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Paul Ryan's plans for Medicare are scary

Confirming the warnings and worst fears of progressives, House Speaker Paul Ryan made it plain this week: the ultimat...

Posted: Dec 9, 2017 10:49 AM
Updated: Dec 9, 2017 10:49 AM

Confirming the warnings and worst fears of progressives, House Speaker Paul Ryan made it plain this week: the ultimate aim of Republican lawmakers -- and their number one priority in January -- is to shrink the Medicare program that provides health insurance to the elderly and disabled.

"Next year we're going to have to get back at entitlement reform," Ryan said on a Wisconsin radio talk show, calling Medicare the "biggest entitlement that's got to have reform."

That's code for resuming a decades-long fight against government-supported health care by conservatives, who fought bitterly against the creation of Medicare in 1965 and have been trying to cripple or kill the program ever since.

Recall that the creation of health insurance for America's poor and elderly -- something that President Harry Truman attempted, without success, in 1945, 1947 and 1949 -- was frustrated at every turn by conservatives in both political parties.

As CNN contributor Julian Zelizer has recounted, the program finally got passed following the Democratic landslide of 1964, when President Lyndon Johnson's re-election against Barry Goldwater swept commanding Democratic majorities into the House (295 seats) and Senate (68 seats).

Democrats got the long-sought program for senior health care: in 1965 Johnson signed the Medicare bill into law with Truman sitting at his side. The ex-president was enrolled as the program's first member.

But conservative opposition never wavered or waned. In the closing weeks before final passage of the Medicare bill, Ronald Reagan -- then a rising star in conservative Republican politics -- recorded a famous message calling Medicare "socialism" and urging voters to contact member of Congress and urge a "no" vote.

If Medicare should pass, Reagan warned, "behind it will come other federal programs that will invade every area of freedom as we have known it in this country. And if you don't do this and if I don't do it, one of these days we are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children, what it once was like in America when men were free."

For a certain type of hard-right conservative Republican, Reagan's call remains relevant and urgent to this day. Having failed to repeal Medicare outright -- the program is wildly popular, serving more than 55 million seniors (about 15% of the US population, says AARP) and disabled Americans -- Republicans have moved to a three-part "starve the beast" strategy.

Part one is to slash taxes and drastically lower the amount of revenue available to the federal government. The tax bill that GOP majorities recently approved in both houses of Congress accomplishes that nicely, adding $1 trillion to the federal budget deficit under the most optimistic economic scenario, according to the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation.

Part two of the plan is to suddenly recoil in horror at the fact of the budget deficit (yes, the same one that Republicans happily conjured up by cutting taxes). Ryan's radio interview is a step in that direction. "Frankly, it's the health care entitlements that are the big drivers of our debt," he said -- just days after happily adding a trillion to the tab with tax cuts.

Piling up debt and deficits sets the stage for the third and concluding strategy: to lower the debt by dialing back Medicare eligibility, lowering the benefits and otherwise crippling the program.

Democrats warned about this throughout the debate over the tax cut bill, which passed without a single Democratic vote in the House or Senate. They must now gear up for a showdown with Ryan and other conservatives who are poised to take a big step in the direction of ending a program that Reagan Republicans wanted to eliminate from Day One.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 110592

Reported Deaths: 3171
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds7731171
DeSoto655177
Harrison478481
Jackson429178
Rankin380086
Madison371092
Lee339279
Forrest292777
Jones281682
Washington250697
Lafayette241342
Lauderdale2329130
Lamar212038
Bolivar197775
Oktibbeha194154
Neshoba1795111
Lowndes173662
Panola164736
Leflore158786
Sunflower156749
Warren151854
Monroe143672
Pontotoc143019
Pike135555
Lincoln133954
Copiah133336
Marshall130026
Coahoma122836
Scott122729
Grenada119637
Simpson117648
Yazoo116933
Union113825
Holmes113060
Tate112339
Leake111839
Itawamba108724
Pearl River107456
Adams104042
Prentiss100919
Wayne97921
Alcorn94412
George93217
Marion92642
Covington90825
Tippah84820
Newton84227
Chickasaw81724
Tallahatchie81725
Winston81421
Tishomingo78640
Hancock76527
Attala76325
Clarke70948
Clay66621
Jasper66016
Walthall63427
Calhoun60912
Noxubee59516
Smith57716
Claiborne53016
Montgomery52723
Tunica51817
Lawrence48914
Yalobusha47914
Perry47522
Carroll45812
Greene44717
Stone44614
Amite41513
Quitman4096
Humphreys39916
Jefferson Davis39311
Webster36313
Wilkinson32920
Kemper31615
Benton3004
Sharkey27714
Jefferson26210
Franklin2283
Choctaw2036
Issaquena1063
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 152272

Reported Deaths: 2621
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson22300372
Mobile14273314
Tuscaloosa9886132
Montgomery9615196
Madison895192
Shelby700260
Lee643066
Baldwin636967
Marshall425348
Calhoun408459
Etowah399149
Morgan393232
Houston362332
DeKalb313326
Elmore308152
St. Clair276742
Limestone268327
Walker264192
Talladega253634
Cullman223923
Lauderdale204340
Autauga198928
Franklin198131
Jackson197914
Russell18993
Colbert188927
Dallas184527
Blount182723
Chilton178731
Escambia170328
Covington164429
Coffee16299
Dale161551
Pike130112
Tallapoosa126986
Chambers126643
Clarke126116
Marion103929
Butler99640
Barbour9819
Marengo96421
Winston88613
Geneva8297
Pickens79317
Randolph79314
Lawrence78830
Bibb78513
Hale73729
Cherokee71414
Clay70312
Lowndes69827
Bullock63417
Henry6286
Monroe6259
Washington62012
Crenshaw58830
Perry5796
Conecuh55413
Wilcox55412
Fayette54012
Macon52819
Cleburne5207
Sumter46421
Lamar4555
Choctaw38612
Greene33316
Coosa1963
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