is "class warfare" to place the loss of Medicare on the same footing as taxing wealthy taxpayers.  It's wrong and immoral to be jealous of the rich.

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