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Timothy Egan writes: "The bet was audacious from the beginning, and given the miserable, low-down tenor of contemporary politics, not unfathomable: Could you divide the country between greedy geezers and everyone else as a way to radically alter the social contract?"

Seventeen people were arrested at a sit-in at Aetna in midtown Manhattan, 09/29/09. (photo: mobilizeforhealthcare.org)
Seventeen people were arrested at a sit-in at Aetna in midtown Manhattan, 09/29/09. (photo: mobilizeforhealthcare.org)



The Need for Greed

By Timothy Egan, The New York Times

17 May 11

 

he bet was audacious from the beginning, and given the miserable, low-down tenor of contemporary politics, not unfathomable: Could you divide the country between greedy geezers and everyone else as a way to radically alter the social contract?

But in order for the Republican plan to turn Medicare, one of most popular government programs in history, into a much-diminished voucher system, the greed card had to work.

The plan's architect, Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, drew a line in the actuarial sand: Anyone born before 1957 would not be affected. They could enjoy the single-payer, socialized medical care program that has allowed millions of people to live extended lives of dignity and decent health care.

And their kids and grandkids? Sorry, they would have to take their little voucher and pay some private insurer nearly twice as much as a senior pays for basic government coverage today. In essence, Republicans would break up the population between an I've Got Mine segment and The Left Behinds.

Again, not a bad political calculation. Altruism is a squishy notion, hard to sustain in an election. Ryan himself has made a naked play for greed in defending the plan. "Seniors, as soon as they realize this doesn't affect them, they are not so opposed," he has said.

Well, the early verdict is in, and it looks as though the better angels have prevailed: seniors are opposed. Republicans: Meet the Fockers. Already, there is considerable anxiety - and some guilt - among older folks about leaving their children worse off financially than they are. To burden them with a much costlier, privatized elderly health insurance program is a lead weight for the golden years.

This plan is toast. Newt Gingrich is in deep trouble with the Republican base for stating the obvious on Sunday, when he called the signature Medicare proposal of his party "right-wing social engineering." But that's exactly what it is: a blueprint for downward mobility.

Look at the special Congressional election of next Tuesday. What was supposed to be a shoo-in for Republicans in a very safe district of upstate New York is now a tossup. For that, you can blame the Medicare radicals now running the House.

And a raft of recent polls show that seniors, who voted overwhelmingly Republican in the 2010 elections, are retreating in droves. Democratic pollster Geoffrey Garin says the Ryan plan is a "watershed event," putting older voters in play for next year's presidential election.

Beyond the political calculations, all of this is encouraging news because it shows that people are starting to think much harder about what kind of country they want to live in. Give the Republicans credit for honesty and showing their true colors. And their plan is at least a starting point compared with those Tea Party political illiterates who waved signs urging government to keep its hands off their government health care.

When the House of Representatives voted to end Medicare as we know it last month, it was sold as a way to save the program. Medicare now covers 47.5 million Americans, but it won't have sufficient funds to pay full benefits by 2024, according to the most recent trustee report. Something has to be done.

Many Republicans want to kill it. They hate Medicare because it represents everything they are philosophically opposed to: a government-run program that works and is popular across the political board. It's tough to shout about the dangers of universal health care when the two greatest protectors (if not creators) of the elderly middle class are those pillars of 20th-century progressive change, Social Security and Medicare.

For next year's election, all but a handful of Republicans in the House are stuck with the Scarlet Letter of the Ryan Plan on their record. Soon, there will be a similar vote in the Senate. It will not pass, but it will show which side of the argument politicians are on.

There is a very simple way to make Medicare whole through the end of this century, far less complicated, and more of a bargain in the long run than the bizarre Ryan plan. Raise taxes. It hasn't sunk in yet, but most American pay less taxes now than anytime in the last 50 years, according to a number of measurements. And a majority of the public now seems willing to pay a little extra (or force somebody else to pay a little extra) to keep a good thing going. Both Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush raised taxes, by the way.

