Shortly after 5 p.m. Wednesday, a roll call vote that some Republicans were not-so-secretly dreading began, and the public began to know the names of the senators who were willing to throw the middle class under the luxury bus for the corporate class that is the 2012 House Republican budget resolution.
This was a critical vote. The conservatives dominating the budget debate in Washington should not be allowed to escape accountability for the policies they advocate. Where a member of Congress stands on the 2012 Republican budget is perhaps this year’s most important marker of whether that member stands with working men and women, retirees and those struggling to climb the economic ladder, or against them. And it is one of the signature votes that TheMiddleClass.org will use in 2012 in grading members of Congress in their support for the middle class.
By the time the vote on the resolution ended at about 5:45 p.m., it was 40 senators, all Republicans, who voted for the resolution, which proposes turning Medicare into a private insurance voucher program and does violence to other programs vital to the interests of middle- and low-income households. Fifty-seven senators voted against the resolution, including five Republicans: the two Maine senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, Massachusetts Sen. Scott Borwn, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul (who thought the House Republican budget wasn’t tough enough).
What a difference an aroused electorate makes. Last month the conservative establishment and Washington punditocracy lauded House Budget Committee chairman Rep. Paul Ryan for his courage in leading House Republicans to vote for that budget plan.
But that was before Tuesday’s special House election in upstate New York codified with actual votes what has been happening in town halls around the country and what has been documented in multiple polls: This embodiment of the conservative austerity era is not at all what voters asked for when they said they wanted Washington to fix the economy.
It’s not just about Medicare, although Medicare is an appropriate symbol of the larger issue. What Ryan proposed for Medicare, and Republicans in the House almost unanimously voted in favor of, is the remaking of a government program based on core conservative principles that put private markets and individualism over the common good and shared responsibility. Conservatives have often profited when they have been able to sell these principles in the abstract, but they are now seeing what happens when citizens get a sense of their merciless Darwinian impact in the real world.
The truth is that on just about every critical area of concern to working-class households, the 2012 budget resolution lays the foundation for devastation. From TheMiddleClass.org’s analysis:
- By replacing Medicare’s system of guaranteed, comprehensive health coverage with a “defined contribution” to a private insurance plan that each senior would choose, seniors would find themselves paying more out-of-pocket costs or choosing to self-ration medical care.
- In converting Medicaid to a block grant, low-income people would find themselves at the mercy of 50 different standards for the amount of health care the citizens of their state would be willing to offer. … States differ widely in their ability to meet the health care costs of their neediest residents. That is why governors in the past have pushed the federal government to assume all of the costs of Medicaid.
- For working-class and middle-class families expecting to send children to college, the Ryan plan’s cuts to Pell grants would put an affordable college education out of reach of significant numbers of college students.
- The Bush-era tax cuts for people earning more than $250,000 a year, extended through 2012, would be locked in permanently. That alone costs $700 billion over 10 years, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. … what it calls “corporate tax reform” is actually a corporate tax cut, from a top rate of 35 percent—which virtually no large corporation actually pays—to 25 percent.
- The Economic Policy Institute says that Ryan budget could actually cost the economy well over a million jobs over the next five years.
Also, the Republican budget would have no perceptible impact on the federal deficit,. The $4.3 trillion in spending cuts in the budget are almost all offset by $4.2 trillion in tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires, and for corporations.
There were a series of other votes Wednesday on competing budget resolutions designed, as the vote on the House Republican budget frankly was, to get senators on the record on where they stood. They all failed to get the necessary simple majority to prevail.
So what should the Senate do now? For one thing, listen to the American public. While the media and the right-wing spin machine has whipped up the “crisis” atmosphere around the federal deficit, people living their daily lives on Main Street know the real crisis is a jobs crisis. And while they are deeply skeptical of what government can do to put people back to work, they do demand government leadership. The public will back a progressive plan that puts people back to work doing work in our communities that must be done to set the stage for future prosperity, even as officials work to restore the public’s trust that their tax dollars are being used wisely.
What the public does not want is Washington conservative elites telling them that seniors at some point may have to go without health care so that ExxonMobil can continue to rake in record profits without paying taxes on those profits. They don’t want to hear that the Pell Grants their college-age children receive or the job training that their unemployed father gets or the community development grants that their city or town would use to fix up neighborhoods blighted by the housing crash are being cut so a hedge fund manager can keep his tax rate lower than the people who serve him his latte at the corner coffee shop. They don’t want to hear that an economic policy what has consistently failed to work for working people—serve the rich a cocktail of tax cuts and deregulation and the rest of us can drink whatever trickles down—is somehow going to be a good deal now.
That is what the 2012 Republican budget would without apology do. It would do so as an embodiment of what conservatives have wanted to do to government for decades. At least we now know 40 senators who were willing to attach their names to this assault on the American dream. We should not forget them.