Republicans voted to end medicare today, April 15, 2011. All but four (4) Republican congressmen and congresswomen voted for Paul Ryan’s budget proposal to privatize medical insurance for seniors, retirees, and people too sick or too old to qualify for private insurance, leaving them to die in Spartan fashion as cast offs, in order to give another big tax break to the rich, lowering the highest marginal tax rate from 35% to 25%.
We are now witnessing a radical ideology of politics, as evidenced by this budget act, regressing all of America’s progress and undoing not only Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society but also Franklin Delanor Roosevelt’s New Deal. Social security is next on the Republican idealogues radar screen to privatize, even though social security and medicare are programs that you, the taxpayer, have been paying for in the form of payroll taxes all of your working lives. It’s the Sheriff of Nottingham stealing from the poor to give to the rich! The GOP will now steal your medical retirement fund and next your pension plan to give to the elite rich, as it did with TARP, taking your tax dollars to pay for the financial losses of the Wall Streeters. Isn’t America a great country?
CENK UYGUR, HOST: Good evening. I‘m Cenk Uygur. We‘ve got a huge show for you tonight. You do not want to miss the Matt Taibbi in the second half of this show. It is amazing what he has found out.
But first, we start with the Republican Party voting to end Medicare today. Really, they did.
They would replace it with vouchers. There would be no more guaranteed benefits.
Congratulations, you‘re on your own with the Republican plan. But lucky, it won‘t become law, because President Obama put his foot down on that and said it won‘t happen on his watch.
This GOP all got on board the crazy, possibly politically suicidal train driven by Congressman Paul Ryan. Democrats tried to help a brother out by warning the Republicans.
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REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: I want to say to my Republican colleagues, do you realize that your leadership is asking you to cast a vote today to abolish Medicare as we know it?
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UYGUR: You can‘t say they didn‘t warn you. I don‘t know why Republicans believe killing Medicare is a winning issue when more than three-quarters of Americans think it shouldn‘t be touched under any circumstance.
But, hey, it‘s your political funeral. Have at it.
Two hundred and thirty-five Republicans voted to privatize Medicare and lower tax rates for the wealthy and for corporations. I don‘t get it. Didn‘t they already have the rich vote locked up?
OK. All right. Have at it.
A hundred and nineteen Republicans voted to cut Medicaid and raise the retirement age for Social Security. That was in an even more radical right-wing proposal that they also voted on today.
So that‘s the agenda of the GOP. And that‘s what President Obama will use against them as he begins to kick off his re-election campaign.
He made a splash last night with a fundraiser that reportedly earned him a quick $2 million. Not bad for nice work. But what made real news were some fiery comments about Republicans that were made off-mike, but were accidentally recorded back at the White House.
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BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I said to them—I said, “Let me tell you something. I spent a year and a half getting health care passed. The notion that I‘m going to let you guys undo that in a six-month spending bill, I said, “You want to repeal health care? Go at it. We‘ll have that debate.”
You‘re not going to be able to do that by nickel-and-diming me in the budget. Do you think we‘re stupid?
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UYGUR: Damn. All right. The president is getting serious. He then unloaded on Congressman Ryan.
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OBAMA: So, and when Paul Ryan says his priority is to make sure that we‘re, you know—I mean, he‘s just being America‘s accountant and trying to, you know, be responsible. See, this is the same guy who voted for two wars that were unpaid for, voted for the Bush tax cuts that were unpaid for, voted for the prescription drug bill that cost as much as my health care bill but wasn‘t paid for.
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UYGUR: Man, I wonder if Paul Ryan is going to cry about that too. Remember last time? He‘s like, hey, he was unfair to me. Why did he do that to me?
So I‘m looking forward to his response here.
Now, that was at an event for donors. But I hope we get to hear more of that in public from the president. He‘ll have an opportunity next week when he hits the road to sell his plan for the budget and his vision for America.
And when you look at those comments, I‘m telling you, now we‘re having fun. It‘s refreshing to see Democrats fight back. And as the president would say, go at it.
Joining me now is Congressman Jim Moran, Democrat from Virginia, and member of the Progressive Caucus, who also serves on the Appropriations Committee.
All right. Congressman Moran, this Medicare vote appears to be disastrous for the Republicans. What is the Democratic plan for beating them over the head with it?
REP. JIM MORAN (D), VIRGINIA: I think just telling the truth. You know, the truth will set you free, Cenk.
The idea that you would give the average millionaire a $200,000 tax cut and then pay for it by charging 33 seniors $6,000 more a year for Medicare is just beyond imagination. I mean, if the Democrats wanted talking points for a campaign, they just wrote them for us.
