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A few well-written words can convey a wealth of information, particularly when there is no lag time between when they are written and when they are read. The IPS blog gives you an opportunity to hear directly from IPS scholars and staff on ideas large and small and for us to hear back from you.

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Entries since April 2011

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Paul Ryan's Path to Prosperity: A Redefinition of the Role of Government

April 5, 2011 ·

It is mindboggling to see Ryan’s budget being considered in its current form.  Although it is true that our current budget deficit is a serious problem that needs to be tackled (although I staunchly still believe that the unemployment crisis at hand should be priority numero uno), the fact that he can actually actively promote a plan to privatize Medicare shows that people’s views of the role of government are changing. And by expressing support for the plan proposed by Ryan, you are inherently supporting Ryan and his Tea Party-backed GOP’s view of a smaller, privatized government.

From my understanding, most people who support the privatization of government argue that the private sector is much more suited to providing services and goods to its people because they believe that the government is inefficient. In their view, social safety net programs like Medicare and Social Security are plagued with excess, redundancy and waste and unnecessarily increasing our national debt.

Although it is true that entitlement spending programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security make up a lot of what our federal government spends annually, the rising costs of these programs are due to the fact that there are many Baby Boomers retiring, and a lot of these retirees are living longer. With 84 percent of wealth in this country controlled by the richest 20 percent, people can’t expect that a regressive payroll tax system is sufficient to support Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. A new revenue stream for these programs needs to be introduced if we want to keep these programs--and people want to keep these programs

Privatizing our social safety net is the opposite of what needs to be done to lower the costs of these programs and improve their efficiencies. Sure, by privatizing it, the government won’t need to pay a single dime for it, and we will all be seeing our income taxes decrease because it is not the taxpayer’s responsibility to pay for these programs. However, the Congressional Budget Office has shown that a complete privatization of Medicare (in the form introduced by Ryan) would increase the cost of health care for the poor and the elderly who are usually the beneficiaries of Medicare.

Furthermore, have people not been following all the nasty things that for-profit corporations are up to these days? Not only have many of these for-profit corporations like General Electric, Bank of America, and Verizon been tax dodging, contributing to the ever increasing federal debt, but it is exactly this for-profit mentality that has propelled Wall Street bankers to use people’s savings to invest in risky derivatives that has contributed to our current economic crisis.

I know these companies won’t be the ones responsible for providing health care and services if our social safety net is privatized, but for-profit corporations are driven by the same mentality of profit maximization no matter what industry they are in. These corporations have no national allegiance. Contributing to the common good is only a priority to them if it brings them more money.

A vote in support of Ryan’s plan is a vote indicating that private for-profit corporations are better suited at providing the basic needs for those who are most vulnerable. How can anybody seriously believe that is true? 

85 Percent? How Do You Figure, Mr. Ryan?

April 5, 2011 ·

Back in December, the co-chairs of the bipartisan President’s Deficit Reduction Commission liked their plan’s chances. One of their members was the current chair of the House Budget Committee, Paul Ryan, and he promised that his committee’s budget blueprint would include 85% of the Commission’s recommendations.

Today we have that blueprint, and squint at it as hard as you might; you won’t find anything like that kind of math. The Commission laid down its “guiding principles,” such as:

  • “Don’t disrupt the fragile economic recovery” by cutting too soon. Cong. Ryan’s plan? Let the cutting begin. The deeper the better.
  • Cut and invest “in education, infrastructure, and high-value research and development … to make it easier for businesses to create jobs.” Cong. Ryan’s investment agenda? Nowhere in sight.
  • “Protect the truly disadvantaged.” By slashing Medicaid, Ryan? Really?!
  • “Cut spending we cannot afford—no exceptions.  We must end redundant, wasteful, and ineffective federal spending wherever we find it… including defense.” The commission laid out about $100 billion in military cuts. Cong. Ryan’s plan follows Defense Secretary Gates’  so-called ‘cuts.’ As I wrote when the President’s budget came out, they are not cuts. They slow the projected growth in Gates’ budget, to the tune of $15 billion a year, on average. Attacking the discretionary budget and giving about half of its total—defense--a nearly-free pass is like is like making a cake and leaving out the flour.

This despite the Government Accountability Office’s accounting of $70 billion in new Pentagon waste in the last two years alone. Despite the fact that the U.S. and its NATO allies outspend the rest of the world’s militaries by a factor of two; that the U.S. military alone outspends its nearest competitor, China, by at least six times. That the combined militaries of Iran, Libya, North Korea, Sudan, Somalia, and Syria spend less than one percent of what our military spends.

Despite the fact that support in his own party for putting military spending on the cutting table includes, for starters, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and the tea party base, Rep. Ryan saw fit to exclude it almost entirely.

If this is 85% agreement, what would disagreement have looked like?

Who's Buyin' Ryan? Only the Rich Can Afford To...

April 5, 2011 ·

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) is waging radical class warfare and ideological privatization schemes and selling it as a debt reduction plan.

As the Center for Economic and Policy Research's Dean Baker reminds us, the U.S. economic policies of the last three decades, by favoring corporations and the wealthy over average Americans, have achieved the world's most breathtaking upward redistribution of wealth. America's richest 1 percent are getting about $1.5 trillion richer each year. Studies also show that the top 5 percent in this country hold almost 64 percent of our wealth while and the bottom 80 percent of scrape by on just 12.8 percent of the pie.

