Tuesday, February 02, 2010


Right now, Democrats are at a tremendous disadvantage going into the 2010 midterms. Republicans get to run against specific Democratic bills and proposals (after distorting and misrepresenting many of those proposals); Democrats, by contrast, are forced to run against, in effect, Mom, apple pie, puppies, and Uncle Sam, because we've all decided that we agree with the current crop of Republicans that they have nothing whatsoever to do with the last crop of Republicans who ran the country, and we should judge the present-day crew by their stirring rhetoric of democracy and freedom, not by their actual detailed positions on the issues.

Well, I see that Republicans have given Democrats an opportunity to being rectifying this imbalance -- an opportunity they almost certainly won't take advantage of. GOP congressman Paul Ryan, widely regarded (across party lines) as the Republicans' Mr. Wizard on budget matters, has published a budget proposal. And the Congressional Budget Office says it wipes out long-term debt (PDF).

Ah, but, as Ezra Klein notes, not without a fair amount of pain:

To move us to surpluses, Ryan's budget proposes reforms that are nothing short of violent. Medicare is privatized. Seniors get a voucher to buy private insurance, and the voucher's growth is far slower than the expected growth of health-care costs. Medicaid is also privatized. The employer tax exclusion is fully eliminated, replaced by a tax credit that grows more slowly than medical costs. And beyond health care, Social Security moves to a system of private accounts

... The proposal would shift risk from the federal government to seniors themselves. The money seniors would get to buy their own policies would grow more slowly than their health-care costs, and more slowly than their expected Medicare benefits, which means that they'd need to either cut back on how comprehensive their insurance is or how much health-care they purchase. Exacerbating the situation -- and this is important -- Medicare currently pays providers less and works more efficiently than private insurers, so seniors trying to purchase a plan equivalent to Medicare would pay more for it on the private market.

I want this budget to be up for consideration in Congress -- this year. If Republicans won't put their money where their mouth is by sponsoring this as a bill, I think a number of Democrats should do it for them -- making it abundantly clear that it's the Republican budget and they don't actually support it. I think, by whatever parliamentary means necessary, this bill should be cleared for committee and floor votes.

Do it while debating the Democratic budget. Call it an exercise in true democracy -- the majority party is opening up full debate on the minority's proposals. That's what Republicans say the American people want, right? Despite the results of the 2008 elections, Republicans say the public doesn't want Democratic control in Washington -- right? So here it is -- sharing of power. We're debating your budget, Republicans.

Your Medicare-eviscerating, Social Security-privatizing budget.

The message? "Republican" doesn't mean just guys in Uncle Sam costumes holding up "Don't Tread on Me" flags. "Republican" means specific horrible policy proposals. "Republican," in this case, means throwing retirees entirely on the mercy of the free market and Wall Street. Put that in your Uncle Sam hat.

I know this won't actually happen, obviously. It won't, and Republicans will run in November against a party that's making at least some effort to govern, while Democrats will run against a friendly-looking cartoon.

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