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

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CountyConfirmedDeaths
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Leake76725
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Smith37713
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Lawrence3135
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Tippah30412
Clarke29825
Montgomery2913
Humphreys26911
Tunica2656
Carroll24511
Greene22611
Kemper22315
Perry2217
Quitman2211
Amite2105
Jefferson Davis1986
Webster19712
Jefferson1916
Wilkinson18712
Sharkey1801
Stone1483
Choctaw1264
Benton1240
Franklin1142
Issaquena211
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 89927

Reported Deaths: 1580
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson11650225
Mobile8998191
Montgomery6198143
Madison493225
Tuscaloosa391263
Baldwin317522
Shelby300232
Marshall294730
Unassigned263351
Lee249140
Morgan220615
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DeKalb167713
Elmore158437
Calhoun15359
Walker145763
Houston130912
Dallas128023
Russell12201
Franklin118420
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Cullman111311
Colbert107612
Lauderdale105312
Autauga101020
Escambia96515
Talladega89013
Jackson8163
Chambers81438
Tallapoosa80478
Dale77619
Butler75135
Blount7223
Covington70420
Coffee7035
Chilton6976
Pike6547
Barbour5625
Lowndes54624
Marion53524
Marengo51514
Clarke4849
Hale44925
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Perry4284
Winston42811
Wilcox4029
Monroe3884
Randolph38810
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Sumter36118
Washington31011
Macon30813
Lawrence3060
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