Nov 1, 1995Those who voted for "change" in the last congressional election now can get a clear picture of the kind of change that House Speaker Newt Gingrich and his radical band of insurgents have in mind for America.
The current budget standoff casts the values of the two parties in sharp relief.
The House and Senate budget bills were passed on near-partyline votes, yet the Republican majority is not enough to override President Clinton's threatened veto. The federal government could be shut down if something isn't done about budget passage, as Gingrich plays a game of budget blackmail with the President (see page 8).
Something will be done, of course, and eventually there will be compromise and adoption of a federal budget. But at this moment, the chips stand squarely on the table for all to see.
The most telling thing about the Republican budget plan is the cut of $270 billion in Medicare funding, while on the other side of their ledger is a $245 billion tax giveaway to high income Americans.
With the economy presently booming and stock prices hitting all-time highs - and yet with workers getting one of the lowest annual pay increases ever reported (2.7 percent) - the Republicans somehow see a need to make the rich even richer.
Said House Democratic leader Richard Gephardt: "It takes my breath away that in the same budget we would be giving a $19,000 a year tax cut to families who earn $350,000 a year, we would increase taxes (by eliminating credits) on families earning $25,000 and $30,000 a year. These are people who are struggling and working hard to get out of poverty, to get out of welfare and into the middle class."
The Republican Medicare cuts indeed would be devastating, especially to the 30 million seniors - many solely dependent upon fixed Social Security income - who would see their premiums doubled for Part B doctors' services.
This alone "would drive 500,000 people under the poverty line," according to Arthur Fleming, former secretary of health, education and welfare under President Eisenhower. Testifying before Congress, he said the proposal of the GOP would "condemn people to premature death" or unnecessary suffering.
While the Medicare cuts supposedly are justified to "save the system" from bankruptcy, this is a new found concern for Gingrich, and a patently bogus claim. Several of the trustees who administer Medicare testified that only an $89 billion cutback is needed to keep the system solvent for 10 more years - a period during which more rational ways can be found to cut waste and deal with future needs. However, a Democratic proposal to reduce Medicare funding by $90 billion was trashed by the Republicans.
Senate GOP leader Bob Dole doesn't even make a pretense of wanting to save Medicare. Dole recently bragged to the Conservative Union: "I was there fighting the fight, voting against Medicare because we knew it wouldn't work in 1965."
The Gingrich-Dole forces also want to slash Medicaid, the health program for the growing numbers of working uninsured, disabled and the poor, by $182 billion over seven years, and they would send remaining funds in the form of block grants to the states - many of which say they aren't prepared to handle the program. These cuts would mean a shutdown of health clinics and reduced services for one-quarter of all babies and children.
Interestingly, even corporate health experts don't buy Republican claims for "reform" and overall cost-cutting in their plan. A vice president for LTV Corp., predicting that reduced federal payments to doctors and hospitals for Medicare-Medicaid patients will just be shifted to the private sector, said: "Our real concern is that Congress not make an already serious problem into one that would be a grave issue for American industry."
The National Leadership Coalition on Health Care - a joint employer, union, consumer and medical group - issued what it called a conservative estimate that private industry would see an additional 5.5 percent increase in health costs, on top of the present rate of medical inflation, passed along by the Republican Medicare-Medicaid cuts.
These increases eventually would be paid by workers, union and non-union alike, either in the form of higher health premium payments and co-pays, or lower wage increases as a tradeoff.
All of this, along with reductions in student loan programs, child health and nutrition, Head Start, worker safety and health, and more, are prescribed by the congressional budget bills. And not really to balance the budget, either, but to give a tax break to the nation's wealthy whose incomes soared during the 1980s while most working families saw their real income decline.
With one year to go before the next national election, voters should look hard at the Gingrich-Dole agenda - now plainly revealed - and ask, is this the kind of "change" we really had in mind?