Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Medicare and the future of reality-based politics

Musing on blogger Mark Kleiman's justifiably snarky response to the GOP's epic failure to hold Jack Kemp's uber-conservative congressional district in last night's special election - a contest which was essentially a referendum on GOP budget czar Paul Ryan's plan to kill Medicare - UC Berkeley econ prof Brad DeLong goes beyond the easy temptation of triumphalism to consider the broader scope and longer range implications for our toxic, stupid politics:
The Ryan fiscal plan was cruel, stupid, and counterproductive: you do not try to improve health care by destroying Medicare and adopting the RyanCare plan of turning insuring the elderly over to private insurance companies whose first act is to hire more administrators and pay them $250 billion a year to try to screen the Medicare patients who will be expensive to treat out of their policy pool. And the claim that eliminating Medicare and replacing it with RyanCare for the elderly was essentially the same thing as FEHBP (medical insurance) for members of congress is a lie of extraordinary magnitude and cynicism.

And we should not be worrying right now about the cost of Medicare in the 2020s and 2030s. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. And the 9% unemployment of this day is indeed evil. Government right now should be focusing on creating jobs now, not on potential deficits a generation hence--especially as no congress can bind its successors.
But given that we are worrying about the 2020s and 2030s right now, it is a fact that there is a large long-run gap starting about a decade and growing between the 20%-plus of GDP that congress on its current institutional trajectory will tax and the missions that congress has promised the American people that the federal government will assume. And the political lesson of the past two years is now that you win elections by denouncing the other party's plans to control Medicare spending in the long run--whether those plans are smart like the Affordable Care Act or profoundly stupid like the replacement of Medicare by RyanCare for the aged--sitting back, and waiting for the voters to reward you.

Thus our politics is likely to become another order of magnitude more dysfunctional in the next eighteen months, hard as that may be to believe. And whatever coalition takes office in early 2013 will be drinking from a poisoned well.

As I have said before, within the Democratic Party caucus you can argue for rational policies that are in America's interest--internationalism, expanded trade, balancing the budget, strengthening the safety net, improving the efficiency of the health care system, dealing with global warming, properly regulating the financial system, etc.--and you can usually win. The Democratic Party is, by and large, reality based. But the Republican Party is not reality-based. How long has it been since the rational technocratic faction of the Republican Party has won any internal argument? As more than one former Republican staffer has told me: "We did not raise any of those issues. It would have been a very short conversation."

The only constructive road I can see would be for the Republican Party to collapse, and then perhaps something good for America could be built on its foundations...

1 comment:

  1. Republicans will think the Titanic was a pleasure cruise in the next election if they don't drop the Ryan Medicare suicide pact.