Given a choice between self-interest and the greater good, voters will usually watch out for themselves - unless that greater good is their own family. For Republicans intent on killing Medicare, it was a monumental miscalculation to miss that logical leap.

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+116 # Pamela Hazel 2011-05-17 21:50
You nailed it! I'm a senior, already dependent on both Medicare and Social Security for a reasonable lifestyle, and my first reaction to the Paul Ryan budget was horror; the second was relief that my husband and I were safe; and the third was guilt and shame for the selfishness revealed by my second reaction. Ryan was counting on those of us who are "safe" to be as draconian and greedy as he and his followers. I'm proud to know that seniors have not across-the-boar d been willing to take the money and run!
 
 
+40 # Dave W. 2011-05-17 23:41
Unbridled, unregulated avarice has become the standard by which many Americans "wish" to see themselves. Keith Olbermann's recent "lotto nation" spelled that out quite well. American humorists and satirists have made fun at the "expense" of the wealthy for generations. Besides the occasional philanthropist, vast wealth generally corrupts its holder. Any serious student of history can trace wealth's pernicious effects back thru the millennium's. Ryan may have tapped a sub-conscious note in many of the nations seniors of whom the overwhelming majority were never "in the money." A slight alarm bell, a reminder that the rich were in most cases, snobbish, self-centered, self-aggrandizi ng and not much fun to be around or especially to work for. Greed is a disease. Ryan and his ilk are virulent carriers. Their "begging" for a vaccination. Time to soak the rich. If they don't want to remain in the country that provided the "fertile" ground for their ascension to their gated country clubs and sprawling estates then working class America needs to say good riddance.
 
 
+6 # Bill Clements 2011-05-19 09:56
"Greed is a disease."

Yes, everything we know about addiction and it's effects on the brain would implicate many wealthy individuals as addicts.
 
 
+44 # Christopher E. Mille 2011-05-17 23:53
Mr. Egan has captured in just a few paragraphs the harsh reality our next generation of seniors will be facing should Mr. Ryan's plan be adopted. I don't want to see younger members of my family have to decide on healthcare vs. food but this will most likely become the reality once the Republicans have completed their right wing social re-engineering with tax breaks for the super wealthy under the guise of budget control.
 
 
+33 # Chris Miller 2011-05-18 00:03
Mr. Egan has captured in a few short paragraphs what every American Citizen needs to know about Mr. Ryan's budget proposal. If born in 1957 or later you will never obtain the benefits that were factored into your retirement planning and based on the existing financial condition of the nation the medical care system you will inherit is an abysmal mystery. Republicans have evolved into a party of 'Greed' and 'Power' above all else. It's a sad day when the health of our citizens is considered secondary when compared with desired tax reduction for the wealthiest among us. I am proud to stand with my fellow younger citizens in protest of these financially unresponsible policies.
 
 
+37 # Dave45 2011-05-18 01:03
The key tax issue is not how much tax one pays; it is, rather, what one gets for those taxes. When almost 50% of the nation's taxes go to military-relate d projects and the bloated budgets of their favorite private contractors, people are not getting much for their taxes. Furthermore, polls have shown that most people do not oppose taxes assessed for good reasons. There is nothing wrong with people pooling their money (as taxes) to pay for necessities (like health care) at lower rates (a benefit of single-payer national health insurance). Republicans oppose this because they oppose, with painfully few exceptions, all policies that offer direct humanitarian aid to common people (citizens).
 
 
+6 # rf 2011-05-19 05:25
You are right! For several years I have been traveling to Denmark and they pay much higher taxes there but are not angry about it because they get something for it...like a far better medical system, better mass transit, cleaner cities with better infrastructure. Denmark makes the US look like it is...third world!
 
 
+26 # Rick Levy 2011-05-18 01:15
If the "greatest generation" hadn't also been the greediest generation, they would have seen to it that every American regardless of age would have been covered by Medicare, which the then-geezers began enjoying in 1965. I resented them then for their selfishness which they displayed in so many areas.

