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Paul Ryan's plans for Medicare are scary

Confirming the warnings and worst fears of progressives, House Speaker Paul Ryan made it plain this week: the ultimat...

Posted: Dec 9, 2017 10:49 AM
Updated: Dec 9, 2017 10:49 AM

Confirming the warnings and worst fears of progressives, House Speaker Paul Ryan made it plain this week: the ultimate aim of Republican lawmakers -- and their number one priority in January -- is to shrink the Medicare program that provides health insurance to the elderly and disabled.

"Next year we're going to have to get back at entitlement reform," Ryan said on a Wisconsin radio talk show, calling Medicare the "biggest entitlement that's got to have reform."

That's code for resuming a decades-long fight against government-supported health care by conservatives, who fought bitterly against the creation of Medicare in 1965 and have been trying to cripple or kill the program ever since.

Recall that the creation of health insurance for America's poor and elderly -- something that President Harry Truman attempted, without success, in 1945, 1947 and 1949 -- was frustrated at every turn by conservatives in both political parties.

As CNN contributor Julian Zelizer has recounted, the program finally got passed following the Democratic landslide of 1964, when President Lyndon Johnson's re-election against Barry Goldwater swept commanding Democratic majorities into the House (295 seats) and Senate (68 seats).

Democrats got the long-sought program for senior health care: in 1965 Johnson signed the Medicare bill into law with Truman sitting at his side. The ex-president was enrolled as the program's first member.

But conservative opposition never wavered or waned. In the closing weeks before final passage of the Medicare bill, Ronald Reagan -- then a rising star in conservative Republican politics -- recorded a famous message calling Medicare "socialism" and urging voters to contact member of Congress and urge a "no" vote.

If Medicare should pass, Reagan warned, "behind it will come other federal programs that will invade every area of freedom as we have known it in this country. And if you don't do this and if I don't do it, one of these days we are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children, what it once was like in America when men were free."

For a certain type of hard-right conservative Republican, Reagan's call remains relevant and urgent to this day. Having failed to repeal Medicare outright -- the program is wildly popular, serving more than 55 million seniors (about 15% of the US population, says AARP) and disabled Americans -- Republicans have moved to a three-part "starve the beast" strategy.

Part one is to slash taxes and drastically lower the amount of revenue available to the federal government. The tax bill that GOP majorities recently approved in both houses of Congress accomplishes that nicely, adding $1 trillion to the federal budget deficit under the most optimistic economic scenario, according to the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation.

Part two of the plan is to suddenly recoil in horror at the fact of the budget deficit (yes, the same one that Republicans happily conjured up by cutting taxes). Ryan's radio interview is a step in that direction. "Frankly, it's the health care entitlements that are the big drivers of our debt," he said -- just days after happily adding a trillion to the tab with tax cuts.

Piling up debt and deficits sets the stage for the third and concluding strategy: to lower the debt by dialing back Medicare eligibility, lowering the benefits and otherwise crippling the program.

Democrats warned about this throughout the debate over the tax cut bill, which passed without a single Democratic vote in the House or Senate. They must now gear up for a showdown with Ryan and other conservatives who are poised to take a big step in the direction of ending a program that Reagan Republicans wanted to eliminate from Day One.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

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Ramsey3252140
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Nobles15625
Anoka148878
Dakota141464
Washington68034
Olmsted67211
Kandiyohi5111
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Todd3361
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Grant40
Traverse40
Red Lake40
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Roseau30
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Iowa Coronavirus Cases

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Confirmed Cases: 20767

Reported Deaths: 583
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Polk4541137
Woodbury283737
Black Hawk177548
Buena Vista9971
Linn97179
Dallas94025
Marshall91218
Wapello62814
Johnson6189
Muscatine56541
Crawford5472
Tama41029
Scott38010
Dubuque35521
Louisa34911
Pottawattamie31110
Sioux2980
Jasper26917
Wright2120
Washington1958
Warren1661
Plymouth1462
Story1261
Allamakee1204
Mahaska9912
Poweshiek928
Henry722
Bremer706
Boone700
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Clarke660
Clinton651
Taylor640
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Hamilton610
Guthrie543
Cedar491
Benton431
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Jones370
Jefferson350
Marion350
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Cerro Gordo331
Iowa330
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Clay250
Lyon240
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Emmet240
Lucas222
Hardin210
Grundy200
Mills200
Delaware191
Humboldt191
Floyd191
Franklin170
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Hancock160
Butler161
Ida150
Greene150
Pocahontas150
Page140
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