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Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2010

Road Map to Oblivion

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If we didn’t know anything, we’d think Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan was the hottest star in the Republican Party.

He’s all over the cable news shows talking about his deficit reduction plan, “Roadmap for America’s Future.” Conservative George Will recently wrote a column forecasting him as the 2013 Republican vice president of the United States. Even President Barack Obama singled out Ryan as a pleasant guy with a nice family.

Actually, that last item should be the tip-off that all is not what it seems.

When was the last time Democrats were so eager to push a young Republican Congressman forward as a national figure? It’s almost as if they can’t wait to start a national debate on Republican budget proposals.

That’s because Ryan’s so-called “Roadmap for America’s Future” is so chock full of politically toxic ideas Democrats want everyone in the country to know exactly what would happen if Republicans ever got back into power—including privatizing Social Security so those retirement funds could be lost just like our 401(k)s were, dismantling Medicare and replacing it with a limited voucher program as unreformed health insurance costs continue to rise, and eliminating the top income tax brackets so that millionaires and billionaires would pay exactly the same rate as someone making $50,000 a year.

How about this one? Repealing all corporate taxes and replacing them with a consumption tax consumers would have to pay on every single thing they buy.

So far, Ryan appears clueless as to the real reason his ideas are getting so much attention. He’s flattered by the spotlight and dancing in it for everything he’s worth.

Of course, it’s easy to be misled by a fawning local media that seems star-struck by a “Kennedyesque” Wisconsin Congressman on national television. Few Wisconsin reporters have bothered to explore just how radical Ryan’s right-wing proposals are.

Then again, in an age of superficial media, maybe no one will get around to reporting just how bad some of Ryan’s ideas are for ordinary Americans. Maybe it’s enough to be young and good-looking on television.

Certainly, Ryan is a prettier face for the Republican Party than all those sour old men who form the current leadership. Every time the TV cameras sweep over their glowering faces during a “State of the Union” address, it’s like all of the air has been sucked out of that side of the room.

Some think Republicans are glad to have Ryan to point to right now to refute the criticism their party doesn’t have any ideas. All anyone knows about Republicans is that they are against whatever the president wants to do.

Reform health care? No! Create jobs? No! Stop the collapse of the nation’s financial system? No! Prevent American car manufacturers and all related employers from going out of business? No! Pull us back from the brink of another Great Depression? No!

In an economic crisis, maybe Republicans figure it’s better to have bad ideas than no ideas at all.

Even though not very many Republicans are coming forward to publicly embrace Ryan’s radical proposals going into the 2010 elections, they have trouble explaining exactly where they disagree with him. That’s because they don’t.

Same Old Beliefs

Ryan is a true believer. He really believes in destroying Social Security and Medicare and slashing taxes for the wealthy. Those aren’t new ideas. They are very old Republican ideas.

Republicans have opposed Social Security and Medicare as socialism since their creation by Democratic Presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the ’30s and Lyndon Johnson in the ’60s.

That makes Ryan far more honest than those hypocritical Republicans who pretended to be concerned Democratic health care reform would cut Medicare for seniors—which it wouldn’t. Republicans routinely vote to cut Medicare.

But being honest about dismantling Medicare doesn’t make the effect any less devastating. Everyone agrees Medicare has been an extremely well-run program, at least until Republicans added a confusing prescription drug plan that was really a boondoggle for private insurance companies.

Ryan would replace it with a voucher for a fixed amount that seniors could use to buy private insurance—another boondoggle for the insurance industry.

Without health care reform, a voucher would buy less coverage for seniors all the time. The major health insurance companies—having avoided reform so far with the Republican election in Massachusetts—just announced whopping premium increases up to 39% despite increasing their profits by billions last year.

The reason Democrats are so eager to talk about Ryan’s “Roadmap” is they know where it leads.

President George W. Bush’s attempt to privatize Social Security at the start of his second term created such widespread public opposition that it led to the Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress.

Putting a pretty, new face on Bush’s disastrous economic policies doesn’t make it a road map to anywhere America wants to go.


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