Jonathan Swift's America
In 1729 writer/satirist Jonathan Swift penned an essay directed toward the English upper class suggesting a solution for how to prevent the children of poor people in Ireland from being a burden to the country and empire and “for making them beneficial to the public.”
“I have been assured,” Swift wrote in A Modest Proposal “by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee or a ragout.”
Amidst the words emanating from Washington these days, it seems apt to ask if House Speaker Paul Ryan, Office and Management Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, or Republican Congress members Roger Marshall, Jodey Arrington, or Jason Chaffetz are descendants of that “very knowing American”.
Even Ebenezer Scrooge, the heartless miser who spent a lifetime exploiting the poor and his clerk Bob Cratchit, and refusing a Christmas donation for the less fortunate because they’d be better off dead, “decreasing the surplus population,” might be uncomfortable with this crowd.
Consider the House Republican plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and the Trump Administration’s proposed budget.
The House bill would, according to the Congressional Budget Office, end health coverage for 14 million people next year, and 26 million by 2026, and raise the cost of healthcare premiums already unaffordable for millions by 15 to 20 percent.
It would reduce federal funding for Medicaid almost certainly resulting in states throwing many lower income people off Medicaid coverage. It would also slash funding for public health programs that help people with chronic illnesses like diabetes and heart disease and federal vaccines, while encouraging the spread of infectious diseases.
Further, it would replace the ACA subsidies, intended to soften the high cost of insurance premiums to buy private insurance, with less in tax credits.
But the tax credits are so stingy and structured to hammer older people who do not yet qualify for Medicare at age 65 that some lower income adults could be forced to pay more for premiums than their entire yearly income.
The typical 64-year-old with an income of $26,500 would pay $1,700 for coverage, after the ACA subsidy, in 2026; under the GOP plan, that out of pocket cost just for premiums skyrockets to $14,600.
And, yet, that’s not harsh enough for some on the far right.
Take Rep. Roger Marshall, (R-Kan.), a member of the GOP Doctors Caucus: “There is a group of people that just don’t want health care and aren’t going to take care of themselves… morally, spiritually, socially,” the poor “just don’t want health care.”
Or Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Ut), chairman of the House Oversight Committee: "Americans have choices. And they've got to make a choice. And so, maybe rather than getting that new iPhone that they just love and they want to go spend hundreds of dollars on, maybe they should invest it in their own health care. They’ve got to make those decisions for themselves.”
Really, Jason? A new iPhone costs $649, the average cost of health care for a year, $10,345.
They’re already winning concessions to make the plan worse.
After a meeting with the President in the Oval Office, some on the far right won additional savage restrictions, notably a requirement that all low-income adults would have to prove they hold a job – even if they are not able to get a job – to qualify for Medicaid health coverage.
What about any pain and suffering that causes? Irrelevant to Rep. Jodey Arrington (R-Tex.): “Let’s prevent idleness,” he said, contending the work mandate would “make this not so much of a seductive entitlement.”
It’s the ideology that the disadvantaged are lazy, unwilling to work, and “takers” (as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney) stealing from the “producers” of society, unworthy of any public support.
It’s the ideology that safety nets reflect an immoral collectivism, which Ayn Rand, the right wing writer who is a demigod to people like Paul Ryan, called “the tribal premise of primordial savages.”
Speaker Ryan, the person most identified with the Republican health plan, daily lives out his vision of austerity, dismantling any public protections for those he deems undeserving, and transferring wealth to the “producers” and the wealthy. That’s why the health plan includes more than $330 billion in tax breaks for the wealthy and another $1 trillion in tax breaks for corporations, which Ryan has been promoting in interviews with rightwing media.
And it’s why Ryan could laughingly tell another interviewer of the cuts to Medicaid: “We’ve been dreaming of this since I’ve been around — since you and I were drinking at a keg. . . . I’ve been thinking about this stuff for a long time. We’re on the cusp of doing something we’ve long believed in.”
The same philosophy is reflected in the proposed Administration budget, which diverts funding for humanitarian programs and environmental protections to add tens of billions of dollars in more money for military spending.
Most notoriously, the budget would end the Meals on Wheels program which last year alone served 219 million meals to homebound seniors, the disabled, and veterans, and would also eliminate grants to help low-income people with winter heating bills, and slash funding for job training for disadvantaged youth.
But those priorities are music to the ears of one of its architects, White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney who branded the transfer of wealth from poor people to military procurement “one of the most compassionate things we can do.”
Jonathan Swift would recognize Mulvaney, Ryan, and company as worthy of high honor. “Whoever could find a fair, cheap and easy method of making these (poor) children sound, useful members of the commonwealth, would deserve so well of the public as to have his statue set up for a preserver of the nation.”