A national coalition has organized today as a national call-in day to tell Congress not to cut or privatize Social Security or Medicare. Phone numbers for Oregon Congressional offices are listed at the end of this post.
Much of the coalition is organized under the auspices of Strengthen Social Security, composed largely of groups that first came together to oppose the G. W. Bush administration's effort to privatize Social Security. It is a pity, if not a disgrace, that the same forces must come together again under President Obama.
Because of this history, some groups are focusing more or less exclusively on current threats to Social Security. Others, however, including Healthcare NOW! and Progressive Democrats of America are including Medicare in their messaging too. I think this is necessary, because of the risk that Medicare may be turned into a sacrificial lamb in a phony so-called compromise, by an administration too eager for compromise. Yet if Medicare is undermined, it attacks the general principle of basic social insurance for elders, ultimately weakening Social Security too.
Pressure for Social Security and Medicare cuts, along with cuts to Medicaid, failure to extend unemployment benefits and so on, comes from various quarters. Most notably it comes from the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform appointed by President Obama. Although nominally bipartisan, the Commission was stacked with leadership and members known to favor such cuts. Some people call it the Cat Food Commission, since its recommendations threaten to return us to the anecdotal situation where elders impoverished by medical bills often got by by eating cat food, before the passage of Medicare in 1965.
The Commission is due to issue its report tomorrow, December 1, but has been signaling its recommendations for weeks, which is why the call-in day is today. We need to make the proposals to cut social insurance and the social safety net dead on arrival in Washington.
The pressure for these cuts is driven by a shell game involving public concern with current large deficits. However, Social Security and Medicare bring in more revenue than they spend. Meanwhile failure to extend unemployment benefits and to create meaningful jobs programs throw more and more people into increasingly desperate situations.
The deficits are caused primarily by the jobs crisis, meaning lower revenues and more need for services, by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and other bloated military spending, by the Bush-era tax cuts, and by the bail-outs for Wall Street and the big banks.
What is needed actually is more short term spending for economic stimulus that specifically creates jobs, to get the economy going, raise revenue and and lower need for unemployment benefits, TANF, Medicaid and other social services.
A minimal financial transactions tax would also be a good idea, in the middle term if not immediately. Such a tax might not redress the structural skewing of the U.S. economy toward financial speculation that contributes to the jobs crisis and the polarization of wealth. But it would at least have the financial sector making more of a contribution to resources needed to compensate for the problems it has caused, and will continue to cause without major reforms.
The proposed cuts to Social Security and Medicare, as enunciated recently by the National Commission co-chairs Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, for example, would phase in over an extended time. They would not help with current deficits at all.
That is the shell game.
Long time opponents of these basic social insurance programs, that limit poverty and provide crucial care for elders, are using concerns over the deficit, and people's understandable desire not to saddle our children and grandchildren with huge debts, to attack programs that are not relevant to the current deficits.
According to polls, the public by large majorities does not want Social Security or Medicare benefits cut.
There are real problems with rapidly rising medical costs, problems that the recent PPACA health care reform does not sufficiently resolve. These costs will threaten Medicare in a few years. But the way to solve the problem of rising medical costs is not to cut Medicare (or Medicaid) benefits and shift the costs onto families and individuals who can't afford them. That might or might not eventually reduce the rise in potential government spending, but it wouldn't actually address health care costs at all.
Cutting Medicare benefits is the equivalent of the increasing prevalence in private health insurance of huge deductibles and co-pays, which also will characterize the "inexpensive" insurance options to be offered as part of mandatory insurance under PPACA.
Shifting medical costs from the government will only lead to more self-rationing of medical costs to meet immediate survival needs. Such self-rationing creates greater costs in the long run as chronic diseases develop to more expensive stages, which is why Medicare cuts might not even save the government money. It leads to medical bankruptcies, to more reduced quality of life, and more premature deaths.
The real answer to getting hold of such costs is a system of national health insurance, single-payer Improved and Expanded Medicare for All. That would support elders better by putting them in a bigger, more secure risk pool. It would eliminate gross levels of private insurance bureaucracy and related hospital and doctors' bureaucracy. It would allow reorganization of medical priorities to favor primary care, prevention, and lower cost early stage disease management. Such an approach would lower costs, improve quality of life, extend lives, and remove the threat of medical bankruptcy posed to insured and uninsured alike.
Of course, such reforms are not on the cards politically in the near term. But cutting Medicare would only make achieving them more difficult.
Regarding the national call-in day: Some groups are focusing on Senate calls, but I plan to call my House representative too. If you can't call today, do it tomorrow.
Here are the phone numbers, Washington DC numbers in bold, plus district office numbers:
Earl Blumenauer DC: (202) 225-4811
Portland: (503) 231-2300
Peter DeFazio DC: (202) 225-6416
Coos Bay: (541) 269.2609
Eugene: (541) 465.6732
Roseburg: (541) 440.3523
Kurt Schrader DC: 202) 225-5711
Oregon City: (503) 557-1324
Salem: (503) 588-9100
Greg Walden DC: (202) 225-6730
Bend: 541) 389-4408
La Grande: (541) 624-2400
Medford: (541) 776-4646
David Wu DC: (202) 225-0855
Portland: (503) 326-2901
Portland toll free: (800) 422-4003
Jeff Merkley DC: (202) 224-3753
Bend: (541) 318-1298
Eugene: (541) 465-6750
Medford: (541) 608-9102
Pendleton: (541) 278-1129
Portland: (503) 326-3386
Salem: (503) 362-8102
Ron Wyden DC: (202) 224-5244
Bend: (541) 330-9142
Eugene: (541) 431-0229
La Grande: (541) 962-7691
Medford: (541) 858-5122
Portland: (503) 326-7525
Salem: (503) 589-4555
General Capitol switchboard: 866-220-0044
Senate switchboard: 866-529-7630
By Chris Lowe
Nov. 30, 2010
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