Rep. Paul Ryan now has a clear, unmistakable message about where the American Majority stands on his ideas for cutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits – no, no, 700,000 times no.
Ryan’s office on Wednesday received a petition signed by more than 700,000 people that said there should be “no grand bargain” in the budget negotiations being led by Ryan and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., “in exchange for cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits.”
Our video shows what happened when two dozen representatives of the nine organizations that helped collect petition signatures, including the Campaign for America’s Future, went to Capitol Hill to deliver the petitions to Ryan’s office.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., spearheaded the effort in the Senate. (The other participating organizations were the Alliance for Retired Americans, Campaign for Community Change, DailyKos, Democracy for America, The Other 98%, Progressives United, Social Security Works and USAction.) He is a member of the House-Senate budget conference charged with coming up with a federal spending plan for 2014 and beyond. And he has made it clear that he is not happy with where he sees those negotiations going. At Wednesday’s meeting, Reuters reported, Sanders “complained about the secret negotiations and vowed to stop efforts to cut the Social Security pension program and Medicare and Medicaid healthcare benefits. … ‘I’m not a great fan of background negotiations,’ Sanders told Reuters Insider Television. ‘I will do my best to make sure that we don’t cut these very important programs, which are life and death to millions of Americans.’”
Sanders’ fears are real. Several news outlets have reported that as budget negotiators try to find a way forward to a bipartisan agreement, in the words of The Washington Post, “the real talks are taking place behind closed doors between Ryan and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray, D-Wash.”
Ryan, who is the chair of the House Budget Committee, brings to the table his budget proposal, outlined in his disingenuously titled “The Path to Prosperity.” That document says that recommendations like limiting the cost-of-living adjustment for increasing Social Security benefits and raising the retirement age from the fiscal commission led by former Sen. Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, figureheads for the Peter Peterson “Fix the Debt” campaign, “offer guidance on where bipartisan consensus can be reached on strengthening Social Security.”
Ryan is also clinging to proposals that would put millions of Medicare recipients into the same private insurance market that is currently roiling the lives of millions of people with cancellation notices in the wake of the debut of the Affordable Care Act health insurance exchanges. He would also turn Medicaid into a block grant program to the states, which would encourage states to continue the cuts in benefits we’re already seeing particularly in Republican-dominated states around the country.
What is off the table, in Ryan’s view, are common-sense proposals that would ask the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share to both shore up the Social Security trust fund and to reduce the budget deficit overall. For example, Ryan’s pants-on-fire assertion that “Social Security is going broke” – in fact, it has the money to pay full benefits for the next two decades – could be largely addressed by simply lifting the cap on the earnings subject to Social Security tax, so that people with six-figure salaries or higher are paying the same percentage of their income into Social Security as working-class people.
Murray is more likely to embrace such solutions as lifting the cap on Social Security tax and on closing the loopholes corporations and multimillionaires use to escape paying taxes. She is more likely to reject the idea that the price for closing those loopholes should be lowering tax rates on the top 1 percent, when the top statutory rate is already at its lowest in recent history and when many economists agree that statutory rate could be higher without harming the economy.
Murray also received a copy of the 700,000-name petition opposing Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid cuts, so she knows that if she takes a hard line in the budget negotiations, she has an army of grassroots support at her back.
That’s good news. But we’ll have to keep up the pressure. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are programs that are rightly “third rails” that should be untouchable for any politician who wants to diminish them. What we really need is a conversation about expanding Social Security for people in retirement and expanding Medicare to millions more people who are not being well served by the private insurance market.
Whatever happens, we can’t let members of Congress go into a back room and emerge with a deal that sells out our retirement and health-care security.