You know, we‘ve been trying to be as reasonable as possible. Nobody is trying to be Robin Hood here. But on the other hand, the Republican Ryan bunch is like a sheriff of Nottingham budget. They‘re giving to the poor—they‘re giving to the rich and taking from the poor.
UYGUR: You know what?
UYGUR: We could use a little Robin Hood. OK. But we‘re not getting that.
But now, look, here‘s what I don‘t understand. If you look at the polls, 76 percent of Americans say that they do not want Medicare cuts at all. They describe them as unacceptable.
So what‘s the Republican rationale here? Do they think we‘re going to get so much money from the rich and from corporations, and we‘re going to run all these ads against the Democrats, so it doesn‘t really matter how much we defy the will of the people? I mean, what‘s their battle plan here?
MORAN: Well, I can‘t speak for them. Obviously, I can‘t even think like them. I can‘t get in their head. I don‘t know what motivates them.
You know, granted, we‘re all capitalists, but this country, at least since the 1930s, it‘s tried to have a kind of a form of caring capitalism because strict capitalism just doesn‘t work. You concentrate too much wealth in the hands of too few. And the many don‘t have enough just to keep the economy going.
But this is like something out of a Dickens novel, what the Ryan budget does. And it‘s unsustainable. It‘s not good for our economy. And we‘re already at a point of no return.
When one percent of Americans own close to half of the nation‘s wealth, and they‘re making about a quarter of the nation‘s income, and the bottom 90 percent are sucking wind—in fact, the medium wage has gone down—you know there‘s something wrong. But what‘s wrong is not that we‘re taxing the wealthy too much, it‘s that we‘re not investing enough in the middle class and those struggling to get into the middle class.
UYGUR: You know, Congressman, we‘re now at the lowest tax rate as a percentage of GDP since 1931. So when they keep saying we don‘t have a revenue problem, that is just flat-out wrong. We do have a revenue problem.
But when it comes to Medicare and protecting that, it seems like it‘s a huge issue for the Democrats, obviously. The president says he‘s drawing the line, he won‘t let them do a voucher. But, on the other hand, he has said that he is willing to cut Medicare to some degree.
Is that also a bad idea? Why go in the Republican direction at all in this case?
MORAN: Well, what he‘s talking about is the so-called Medicare Advantage plan that the Republicans brought in when they were in charge of the—in the majority in the Congress. It gives incentives to insurance companies.
It‘s sort of a way of privatizing Medicare. But the problem is they‘ve been taking about 20 percent of the money for administrative costs and profit. And I think that‘s what he‘s talking about.
UYGUR: Congressman, let me interrupt here, because that‘s really important. Medicare Advantage, yes, you‘re right. It‘s a total waste of 20 percent.
Is that all the president is talking about, just getting rid of Medicare Advantage? Because if it is, I could live with that in a second.
MORAN: Well, the Health Care Reform Act, it really will reduce the cost of Medicare because it reduces the cost of health care across the board. What we want to do is to reduce the number of specialists that keep having to—they put you through an x-ray every time they see you. They need to do another MRI. They need to do their own specialist tests.
We want to have more general practitioners. We want to look at the entire patient and carry those medical records from physician to physician.
And we want to be more careful about the gatekeepers—you know, people that are responsible for the whole person. And we want to give incentives to hospitals to do the right job the first time around and disincentives for hospitals that keep bringing people back for the same illness.
MORAN: And those things will start kicking in, in 2014. That saves Medicare money and it makes us healthier. So it‘s the right way to go about it. Certainly not the Ryan way.
UYGUR: Right. No, that does make sense. I‘m actually encouraged by that.
Virginia Congressman Jim Moran, thank you for your time today. I really appreciate it.
MORAN: Any time, Cenk. Thank you.
UYGUR: All right.
Now let‘s bring in MSNBC political analyst Jonathan Alter, and author of the national best-selling book “The Promise,” about Obama‘s first year in office.
JONATHAN ALTER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Hi, Cenk.
UYGUR: — let‘s go back to the Republicans. It‘s great to see you here, by the way.
ALTER: Great to see you.
UYGUR: So what‘s the strategy here? Is it just to collect more donor money? Is it to move the political spectrum? Because this doesn‘t seem like smart strategy at all.
ALTER: It really doesn‘t. I mean, I think they‘re in the grip of an ideology.
What David Stockman told me last week was, “a religious obsession.” They believe in the religion of tax cuts, even when the country is facing bankruptcy. So they want to take those top rates all the way down to 25 percent.
That‘s part of the Ryan plan that hasn‘t gotten very much attention. They essentially want to—and I say this—you know, Cenk, you and I have argued about—because I‘m a little bit more of a moderate Democrat. But I say this in all seriousness—they want to repeal the New Deal and the Great Society.
