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Blood on the Chopping Block

Tuesday, 21 June 2011 10:21 By William Rivers Pitt, Truthout | Op-Ed
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Blood on the Chopping Block

Dr. Rachel Z. Chatters, a pediatrician, right, sees clients, Ana Smith and her son Aidan, two, who rely on Medicaid, in Lake Charles, Louisiana, March 24, 2011. Medicaid, which is paid for jointly by the federal and state governments, is the subject of an intense debate in Washington over how to make it more efficient as Congress addresses the budget deficit and the growing national debt. (Photo: Michael Stravato / The New York Times)

The Republican Party has spent the last several weeks receiving an education - by way of serial beatings delivered by constituents from sea to shining sea - on the awesome power of Medicare in America. When it became known that Rep. Paul Ryan's plan to turn the wildly popular program into a privatized disaster zone had been adopted as the battle standard for the GOP and its newly-muscular Tea Party bloc, seven different breeds of merry hell broke loose across the land. House member after House member climbed out of the DC bubble, went home to their districts, and were promptly set upon by furious people who deeply depend on Medicare.

These were conservatives, and liberals, and independents, as well as people who normally don't give even a single damn about politics, until politics came to their doorstep and promised to screw them to the wall. The GOP has invested itself in this attack on Medicare, going so far as to threaten to let the debt limit slip into default unless they get the cuts they want. This tactic has, to date, not fared well for them. At this point, House Republicans who support the Ryan Plan enjoy an approval rating just slightly to the south of scabies. They persist only because they have been boxed in by their own rhetoric, but the damage they have already done to themselves is so profound that a previously unthinkable possibility - a change in majority power in the House - is suddenly on the table in the upcoming 2012 congressional elections.

As it stands today, virtually every important swing state in the union is either up for grabs or leaning heavily towards the Democrats, and all thanks to the Ryan Medicare plan and the resulting embrace of that plan by the GOP. There are even Tea Party members, highly influential ones, who see blood on the moon for Republicans if matters continue as they have. South Florida Tea Party chairman Everett Wilkinson fired off an email last Thursday describing the Ryan Plan as a disaster in the making:

Few issues unite Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, billionaire part-time Palm Beacher Donald Trump and South Florida Tea Party Chairman Everett Wilkinson. But all three are now on record slamming Republican House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan's Medicare plan. Wilkinson broke with much of the tea party movement last week when he sent an email that calls the Ryan plan a "public policy nightmare" that could lead to "huge Democratic wins in 2012."

Such tea party favorites as U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, U.S. Rep. Allen West, and presidency-seeking House Tea Party Caucus Chairwoman Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., have voted for the Ryan plan. But Wilkinson, in a Thursday night "Dear Patriots" email, says that in the upcoming fight over raising the national debt ceiling, "Republicans will lose if they support the Ryan Medicare plan. Americans do not support the Ryan plan." If Democrats make big gains in 2012, Wilkinson's email says, "Expect the GOP to then blame the Tea Party for losses."

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Such is the power of Medicare, one of the best and most critically helpful government programs ever devised. Medicare, as everyone knows, is focused on offering federal assistance to older Americans, which makes it a massive political hand grenade; right now, the ranks of retired and elderly persons are swelling in a way never seen in this country before, as millions of Baby Boomers reach retirement age. Medicare is just as important to these people as it has been to the generations that have enjoyed it since its inception, and no group of Americans is more reliable as a voting bloc than them. The threat to Medicare has become a loaded gun pointed at the heart of the GOP, and if they pull the trigger in their disconnected zeal, it will drop them dead in their tracks.

So, of course, the GOP is beginning to back away from this Ryan-led precipice. This does not mean, however, that the viciousness of their intentions has dissipated. Rather than retreat, it appears the GOP has decided to shift tactics and focus on the annihilation of Medicaid instead.

The threatened cuts to Medicare have gotten the lion's share of attention because the people who enjoy the benefits of the program have an enormous amount of political muscle, as well as powerful advocacy groups that can carry the argument against Ryan's plans to the airwaves, the newspapers, and the steps of Capitol Hill. They are listened to. Medicaid, on the other hand, largely helps poor people, and they enjoy no such political clout or representation. The Democrats have made a great deal of political hay over the GOP's assault on Medicare, but appear willing to allow massive and brutal cuts to Medicaid that will absolutely devastate poor people, including elderly Americans who require nursing home care but can not afford it. If this deal goes down, growing old in America will once again mean growing poor, unless you happen to be one of the blue-chip one-percenters who can afford gold-plated bedpans and round-the-clock care.

The biggest problem with the American Dream is the fact that it makes people believe they will be rich someday, even though it is almost completely certain that won't happen. The rich in America foster and husband this belief, because it makes average people vote as if they will be rich eventually, too, and these votes help reinforce the high, gilded walls between the few Have's and the millions of Have Not's. Ours has become a cruel and callous country, willing to listen to pleasing lies from smooth talkers while the weakest and most vulnerable among us are turned out and turned away.

Medicare is threatened, and voices are raised in rage.

Medicaid is threatened, and there is hardly a whisper of dissent. Even the Democrats, self-styled as the defenders of these excellent programs, are standing mute in the face of savage cuts to this all-important program.

No more half-a-loaf politics, I say. If we can defend Medicare, we can defend Medicaid, for one is no more or less important than the other. Medicare has its heavy-hitting defenders, but no one appears willing to stand for Medicaid, and for the poor and needy who are sustained by it.

I think it's time to change that, and you and I must be the avatars of that change.

Don't let this happen.

William Rivers Pitt

William Rivers Pitt is Truthout's senior editor and lead columnist. He is also a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of three books: "War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know," "The Greatest Sedition Is Silence" and "House of Ill Repute: Reflections on War, Lies, and America's Ravaged Reputation." He lives and works in New Hampshire.


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