Yet under the guise of debt reduction, the chairman of the House Budget Committee's budget proposal would take from the already poor, give to the already rich and attempt to achieve debt reduction not by cutting real costs, but by privatizing entitlement programs and shifting costs from the wealthy and corporations to struggling states, seniors, disabled, sick and low-income Americans. And the revenue-raising necessary for serious debt reduction is glaringly absent, with proposals instead to actually decrease tax-revenue from those most able to pay.

Although the details won't be released until later today, there's a fair amount that we already know: Its foundation is his 2010 "Roadmap for America's Future" and the similar healthcare recommendations of the Rivlin-Domenici Bipartisan Policy Center Task force. This reverse-Robin Hood scheme essentially privatizes Social Security and Medicare, converting Medicaid from a guaranteed benefits program to a limited block grant program. At the same time, it would repeal estate and corporate taxes, slashing the income taxes the wealthiest Americans pay and instituting a regressive national sales tax that would most likely increase tax obligations for poor, working-class, and middle-class Americans.

Even if his blueprint doesn't attack Social Security too, it won't be safe for long. Privatizing Social Security is another essential piece of this dangerous and unfair GOP agenda.

Instead of further shrinking the middle class and endangering the health and economic well-being of those of us not fortunate enough to be among the nation's wealthiest 2 percent, a responsible budget would look to ease long-term debt in some of the following ways:

First, fix our broken health care system. Under Ryan's health care schemes, beneficiaries would increasingly bear the burden of soaring costs with no guarantee of receiving the remedies prescribed by their doctors. A better and fairer approach would expand the single-payer Medicare system nation-wide, achieving cost-savings, implementing real cost control and retaining guaranteed healthcare for all Americans. Baker also suggests that if Ryan is such a fan of vouchers, how about a voucher system that achieves some of effective cost-saving and health-promoting results: give Medicare beneficiaries the option of to buy into the more efficient health care systems in Canada and Europe.

Second, my Institute for Policy Studies colleague Chuck Collins articulates our argument for four revenue-raisers that would bring in a whopping $400 billion each year: 1) impose a small tax on speculative financial transactions that do little to strengthen the real economy 2) reduce corporate tax dodging by closing overseas tax havens and requiring companies to pay U.S. taxes on the profits they actually earn in this country 3) establish higher tax brackets for households with annual incomes of $1 million or more, and 4) Institute a progressive estate tax on fortunes over $5 million, with higher rates on billionaire estates.

Finally, cut the bloated military budget. Obama's bipartisan Debt Commission called for cutting the Pentagon's spending by at least $100 billion over the next decade. We need to cut more than that but we shouldn't accept less.

The GOP is right about one thing: We have to be serious about debt reduction. Ryan's dangerous and seriously flawed scheme, however, is nothing more than an ideological ploy to shrink government programs that help poor and middle-class Americans while rewarding the already wealthy.

The Lineup: Week of April 4-10, 2011

April 4, 2011 ·

In this week's OtherWords editorial package, we've got three Tax Day op-eds--including one by Chuck Collins that tells Congress where to find $400 billion a year in revenue--and a cartoon by Khalil Bendib lampooning GOP budget priorities. Get all this and more in your inbox by subscribing to our weekly newsletter. If you haven't signed up yet, please do.

 

  1. Hey Congress, Want $400 Billion in New Annual Revenue? / Chuck Collins
  2. Fair Taxation Requires More Brackets at the Top / Mazher Ali
  3. Delivering for America, Six Days a Week / Fredric Rolando
  4. Finally: Fairer Tax Reporting / Gerald Scorse
  5. Detroit's Ruins / Donald Kaul
  6. Japan's Earthquake Jolts Shreveport / Jim Hightower
  7. 'Stability' a Fig Leaf for Dictatorship / William A. Collins
  8. Where Will We Find the Money? / Khalil Bendib
The FDA and the Fukushima Fallout

April 1, 2011 ·

“Radiation is all around us in our daily lives, and these findings are a miniscule amount compared to what people experience every day. For example, a person would be exposed to low levels of radiation on a round trip cross country flight, watching television, and even from construction materials,” said Patricia Hansen, an FDA senior scientist.
 
No matter how small the dose might be, it is disingenuous to compare an exposure to a specific radioisotope that is released by a major nuclear accident, with radiation exposures in every-day life.  The FDA spokesperson should have informed the public that radioiodine provides a unique form of exposure in that it concentrates rapidly in dairy products and in the human thyroid. The dose received, based on official measurements, may be quite small, and pose an equally small risk.  However, making a conclusion on the basis of one measurement is fragmentary at best and unscientific at worst.  As the accident in Fukushima continues to unfold, the public should be provided with all measurements made of radioactive fallout from the Fukushima reactors to allow for independent analyses.

Moreover, the FDA has been asleep at the switch when it comes to protecting public health from medical radiation exposures. According to the National Council on Radiation Protection, radiation exposures to the American public from medical devices and source, which FDA regulates, has soared by nearly 600 percent since 1982.  In 2002, the NCRP estimated that the public received an extra 53 millirem (0.53 mSv) per person per year from medical radiation sources.* In 2006, the NCRP estimates that this dose has jumped to 300 millirem(3mSv)--nearly three times the annual dose allowed by the U.S. EPA from nuclear facilities.

The single largest contributor responsible for half of this dose to the American public is from Computed Tomography or CT Scans, whose use has skyrocketed over the past several years.  According to a study in the Archives of Internal Medicine, as many approximately 29,000 future cancers could be related to CT scans performed in 2007 alone.* FDA has yet to comment on how this may be affecting the health of the American public in every-day life.

*Registration required to see article.

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