Republicans and Democrats can today agree on little, yet when Rahm Emanuel strategized that “a crisis is a terrible thing to waste”, many Republicans must have heartily concurred.
To win recent mid-term elections, conservatives utilized America’s burgeoning debt to promulgate an agenda over half a century old: the dismantling of its public safety net.
Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid have long been cause for conservatives’ consternation; while the GOP’s center ultimately acquiesced to programs that saved millions of Americans from poverty, its right wing never relinquished opposition to New Deal and Great Society-era reforms.
Writing to his brother in 1954, President Eisenhower described the risks of such resistance: “Should any party attempt to abolish social security, you would not hear of that party again in our political history.” Noting the recalcitrant reactionaries who were then at his party’s fringe, he wrote “there is a tiny splinter group that believes you can do these things…a few Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid”.
On November 2nd, the ideologues that Eisenhower once described as “stupid” gained control of the House of Representatives.
Incoming Republican House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan’s ‘Roadmap for America’s Future‘ outlines a plan to embark on the privatization of Social Security and Medicare. Masqueraded as a solution to the deficit, the Roadmap includes drastic tax cuts for America’s wealthiest individuals that would in fact increase its national debt for decades to come.
Described by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center as “highly regressive“, Ryan’s plan upwardly redistributes wealth away from middle and low-income earners by raising their taxes while ending Medicare’s guarantee of healthcare and significantly reducing the defined benefits of Social Security.
In the 56 years since Eisenhower’s letter, the moderate wing he once spoke for has been purged from the GOP, yet Ike’s words have proven prescient. Conservatives ideologically opposed to protections afforded by Social Security and Medicare remain fearful of the wrath of the millions of informed elderly voters who benefit from them.
To overcome this dilemma, Ryan’s plan grandfathers anyone over the age of 55 into the current system, while phasing out the benefits of younger workers and substituting them with investment funds and private insurance vouchers.
The 2008 stock market crash that followed Republicans’ last ill-fated attempt at privatizing Social Security under a certain Texas oil millionaire in 2005 demonstrated the perils of such a proposal; had George W. Bush succeeded, the retirement savings of millions of Americans would have been devastated. Yet Bush recently described this failure as the biggest regret of his presidency, revealing the dogmatic nature of a party and policies detached from reality.
Given their unrequited passion for disassembling programs proven to be pillars of the American middle class, ideological Republicans couldn’t plausibly hope to win broad support by engaging and educating the public as a whole, as Eisenhower well understood. Instead, Ryan’s Roadmap uses America’s deficit as a pretext for dismantling its public safety net by playing the well-organized voice and interests of seniors off those of younger citizens not expected to pay attention or vocally oppose policies that undermine their future economic security.
The GOP’s mid-term victory amid low turnout from voters in their 20’s and 30’s regrettably proves that assumption to be at least partially correct.
Voters who did turn out last Tuesday were rightly concerned about America’s fiscal health. Profligate deficit spending, a form of taxation without representation that turns future generations into unwitting heirs to debt accrued by today’s leaders, is inherently undemocratic.
Economists widely agree that the recession Barack Obama inherited on January 20, 2009 required deepening our nation’s debt by injecting stimulus into the economy to avoid a more severe crisis.
Republicans had no such rationale when they converted a multi-billion dollar budget surplus in 2001 into a trillion dollar deficit in 2009. Balancing the budget will inevitably necessitate reductions in spending coupled with increases in government revenue. The discredited philosophy that “deficits don’t matter”, in the words of Dick Cheney, led the GOP to implement exactly the opposite, running roughshod over the fiscal restraint they purport to champion.
It should therefore come as no surprise that Republicans would advocate policies that worsen our nation’s already bleak budgetary outlook and divide the public precisely at the moment it must unite to confront the challenges ahead. Yet only when young Americans listen, speak and vote with consistency and commitment equal to that of their elders will the newly-elected congressional majority be forced to substitute Machiavellian scheming with real policy solutions.