Entitlement cuts are back

When you hear the term “entitlement programs,” watch out. When you hear the word “bipartisan” attached to that term, doubly watch out.

Given that the ultra-right Bush administration has only a year left in office, and given the distinct possibility of a Democratic Party takeover of the White House in 2009, there is now a movement among pro-corporate policy makers to revisit time-honored, more subtle attacks on working people, their families and communities. In this case, the principal targets are Social Security and Medicare.

Once again we are hearing from the privateers through their political henchman that the “sky is falling” and bankruptcy is around the corner for Social Security and Medicare. An Oct. 30 article in the Washington Post by conservative commentator David S. Broder sounded the familiar alarm by stating, “By most official estimates, by 2034 Medicare and Social Security will eat up 20 percent of the gross national product — equivalent to the entire federal budget of today.”

Broder doesn’t cite the sources for these figures, but rest assured that one or more of the right-wing think tanks like the Heritage Foundation can find and cook the numbers to fit their ideology.

In the revamped assault on these programs, the legislative proposals come from Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad (N.D.) and Republican Sen. Judd Gregg (N.H.). On the House side, the point persons are Democratic Rep. John Tanner (Tenn.) and Republican Rep. Frank Wolf (Va.). Conrad is the Democratic chair of the budget committee, a key position.



Pelosi opposes it

To longtime political activists, this kind of bipartisan, anti-worker movement is far too reminiscent of the backward drift of the Bill Clinton administration when it was confronted with the ultra-right-wing Gingrich “Contract on America” legislation. The so-called compromises of that period resulted in draconian legislation that practically destroyed the welfare system in our country.

To her credit, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has come out against any legislative moves to cut Social Security or Medicare. Pelosi is smart in heading this off now, since such a path could throw a monkey wrench into her party’s efforts to keep and widen its margins in the House and Senate and to win the White House.



Mobilizing the base

This might be just the time for candidates running for office to reaffirm their support for the maintenance and expansion of fully federal, public Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security programs.

A campaign pledge to put Social Security on a firmer footing by (1) ending income taxes on the already meager Social Security monthly benefits, and (2) removing the so-called cap from Social Security payroll taxes on upper-income groups might help excite the working-class voter base and contribute to the defeat of the GOP.



Strengthen Medicare, too

According to a recent report from the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, Medicare beneficiaries as a whole typically have higher out-of-pocket health costs than the rest of the population, but incomes that are considerably lower.

The median income of American adults under age 65 was $28,077 in 2006. For those 65 and older, it was $17,045. Almost two-thirds of those 65 or older had incomes below $19,000 a year.

A campaign pledge to strengthen Medicare is the kind of effort that would bring tens of thousands of people into the voting arena. It would move in the same direction as Sen. Hillary Clinton’s proposal that every newborn get a $5,000 start in life.

For Medicare to be made fully solvent, Congress must begin by reversing the giant giveaways to private corporations, starting with the phony drug benefit, and then ice out the insurance companies with their mislabeled “Medicare Advantage” programs.

Such measures are aimed at the privatization of Medicare. Republicans are demanding even more money for these private companies “to keep them in the program.” The solution is to not give them more money, but to cut them off.

Medicaid must be removed as a burden to state governments and made a fully federal program with living wage benefits.

Elected officials charged with protecting and expanding Social Security and Medicare have to stand up to Corporate America, even at the risk of losing some campaign contributions. Rank-and-file, working-class voters will respond accordingly, if only they are sufficiently organized.