Sunday, November 14, 2010

Friskies for all!

Well, not for the rich, of course, but yeah, for most of us. And it's not even Fancy Feast or something, fer cryin' out loud, but plain old dry.

I don't feel compelled to say much about the Cat Food Commission because so many others - including even some Democrats - are already saying it. But I do want to make a few disjointed observations on different aspects of the newly-released co-chairs' draft proposals on the theme that they repeatedly and I suspect unintentionally revealed themselves and their true aims.

For example, the Wall Street Journal quotes Erskine Bowles, the ostensible Democrat co-chairing the ostensibly bipartisan commission, as saying
I told people in the White House I had spent more time listening to people in the opposition party than they had done as a whole group.
Translation: The problem is that President I-Did-It-Your-Way has not compromised enough, has not adopted enough GOPper ideas.
Bowles [also] said the best hope for improving the political environment for [the co-chairs'] ambitious, painful budget plan is to convince people that doing nothing about the federal government's deficit and debt isn't an option
and talked about a "crisis" in five years. In other words, the best hope is to terrify us into submission. Which, I admit, is very probably true.

Meanwhile, Paul Krugman notes that among the co-chairs' "Guiding Principles and Values" is "Cap revenue at or below 21% of G.D.P."

The Christian Science Monitor says that 21% of GDP is "higher than its historical average, but a level that requires sharp spending discipline given the boomer retirement wave." Put another way, it's impossible without draconian benefit cuts, as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains. That's particularly true considering that during the Reagan years, federal spending was at 22% of GDP.

But the real point comes via Krugman:
This is a guiding principle? And why is a commission charged with finding every possible route to a balanced budget setting an upper (but not lower) limit on revenue?
Why, indeed.

On Social Security, the co-chairs proposed what everyone expected: raise the retirement age and cut benefits. That was no surprise, what with co-chair Alan Simpleton having described us as being like "a milk cow with 300 million tits."

But what has this got to do with the deficit? The only rational answer is nothing at all: Social Security is financed by a separate tax, it does not draw on general revenues, it has a truly huge surplus (created consciously and specifically to prepare the system for the baby boomer retirement bulge) - in fact, by investing that surplus in T-bonds, it has actually helped finance the deficit, rather than add to it.

The co-chairs know this. Writing at Crooks and Liars, blogger karoli notes that the very draft report itself lists as a goal for Social Security to "Reform Social Security for its own sake, not for deficit reduction." So why is the whole section even in the draft? Because the commission provided an excuse, an opportunity, to attack Social Security. No other reason.

On taxes, I hardly find it necessary to comment; it's just the same old same old, proposing to reduce or eliminate tax breaks that matter to the middle class. The revealing part is that they propose to use most of what is gained thereby not to reduce the deficit but to finance a cut in tax rates for the rich and the corporations. That, we can assume, is part of their "Guiding Principle" of "Make America the best place to start and run a business and create jobs." Not the best place to live and work, mind you, the best place for business.

Finally, there is health care, a matter more central than considered in most commentary because, as Krugman says,
the main driver of those pretty charts [showing deficits falling and debt levels stabilizing] is the assumption that the rate of growth in health-care costs will slow dramatically. And how is this to be achieved? By “establishing a process to regularly evaluate cost growth” and taking “additional steps as needed.” What does that mean? I have no idea.
Actually, we do have some idea.

The section of the draft on health care (pages 31-36) is painful to read. The very first cost-saving proposal is to just cut payments to doctors and other providers. The second is to adopt "comprehensive tort reform," the politically expedient way to say "make it harder for patients to sue when they get fucked over by incompetent care or corporate malfeasance." Oh, and the third, I love the third:
Expand cost-sharing in Medicare to promote informed consumer health choices and spending.
"Cost-sharing." "Informed choices." Isn't that just precious. I had something to say about this line of bullshit almost a year ago:
Do you get it? Do you see? The problem, according to [these people], is you. You "overuse" health care. You are insufficiently "cost-conscious." It's all your fault. You don't comparison shop for a cardiologist. You don't independently investigate and evaluate treatment options for your cancer or your diabetes or your hypertension and generate a cost-benefit analysis. You don't personally compare the clinical trials for Avapro and Diovan. And the way to (I love this phrase) "bend the cost curve" is to reduce your coverage and make you spend more out of pocket for what remains through higher deductibles and co-pays - so you'll use less health care, thus keeping the cost down. In other words, the way to make health care more affordable is to make it less affordable.
As for the "additional steps as needed," the draft makes a few suggestions of possibilities, the first among which is to raise premiums. The bigger point, the more revealing point, however, is that the co-chairs want to keep the growth in the cost of health care to no more than GDP+1%, that is, health care costs cannot be allowed to rise any faster than a rate one percentage point above the growth in GDP and whatever cuts have to be made to achieve that, no matter how widespread, damaging, deep, or cruel, well, that's just what ya gotta do 'cause a balanced budget is obviously far more important than public health. Besides, it'll "promote informed consumer health choices" so it's all good.

Last licks go to Paul Krugman:
It seemed obvious, as soon as the commission’s membership was announced, that “bipartisanship” would mean what it so often does in Washington: a compromise between the center-right and the hard-right.
And in the end we get a hard right, right to the center of our future.

Footnote: For what it's worth, Dan Froomkin has an overview of "Ten Flash Points" in the draft proposal. And credit where it's due times two, Froomkin is where I came across the bit about Medicare "cost-sharing" before I searched it out in the draft and I heard about the Froomkin piece via Blckdgrd, who manages to find more online stuff than I ever will.

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