That‘s what this vote does. It takes us back to the 1920s.
So the question for Democrats is whether they have the chops to get
the Congress back, take this to the country, and explain this is a radical
and I believe they should use that word, “radical,” over and over and over again—this is a radical Republican attempt to repeal much of the 20th century social contract that we established in this country.
UYGUR: Jonathan, I actually loved how Congressman Moran framed it just a minute ago when he said it‘s the sheriff of Nottingham bill. And it really is. And it seems like a disastrous strategy for the Republicans.
ALTER: Well, bot necessarily, because the Democrats have to execute.
And if they can‘t—
ALTER: If they can‘t, they should find another line of work.
UYGUR: No, that‘s exactly it.
ALTER: But they have not been very good—and you and I have talked about this in the past—Democrats have not been very good at the basic blocking and tackling of politics. And here they‘ve been given a huge gift.
I didn‘t expect the Ryan plan to be nearly this bad, nearly this advantageous for Democrats. But I‘m not fully confident that the Democratic Party is going to be able to grab this, find the right sound bites, slogans, frames to drive this home. Sheriff of Nottingham doesn‘t quite work, and a little too literary to translate all the way to the bulk of the American people.
Repeating the word “radical” 10,000 times, that might begin to get the message home. And that they‘re killing—
UYGUR: No, I hear you on that. I hear you on that.
But, look, we saw encouraging signs today from Congress where Democrats fought back. Nancy Pelosi had some good, strong words. You see some other congressmen with good, strong words. But you know what it hinges on, the place you cover, the White House.
If the White House comes out swinging—I mean, you saw it behind the scenes today with President Obama. If he does that in public, it seems like they can steam-roll him. But if the president comes out and starts going towards the Republican direction, isn‘t that going to undercut that strategy?
ALTER: Well, first of all, there‘s a long time between now and the election. And to come out swinging every day to satisfy those of us who like to see the president land a punch would not be good tactics. So they need to think about how to handle this.
A lot of it is just driving a message. It‘s not necessarily landing punches. It‘s getting a certain argument across so that everybody in the United States, whether—it has to be repeated ad nauseam—knows that the Republican Party now stands for killing Medicare.
That is not an exaggeration, a distortion. They will try to say, oh, no, no, no, our voucher program doesn‘t kill Medicare. It does.
“The Wall Street Journal” said it “ends Medicare.” So after many years where Democrats kind of cried wolf about Republicans wanting to, you know, throw granny into the snow, this time that‘s what they have just voted to do.
ALTER: And so it‘s important, I think, for Democrats who may have cried wolf too much on this. They don‘t want to be against all reform of Medicare. I don‘t agree with you on this.
There are certain things about entitlement programs that need to be changed. And it‘s not realistic to say that these programs should be preserved in amber just the way they were when they were enacted. But that‘s not what the Ryan plan does.
UYGUR: Well, that‘s not what I‘m saying though, Jonathan. No, no, no.
UYGUR: Now, look, if you want to talk about Medicare Advantage, no problem. I love what they did with that in health care reform.
ALTER: Right. But, see, we can also talk about, say, for people who are not engaged in manual labor, if they want to raise their retirement age on Social Security a little bit to save hundreds of billions of dollars —
UYGUR: No. No way.
ALTER: Reasonable People can disagree on that, Cenk. But the point here is about—
UYGUR: No, but they‘re giving away their whole advantage, Jonathan. Why would you go to cut Social Security when you just said the Republicans handed them a huge gift?
ALTER: Because you‘re talking about a smart, slippery slope here.
UYGUR: We can talk about that. But no way would I raise Social Security retirement age. I think that would be crazy if the Democrats did that.
ALTER: You might have to do it.
ALTER: I don‘t think it‘s a smart thing to do before the election, but as an intellectual point, there are going to have to be changes.
But it‘s important, Cenk, to understand the distinction between reasonable changes which reasonable people can disagree about, and killing Medicare, which is what this does. And by the way, if they win the next election, they will also privatize Social Security the way this bill privatizes Medicare.
So, that‘s where I and a lot of other people get off the bus. But it‘s not necessary to preserve everything except Medicare Advantage.
There are things—and the president has said this—there are things that are going to have to be reformed in Medicare. That doesn‘t mean, though, that you‘re with the Republicans, who want to kill it. So, the important thing tactically here and politically, is that people understand the distinction between reform and killing these programs, which is what the Republicans have just voted to do.
UYGUR: All right. We‘ve got to leave it right there.
Jonathan Alter, thank you so much for joining us.
ALTER: Thanks, Cenk.
UYGUR: All right.