The chattering classes say Republicans are in trouble because of House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s proposed changes to Medicare. They say that because, across the land, there has not been a rousing call for its adoption by acclamation, and therefore we can ascertain that the proposers are on the outs with the American people. In fact some people do object, and for a number of reasons, but I don’t know how much trouble the whole GOP is in over this issue, since I try not to make the sweeping generalization my first conclusion or give myself credit for being able to see the future or into the minds of others.
But I think that what’s happening right now on this subject is a good thing. We need to talk about details if we’re going to find a way out of our federal budget mess. No one has wanted to talk specifics because, well, talking about paying more and spending less is not fun. But beyond that, few in power dare to address specifics for fear that the short attention span American voter and the heat-before-light American news media will fixate only on the fact that someone proposed something and rain down ridicule and ignominy upon them until the end of days (no, not until October 21, for much longer than that). Any open discussion or real give and take on a serious issue becomes more and more unlikely as it becomes more and more clear that the discussion will be intentionally twisted into a negative campaign ad.
We have to talk specifics on this, but that doesn’t mean that we have to do everything that is proposed, or that every unadopted proposal is a failure. Ryan’s plan may never become law, but it already served the purpose of getting us talking about details. Now we need to keep talking, not recoil from the negative reaction to the first serious plan and never say anything ever again.
The budget crunches in this country are real and can’t be solved just with accounting tricks; it’s going to mean painful cuts in programs that people need as well as ones they want. For example: here in Texas our state law requires a balanced budget and there’s only so much money available this time around—tens of billions of dollars less than the current budget. Absent a multi-billion dollar windfall of biblical proportions, the only way out means someone’s ox gets gored…or likely in this case, everyone’s oxen. As Patricia Kilday Hart made the point in a recent column, the discussion is about what gets defined as an “essential” government program. In order not to reach into the state’s savings account this time, there are budget plans that make some changes:
It cuts state Child Protective Services “intake” offices so severely that officials predict 85,000 calls about abused children will not be answered.
It shortchanges school districts for the 80,000 new students expected to show up at the front doors of public schools next year.
It cuts Medicaid reimbursement rates to nursing homes so drastically that the industry predicts 75 percent of the nursing homes in Texas will shut their doors, leaving 60,000 elderly Texans without care and 47,000 employees without jobs.
The polls have been showing for a while that people want the budget fixed, they just don’t want the fix to hurt them. Well, “they” are going to have to get over that or “we” will get nowhere…except closer to the edge as the wind picks up a little bit.