Earlier this year, New York’s 26th House district was left without representation following the resignation of conservative Republican congressman Chris Lee. You remember Lee. He was the congressman who was forced to resign after it was revealed that he had posted shirtless photos of himself, a married man, in the personals section Craigslist. In the bid to replace him were two conservatives, Republican Jane Corwin and Tea Partier Jack Davis. Also on the ticket was Democrat Kathy Hochul.
The 26th district is the most conservative House district in New York and one of the most reliably Republican districts in the nation. Indeed, it hasn’t elected a Democrat in half a century. Yet last night, Hochul, the Democrat, scored a victory. She did so by making the Republican effort to dismantle Medicare the central issue of the campaign.
Medicare has been one of the most successful social programs in the history of the nation. It is a program that seniors desperately need. But the House budget committee chairman’s draconian budget proposal would dismantle Medicare, as we now know it. Today Medicare is a guaranteed healthcare insurance program for elderly Americans. Under the conservative plan, Medicare would be transformed from government guaranteed health insurance to a voucher-like program that would not cover the costs that many seniors will face when confronted with health problems. When Paul Ryan initially introduced his plan it was hailed as courageous and innovative by conservatives in the mainstream media. We were told that Ryan was being brave by starting a conversation. The voters in New York disagreed. They know that there is nothing courageous about cutting programs that help those in need. They know there is nothing brave about cutting taxes for the wealthy, while telling everyone else to fend for themselves.
The Republicans have now tried to claim that the Ryan budget was just a marker. Meaning that it is a starting point. This is utter nonsense. The entire House Republican conference, with the exception of four members, voted for the budget. They cannot just sweep their support for dismantling Medicare under the carpet. And there’s no hiding from their goal of forcing American seniors to pay more for deductibles and co-payments, as will inevitably happen when the cost of healthcare skyrockets and the premium support, offered in the conservative budget, fails to keep up with the rise.
The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that seniors would have to pay up to two-thirds of the cost for their insurance, as opposed to the 25 percent they pay now. No one should be surprised; the conservatives always seek, during tough economic times, to shift the onus to the elderly, middle-class, working class and poor, instead of to the economic elites — the ones who should be sacrificing the most during this sluggish economic recovery. If last night’s election was any indication, the American people are finally waking up to this reality.
Juan Thompson is a student at Vassar College and a current intern at IPS.