Now that I'm a senior, I oppose any plan that leaves the next generation worse off than I am; I hope that I never become like the previous generation of older people.
 
 
+54 # Ralph Averill 2011-05-18 02:50
Another way to pay for it is to stop investing in things that offer no return; guns, tanks, and military misadventures, and invest in things that do; education, infrastructure, and a less byzantine medical care delivery system.
 
 
+29 # J.Lind 2011-05-18 04:54
I'm not sure of my ground here, but:
isn't the cutoff for paying into Social Security and Medicare/aid at $90,000 ?
if so, why not raise that cutoff to say, $150,000.
This would only affect those making highend middle class....above that would be some "payback" from the greedsters.
 
 
+6 # Ralph Averill 2011-05-19 02:35
Why not remove the limit altogether! People with 7, 8, or 9 figure incomes, who pay only the capital gains 15% rate on most of their income, should pay Social Security taxes on all of it. So what that they may never collect Social Security. Lucky them. I pay taxes for a lot of things I never use.
 
 
+4 # rf 2011-05-19 05:27
Why not make the rich pay a percentage of their entire income...just like me...why should there be any cut off???
 
 
+23 # economagic 2011-05-18 06:17
Forget guilt and shame: How about rage? This was not OUR idea. LET'S GIT 'EM!
 
 
+18 # violabby 2011-05-18 06:58
When Congress including the Senate agrees to give up their own posh medical benefits, maybe they'd have some moral authority to cut benefits for others..
 
 
+2 # cwilheim 2011-05-18 15:25
Congress's "posh medical benefits" are the same benefits offered to all federal employees. They are able to BUY IN to an insurance exchange similar to those to be set up by the Affordable Care Act. While the benefits are generous, they are not free and they are not lavish. I know. My father was a letter carrier, and his widow, my mother, has the right to the exact same insurance as a member of Congress.
 
 
+37 # clark newhall 2011-05-18 07:08
Sorry but you didnt nail it. There is a much much easier way to make Medicare (and the Federal Governmant) solvent for the next century and ensure health care for everyone. It's called Medicare For All. Why should only people over 65 and the disabled be entitled to Medicare when we all pay for it through payroll taxes? Why should we who pay insurance premiums be paying 15% of our income for health insurance that is inadequate when we could all pay an across the board payroll tax of 8% or less and fund good, privately delivered health care through Medicare For All. Why should we put up with insurance companies that rake 20% off of every premium to create paperwork that slows down doctors, frustrates nurses and drives us all crazy with denials, pre- authorizations and utilization reviews? You did not nail it New York Times writer. You chickened out. Make it clear. Medicare For All will work. Nothing else has.
 
 
+23 # Fred Stawitz 2011-05-18 07:14
Why cap the contributions at all! Remove the cap and the program could easily be expanded to cover all Americans.
 
 
+24 # fredboy 2011-05-18 07:29
The Repubs are so self-possessed and self-focused they never even noticed that the most important people in the lives of geezers are our children and grandchildren. So we will not let the GOP vampires suck away their future healthcare protection.

The Repubs' dance of death shares false focus also. If you wish to make the nation financially whole, don't castigate the elderly, Medicare, public workers and the like. Take the money--yes, take the money--from the financial thieves who wrecked our and the world's economy and the retirement hopes of millions. But no, you are afraid of those leeches. We need strong leaders who will pick them off America's flesh and squeeze the vile juices--theft profits and perverted financial schemes--out of them.
 
 
+11 # JOHN OAKES 2011-05-18 07:31
I've been looking for the perfect example of MANIPULATION BY SADISTICS (STATISTICS) and this attempted EXPLOITATION is a shoe-in.
 
 
+19 # Billo 2011-05-18 07:40
I never hear another side to the Republican strategy, which is once the population is divided, and a majority have been disinfranchised , how long do you think the geezers will be able to retain medicare for themselves.
After passing this plan, the whole system would be killed within 10 years by a future Republican Congress, because now most Americans will be willing to support killing a program into which they must contribute, but will receive nothing. Even the greedy must look down the road and see this just the first shot in a long (or rather short) term goal to kill the whole program.
 
