Paul Ryan's budget -- which the House passed -- proposed drastic cuts to two programs that can literally mean life and death for America's most vulnerable citizens -- Social Security and Medicare.
People may not remember, but Social Security was an early anti-poverty program. When it was signed into law during the height of the Great Depression, more than half of the nation's seniors could no longer support themselves. It is still an anti-poverty program, as most retirees receiving Social Security today rely on it as their main or only source of income. That means they may have no other way to put food on the table, pay their heating bills, or pay for non-prescription medications. Without Social Security, nearly half of our nation's seniors would live in poverty.
Hispanics, blacks, and women rely more heavily on Social Security because they tend to earn less during their working years, have fewer opportunities to save money, and are less likely to work in industries that provide pensions.
Social Security also serves other vulnerable Americans. About one-quarter of all beneficiaries are children whose parents are deceased and disabled adults who have little other income support. Many of these beneficiaries would be destitute without their modest monthly checks. Medicare is more obviously a life-saving program -- so much so that when people who are not insured reach retirement age and qualify for Medicare their health greatly improves. This program also serves disabled Americans. Ryan's budget plan would replace Medicare with a voucher program that would leave seniors and the disabled at the mercy of the for-profit insurance industry. Few seniors could afford routine doctor's visits, let alone health insurance or prescription medications without Medicare.
Although Medicare is a large program, its overhead costs are very low -- less than 4 percent of the total spending. Compare that to 30 percent overhead for the average for-profit insurance plan. Medicare costs are only rising more rapidly than other government programs because health care costs are rising more rapidly. The Medicare price tag will fall as federal health care reform begins to slow the growth of health costs overall.
Despite the right-wing talking points about Social Security, that program is neither in a dire financial condition nor is it responsible for one penny of the national debt. The Social Security Trust Fund has a balance of more than $2.5 trillion. This money is invested in government-backed securities, which earn interest income that actually grows the fund. In other words, the trust fund is so stable the money is actually loaned back to the federal government. The only change needed to keep the fund stable is increasing the income cap -- the current cut-off is at just over $100,000. This would put the program on solid financial footing for decades to come. We should oppose any misguided "solutions" like means testing or increasing the retirement age. Our seniors have earned those benefits -- taking them back or changing the terms would be unfair and un-American.
That Ryan's budget would gut these two essential programs is bad enough. What's even more unconscionable is that, at the same time, he would increase tax breaks for the very wealthy. Ryan may claim that the cuts to Social Security and Medicare are "necessary" in order to pay down the national debt, his budget actually increases the defense budget, including obsolete or redundant weapons systems in Republican Congressional districts. No serious plan to lower the deficit can attempt to do so without cuts to wasteful defense projects.
Rep. Ryan -- and his party faithful -- have a very different vision of our nation than I do. The Tea Party sees a nation where it's every man for himself. Where income inequality is lauded and encouraged. Where alliance to ideology is more important than finding solutions to problems. I see a nation where we join together to help those of us who truly need it. Where we invest not just in our physical infrastructure, but in our human capital as well. Where economic prosperity is shared by everyone who makes a contribution to that economy -- not just by the powerful few at the top. Where people come before politics.
Rep. Ryan's budget does not serve the kind of America I envision. It's like Paul Wellstone says, "we all do better, when we all do better."
State Senator Eric Griego is running to represent New Mexico's first congressional district. His first television campaign is focused on standing strong for Social Security and Medicare. Find out more about Eric and watch his ad at: www.griegoforcongress.com.