GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney has publicly endorsed Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) budget that he has named the “Path to Prosperity.” Boasting cutesy keywords like “job-killing” and “un-American,” the fiscal outline is more of a testament to the GOP’s strategy of painting President Obama as harmful for the American middle class than it is about producing a viable solution for fair spending practices and a reasonable timetable for solvency. For middle-class Americans who are excited to boot President Obama out of office, consider some of the highlighted strategies from the budget plan below and then ask yourself: whose prosperity is this plan for, exactly?
Goodbye, Pell Grants!
Mitt Romney’s endorsement of Paul Ryan’s plan is basically Romney saying that he supports cutting federal funding for education. This shouldn’t be of news to you, though, because the businessman-turned-politician already thinks that people should only get as much education as they can afford. Under Ryan’s plan, the federal government would return Pell grants to their pre-stimulus levels to curb rising tuition inflation and make sure aid is targeted to the truly needy (page 42).
Millions of students rely on Pell grants to help subsidize their already expensive education. Why are we so obsessed with getting college-educated Americans in a pit of debt? Is it because it makes them more susceptible to control? Some will argue that the clause specifies that funding will be reserved for the “truly needy.” Just remember that they said the same thing about cutting welfare.
Pop Torts for Breakfast!
For those of you not spun up on your legal verbiage, a tort is a wrongful act or infringement on a right that is not under contract that leads to legal liability. An example of a tort lawsuit would be a community suing a large gas fracking company because the company’s operations poisoned their water supply. For decades now, lawmakers have been pushing their campaign donors’ agendas trying to enact tort reform so that there are caps on the amount of damages that people can legally win in a settlement and/or court.
What the GOP has done is strategically word their desire for tort reform in such as way that consumers can associate tort reform with a positive outcome on their high health insurance premiums. Paul Ryan’s plan wants to ensure that the cost of frivolous litigation is not passed on to consumers in the form of higher health-care premiums by capping non-economic damages in medical liability lawsuits (page 44).
They should just say “tort reform” because that’s exactly what this is, but I’ll give you another example within the context of medicine to explain how this is completely backwards. With caps on the maximum amount of damages that someone who, for example, was a victim of mal practice or medical negligence, big for-profit hospital companies can simply average into their profit and loss statements the amount of money in lawsuits they’ll have to pay out if they engage in cost-effective low-quality healthcare. You can cry all you want about the ethical standards of hospitals, but the truth is in the verbiage: “passed on to consumers” is a way to say “not paid by us because we want to keep our bloated profit margins so we’ll pass the extra fees onto our consumers who are now legally required to have health insurance anyway.” We cannot let people’s lives turn into statements of liability on a corporation’s balance sheet!
Lower Taxes for Everyone!
This is an immediate attention-gainer for anyone who hates paying taxes and doesn’t care whether lower taxes will lead to perpetual insolvency or not. In the Path to Prosperity, the government would reform the tax code by consolidating the current six brackets and cutting the top individual rate from 35 percent to 25 percent (page 50), and encourage economic growth and job creation by lowering the corporate tax rate from 35 percent, which is the highest in the developed world, to a much more competitive 25 percent (page 53).
Capping the tax rate on the wealthiest Americans isn’t going to help “encourage economic growth and job creation,” but lowering the corporate tax rate a bit might. And unless you have a solution to remove the tax loopholes and offshore IRA accounts that make it so people like Mitt Romney don’t pay taxes for ten years at a time, then lowering tax rates that are already not collected on in full is an empty promise.
Whereas Democrats are famous for raising taxes in order to offset government spending, Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan – which maybe we should just start calling the Bain Budget - is going to cut out “wasteful” and “irresponsible” spending, like Medicare. Democrats are concerned about this because they are afraid it will turn into a system of inaccessible health care, and die-hard right wingers commenting at Forbes are convinced that this is a positive step in the right direction away from the always-imminent socialistic takeover of America.
What amazes me the most is that middle-income Americans are buying off on this (I would mention the low-income and poor Americans, but the GOP has made it clear that they don’t care about them). Is it just the use of fancy words that sells it? Is it because it directly opposes President Obama? The budet cuts $770 billion over 10 years from Medicaid, $205 billion from Medicare, $1.6 trillion from the Obama health-care legislation and $1.9 trillion from a category simply labeled “other mandatory.” Washington Post reported that, when asked to explain what “other mandatory” cuts were, Ryan explained that the additional $1.9 trillion in cuts would come from food stamps, welfare, federal employee pensions and support for farmers.
Motivate the poor!
Too many Americans, according to Ryan, are receiving more from the government than they are paying in taxes. That’s interesting to say, given that the majority of our federal spending goes toward defense and discretionary spending. How exactly is providing assistance for a single mother for less than two years (the average welfare recipient) even remotely considered to be a serious government spending problem when we’re literally spending as much on our national defense as all of the other countries in the world combined?
Ryan and Romney are probably two peas in a pod when it comes to their sentiment toward Americans who weren’t born into money. Both are strong proponents of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. In the case of “wasteful” government programs, like welfare and unemployment, Ryan opposes our current nanny-state safety net because it “lulls able-bodied people into lives of complacency and dependency, which drains them of their very will and incentive to make the most of their lives. It’s demeaning.”
As such a strong proponent of privatizing Medicare since he was elected as chairman, it’s no wonder that Ryan is taking such a bold stance against social programs in order to provide six-figure tax breaks to wealthy Americans. If he’s allowed to steer the country down this inauspicious avenue of austerity that everyone thinks is the yellow brick road to solvency, we all might as well pack it up and hope our friends to the north don’t militarize their borders like we do.
Whose Prosperity, Exactly?
One encouraging thing to think about is that despite its shortcomings, the plan (albeit a step in the wrong direction) indicates an understanding that our current spending practices will be detrimental to the future of our country. Unfortunately, Ryan has decided to tackle the debt problem by slashing social programs while simultaneously calling for tax cuts to benefit high-income earners. The Republicans had a chance to put forward a solid, fiscally conservative budget that might have even swayed some people who are sick of how much debt we’ve accumulated, but instead of being responsible, GOP lawmakers and Mitt Romney are standing behind a plan that benefits the top 3% of our country and leaves the other 97% in shambles.