Tax cuts for the wealthy? Check. Privatization without protection? Check.
On two consecutive days last week, the Star Tribune provided a venue for the deficit-reduction ideas of my U.S. House colleague, Paul Ryan, R-Wis. In a March 15 editorial, the newspaper called Ryan "one of the rare politicians who believes that Americans are ready to handle the truth." The following day, the paper reprinted a commentary from Ryan ("The results of the health care bill will be ugly").
Ryan and I serve together on the House Budget Committee. I thank him for taking this issue seriously and for proposing his ideas, and I hope we can continue working together to find common ground. Both of us have the difficult task of reducing deficits while making vital national investments and sustaining revenue streams to pay the bills. I believe we must set the record straight about health care reform and the federal deficit.
Ryan's health care plan includes privatizing Medicare, Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program. This means providing vouchers to seniors, the disabled, and low-income families and children, which forces them to shop for health care in the private market. Just as we have seen abuses in the mortgage and credit card industries, many private insurance companies will continue to inflict predatory practices on policyholders if there are no consumer protections. Surely Ryan cannot ignore the millions of Americans who, after shopping for their own insurance, have been denied coverage by insurance companies.
As for how Ryan would reduce the deficit, he thinks providing hefty tax giveaways to the wealthiest Americans is a good idea. According to the Tax Policy Center, the Ryan plan cuts taxes in half for the richest 1 percent of Americans -- those earning more than $633,000 per year. For the really wealthy, the top one-tenth of 1 percent, Ryan offers an average tax cut of $1.7 million a year. That is in addition to the extraordinarily generous tax cuts high-income households would get from making the Bush tax cuts permanent. Let's not forget that former President George W. Bush's 2001 and 2003 tax cuts alone have added $1.7 trillion to the national debt between 2001 to 2008.
It is not a "rare politician" or a new idea to heap enormous tax benefits on the wealthiest Americans. Ryan is following in Bush's footsteps and is recycling the Republican economic recipe that has created the current fiscal crisis in our nation. He even calls for the partial privatization of Social Security by diverting funds to Wall Street investment accounts, as did Bush.
America cannot afford to go backward and embrace the dangerous, irresponsible and discredited ideas of the past. The first step to addressing the needs of American families and our country's fiscal crisis is passing health care reform.
Health care reform will help millions of families and small businesses. It will lower insurance premiums and strengthen Medicare. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that the legislation the House of Representatives plans to pass soon will reduce the deficit by $130 billion over the next 10 years and will provide an additional $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction the following decade. It will extend coverage to 32 million Americans (295,000 Minnesotans), prohibit insurance companies from discriminating against people with preexisting conditions, eliminate the Medicare prescription drug "donut hole," extend Medicare solvency to 2027 and make insurance more affordable for millions.
These are enormous successes in which every American with private insurance, limited insurance or no insurance will benefit.
It is disappointing, but not surprising, that not one Republican in Congress, including Ryan, will vote in favor of making health care more affordable and accessible for the American people. While legitimate policy differences exist between the parties, it appears the Republican agenda has been hijacked by a Tea Party mentality that rewards conservative purity rather than problem-solving.
Let's put the privatization and excessive tax cut agenda of the past on the shelf. Let's instead look for agreement in defining the core needs of the American people and the challenges we must overcome to ensure a healthy, prosperous and strong America.
In the meantime, I'll be working to pass health care reform.
Betty McCollum, a Democrat, represents Minnesota's Fourth Congressional District.
The Opinion section is produced by the Editorial Department to foster discussion about key issues. The Editorial Board represents the institutional voice of the Star Tribune and operates independently of the newsroom.