Barack Obama Health care Politics The Opinionsphere

The Republican’s Generational Warfare

[digg-reddit-me]All the blogosphere (and indeed, the political conversation of which it is a part) is abuzz with outrage over Obama’s Afghanistan decision – from those towards the left who believed Obama has betrayed them by escalating this war (despite the fact that it was a campaign promise to escalate the war) to those others on the left who just oppose the war to those on the right who (with a few exceptions) have decided to attack the decision as weak, not Churchillian, and to paint Obama once again as a weak, anti-American thug. Then there a significant chorus of the voices of reason – who acknowledge that to withdraw seems perhaps as bad of an option as to escalate; both of which in turn could be less worse than the way things are now. Some of these voices are opposed to escalation; some are in favor; many seem weary of the discussion entirely.

But while all of these pixels are being devoted to Afghanistan, we are taking our eyes off a far larger issue – the one that we have never quite bothered to look at despite months purportedly focused on it. The Republican Party has now declared war on this cute baby! Along with me, probably you, and the rest of the younger generations. Paul Krugman today issued a call to arms that was – to adopt a metaphor of the right – virtually Churchillian in its starkness, if not in its vivid imagery:

For America can’t get control of its budget without controlling health care costs — and this is our last, best chance to deal with these costs in a rational way.

Krugman – in typically Churchillian fashion – does not mention that many of the best options to control costs have already been stripped from the bills being considered – from a public option pegged to Medicare rates to a more open health insurance exchange. Instead, the bill’s potential would be with a strong public option trigger or the many, many experiments in the plan any of which may or may not be able to bend the curve of health care spending growth downward. As important, as even the foremost free-marketeer Milton Friedman acknowledged, our rapidly escalating costs are the result of our hybrid system but that “once the whole population is covered…attention turns to holding down costs.” None of the bills under consideration would achieve universal health care either – but they would make significant progress to this goal.

In short this bill will not be enough to fix our problems, but when the House and Senate bills are merged, the resulting bill will almost certainly be the most significant attempt at cost control in a generation if not more. And it is long past due. As Krugman points out: our long-term fiscal outlook is dire. The tax cuts and deficit spending during our years of plenty under Bush aren’t the primary reason for this. The stimulus spending by Bush or Obama isn’t the main cause either. The primary reason for this impending disaster is that our population is getting older and health care costs are growing exponentially. Thus the only way to avoid drastic cuts in the future is to slow down the rate of growth today.

Part of reducing the rate of growth today is restraining the growth of spending in Medicare and other government programs. In other words, a vote to not cut a dime in Medicare today is a vote to make sure my generation doesn’t have Medicare at all. Back to Krugman:

[T]he G.O.P. has focused more and more on an effort to demonize cost-control efforts. The Senate bill would impose “draconian cuts” on Medicare, says Senator John McCain, who proposed much deeper cuts just last year as part of his presidential campaign. “If you’re a senior and you’re on Medicare, you better be afraid of this bill,” says Senator Tom Coburn.

If these tactics work, and health reform fails, think of the message this would convey: It would signal that any effort to deal with the biggest budget problem we face will be successfully played by political opponents as an attack on older Americans.

For once, Krugman understates things. The G.O.P. is waging a generational war on the younger generations. While they complain of stimulus spending to get the economy moving (which the younger generation, especially those just graduating college desperately need), these old men are demagoguing cost control today such that tomorrow, when I am too old to continue working, there will be no safety net. If it sounded a bit off to you that these Republicans who not long ago were looking to dismantle Medicare and Social Security (and whose patron saint warned that Medicare would lead to socialism and the end of freedom in America) are now defending these institutions against any any cuts, perhaps you haven’t heard of “starving the beast.” This right-wing fiscal-political strategy explicitly subscribed to by Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush (who not coincidentally each ran huge deficits) uses “budget deficits via tax cuts to force future reductions in the size of government. The term ‘beast’ refers to government and the programs it funds, particularly social programs such as welfare, Social Security, and Medicare.” In other words, those who subscribe to this strategy would rather drastic cuts in the future that would eliminate Medicare for me than moderate cuts today that would make the system sustainable. This is nothing less than an attempt to make war on my generation in the name of ideology.

Krugman, in issuing this call to arms, must know that this bill is not ideal. But he also knows that it holds promise, and that its success would lead to more serious efforts. Its failure though would mean that yet again the “fiscal conservatives” whose goal is to “starve the beast” will have won yet another battle in the war on the younger generations, and the Baby Boomers who have for too long subjected us to their petty distractions will be the last generation to enjoy the benefits of the programs their parents created.

If these starve-the-beasters get their way, America’s power will be diminished and our society less just, and us younger generations who have paid into will not be able to benefit from this safety net.

[Image by tandemracer of her baby’s six-month doctor visit licensed under Creative Commons 2.0]

6 replies on “The Republican’s Generational Warfare”

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