 
+3 # rm 2011-05-19 06:03
Billo -- how right you are. That is, indeed, the plan.
 
 
-6 # Elizabeth Crow 2011-05-18 08:10
read with interest; are you the one from Seattle? I worked with the Sheriff's Dept. and knew Jane Eagan - your mother?
Elizabeth M. Crow. Roosevelt HS 1942
 
 
+6 # jeenious 2011-05-18 09:12
H. L. Mencken wrote something to the effect that: For every great problem in the world, there is a solution that is clear and simple and wrong. (No quotation marks because not sure of his exact words.)
But there is a lot of arm chair philosophizing and Monday morning quarterbacking going on between self-perceived experts these days; and unfortunately that's not the worst of it. The WORST of the situation is that lots of the people who have the best critical abilities find that there is far more money in devoting their reasoning skills to inventing clever propaganda for one side of the greedy against the other (the have-a-bundle-a nd-want-MORE side against the payday-to-payda y side). Actually the poorest of the poor in this war of ideas are not as vocal as some seem to guess. Many of them not only are unemployed but also unemployable -- mentally ill, or addicted to alcohol or other drugs, learning dysfunctional; and such people do NOT tend to make an eloquent case for themselves in public places, nor show up with signs at rallies. Their personal resources are fully required to get three squares and a place to crash. There is a small percentage of professional welfare recipients, so to speak, but there is opportunism at ALL levels of income. Wall Street, for example, and opportunistic business scammers. (continued)
 
 
+11 # in deo veritas 2011-05-18 10:26
And the first chance they get, the corporate fascists running the show will find ways to eliminate the groups you mentioned just like their heroes in Nazi germany.
 
 
+7 # Colleen P. Williams 2011-05-18 12:46
If there were decent health and mental health care, a good portion of the disenfranchised would be able to speak. My husband is bipolar, Type I and without his meds, he is lost. With his meds, he is a sane and stable productive citizen.
And he does not vote GOP. There lies the heart of the issue; if we keep those not likely to vote the GOP way out of the loop, then there is not a problem for the GOP to worry about. When people get off of the substances, they tend to vote more liberal than conservative.
In the Conservative mind, this is not good, and to further the end of keeping them out of the loop, look at the current social system of credit checks, criminal background checks, for flipping burgers, pretty much. If one has EVER made a mistake, or gotten bad credit due to an illness, then that will penalize one for a very long time. Where is the incentive to straighten up when one cannot get a job or a place to live? And when one is scrabbling for the bare essentials, elections sure seem pretty distant and abstract. Poverty is a fantastic tool for social engineering, so keep 'em poor, addicted and mentally ill, just ask the GOP, it works like a charm!
 
 
+14 # jeenious 2011-05-18 09:28
(continued from prior post)

Who can pay for the most and the best contrived creative cherry picking of facts, and the most persuasive spin to create sympathy for their kind of opportunism(pro paganda)? The wealthiest, on the one side, and the middle class. And each plays the us- good-guys-versu s-those-sorry-S OBs stereotypes spin game.

The U.S. has been on the equivalent of a credit card honeymoon for decades now; and during the current recession there has been a jockeying around for a newer and better, more persuasive, set of stereotypes and distortions of reality on part of the most stressed side.

The richest have, through all the Great Recession so far, continued to increase their net worth, while many of the middle classe have lost their arses and are scared. Many of the frightened are being cleverly manipulated by the propaganda of the have-a-bundles to believe the have a bundles are their friend. They are not. All they want is "more," and it helps to persuade many of the lost-their-arse s, or are-in-a-state- of-insecurity-a nd-fear folks.

SOLUTIONS? A good place to start is to analyze who has control of the making of the laws. The congress? Not quite. The big money of the wealthiest that lobbies the congress.

All the wisdom of the best minds of mankind cannot improve anything, playing against a STACKED DECK!
 
 
+14 # reiverpacific 2011-05-18 09:45
This kind of thing is why I have a five-year plan to return to Europe (and have never become a US citizen, because of the ludicrous and ever worsening medical non-system*). No place is perfect but as a "geezer" who has been "self-exploited " most of his US working years -S.S. is called "Self Employment Tax"- here, I'm very grateful that I've been paying into S.S./Medicare and am now receiving the return as at least some measure of guaranteed subsistence in hard economic times whilst I'm still trying to run a private business. However, I see these increasingly rare enlightened programs as the last bulwark against overwhelming forces of privatized skulduggery, the juggernaut trying by all means at their disposal + lots of financial backing from the latter day robber-barons, to transform the populace into obedient drones with no recourse nor dissent in the "Land of the Free". At least in Europe, the much maligned (here anyway) "Welfare State" -Thatcher years and manipulations of the Sarkozy's and Berlusconi's notwithstanding , the populace still have a say in their social status and basic standard of existence and in some countries, can bring the whole nation to a standstill if the offenses appear excessive. Would that it were so here!
Sadly the "Can-do" attitude prevalent and which I so admired In the US when I first came here is all but dead: guess why!?
 
 
+7 # Sallyport 2011-05-18 12:02
The vast inertia of Congress in the matter of breaking open the coffers of the Pentagon can be overcome if we undertake a campaign to convert armaments & other war-related manufacturing to production for the enormous array of needs of society. The war machine has cannily distributed "defense" industries throughout the US in order to assure the continued support of the politicians. People are corrupted to work against their own long-term interests by perpetuating war.
 
 
+4 # Mike K 2011-05-18 13:35
What occures to me is this, lets say the Ryan budget gets passed. What would stop the GOP from turning around and finishing the job by privitise Medicare for everyone else? We know they want to do and given the chance they'd try for it.
 
 
+6 # Kayjay 2011-05-18 13:38
Many many kudos to Pamela Hazel's post. She may be "safe" and yet still says no to the proposed Ryan plan. Contrary to Gingrich's beliefs, looking at the big picture and sacrificing a bit for younger generations.... is not socialism.
 
 
+3 # jeenious 2011-05-18 14:09
Some of you saw on television last night the story of the battle over the past couple of decades against the growing equivalent of a social cancer in the U.S.:
crystal meth. The focal point of the problem is ephedrine and pseudoepiphedri ne. the making of those two ingredients requires equipment and expertise far beyond reach of home kitchen crystal meth makers; but as long as those ingredients can be obtained at local pharmacies, the cooking of meth is something a highschool dropout can be taught by another "cook" to do.

So where has been the biggest obstacle to getting control of the meth addiction problem? Congress? No. The LOBBYING of the congress to the tune of millions of dollars that are a small fraction of the profits of pharmaceutical companies. Those millions are just a fraction of the profits pouring into "legitimate" pharmaceutical companies.

Your congresspersons KNOW this. Yet, thanks to their not wanting to offend big campaign donators and lobbyists, efforts to cut off the "supply" to the home "cookers" have been an uphill fight. It has taken decades to get to the point where the two key drugs are now contolled and limited to prescriptions by MDs only. It was like pulling teeth to get the congress to do anything effective. Meanwhile, crystal meth addiction has become epidemic, and it DESTROYS lives of more than just the addicts.
 
 
+3 # jeenious 2011-05-18 14:21
Colleen, some of the most creative and industrious people I ever have known are bi-polar. Excellent point. Yes, when properly medicated they can be some of the brightest and most productive. However, meds have to be changed from time to time, as the benefit of one can diminish over time. What an excellent example. A friend of mine who is a brilliant attorney, got off his meds once and "spun out." And if there had not been any source of funds to get him out of the "vortex" and back on track, he would have lost his home, and his practice, his license to practice. He got the help he needed and, within a few months was able to catch up with the mortgage, pay off delinquent debts, and get on with his, and his family's life.

As you indicate. If there had been no medical (including psychiatric) safety net, he would have ended up literally on the street, with NO WAY BACK.

Yes, there may be many who are down and out in the U.S. today, not because they have nothing of value to offer to "the system" but because no insurance company, and no institution or organization stepped in to give them a hand up so they could resume pulling their weight.

Lots of people in the U.S. right now, today, lost a high-paying job and then their home, and don't even have a pair of clean clothes for a job interview.

To the GOP, they are just garbage.
 
 
+3 # jeenious 2011-05-18 15:29
A fortune is a fortune is a fortune.

Al Capone made a fortune;
In the famous Brinks robbery a few decades ago, somebody made off with a fortune;
And speaking of made-off, Madov made a fortune until last year;
Kenneth Lay, CEO/chairman of Enron, made a fortune (he dropped dead and a judge ruled that it would not be reasonable to recover any of the hundreds of millions he personally creamed off from his family);
Members of the Third Reich had a fortune in fillings from the teeth of those they converted into fertilizer, if they had only succeeded in winning WWII;
The principal officers of the banks that used CORPORATE funds to make loans against mortgage bonds that were worthless (but which they got graded 1-A) made PERSONAL fortunes on other such gambols, but did not have to pay back a penny, and the banks got BAILED OUT, beginning under G.W.B., and their PERSONAL fortunes in the billions were never at risk;
Drug lords in Mexico and Columbia and other places have fortunes...

Yet GOP propaganda repeatedly, repeatedly, repeatedly says, or implies, that people who have fortunes EARNED them, while people who do NOT have fortunes were unwilling to work as hard.

Get serious ill or injured after DECADES of pulling your weight in the U.S. and you can go bankrupt. Are those with fortunes heroes, and you garbage?
 
 
-1 # Martintfre 2011-05-18 17:04
Al Capone stole a fortune, Thomas Edison earned a fortune. If you do not understand the difference, you have no moral stance to work from.
 
 
-10 # Martintfre 2011-05-18 17:02
The problem with the welfare state is it is not productive enough to support the welfare state - no matter how popular it may be.

True Greed is not keeping what you have earned but making a moral claim upon the life time and money of some one else.
 
 
+1 # rf 2011-05-19 05:35
When someone making $30k is paying the same percentage of taxes as someone making $300mil there is a problem. Pushed too far we will see the riches houses burn and them hanging from the trees outside. They make the decision...they will live with the consequences.
 
 
+4 # rm 2011-05-19 06:15
Martintfre says, "The problem with the welfare state is it is not productive enough to support the welfare state - no matter how popular it may be."

What a strange comment that is. In fact, the welfare state is productive enough. Social Security has a huge surplus that actually bails out the "private capitalist state" -- i.e., the banks and corporations that can't seem to survive without massive government support.

What you call the "welfare state" is only people doing things collectively because that is the most efficient way to do it. We have publicaly owned and operated roads, schools, regulations, and many other things because that is what works best. It not welfare. It is collectivized ownership and management. That's what Medicare and Social Security are and they are the best government programs ever!
 
 
0 # Lorraine Pozzi 2011-05-18 21:41
FYI. Timothy Egan is a Seattle resident, formerly wrote for the NY Times - author of several good books - but I expect you knew that already.

LP
 
 
+4 # Bill Clements 2011-05-19 08:51
What continually astounds me is how consistently tone deaf Republicans are! Year after year, decade after decade. As if they were stuck in a Ground Hog's Day version of their own. You have to wonder if they're ever going to figure it out?

From where I stand, evolution is out of the question. Standing still doesn't even apply. The movement for them devolution.
 
 
+3 # jerrym 2011-05-19 23:20
What happens if we elders vote to prevent our younger fellow citizens from Medicare?

As we die off and our numbers shrink, so will our power at the ballot box, and they will take Medicare away from us, too. Will serve us right if we support this theft.
 

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