Both President Obama and Rep. Paul Ryan have recently submitted budget proposals to Congress for consideration in the budget debate for 2013. One can clearly see two separate visions for America by observing the values stressed in the two documents.
The Democratic budget is about solving problems: Reducing government by consolidating departments that have similar missions, staying within the guidelines for program cuts set forth by legislation kicking in with the failure of the debt Super Committee, and investing in a future that includes good roads and bridges, schools with good teachers, and an environment that promotes the health and well-being of all citizens.
According to Robert Greenstein, president of the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, "The new Ryan budget is a remarkable document - one that, for most of the past half-century, would have been outside the bounds of mainstream discussion due to its extreme nature. In essence, this budget is Robin Hood in reverse - on steroids. It would likely produce the largest redistribution of income from the bottom to the top in modern U.S. history and likely increase poverty and inequality more than any other budget in recent times (and possibly in the nation's history). It also would stand a core principle of the Bowles-Simpson fiscal commission's report on its head - that policymakers should reduce the deficit in a way that does not increase poverty or widen inequality."
The starkest difference in the two budgets is in what is prioritized. Ryan continues to promote tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, excessive investment in the military/industrial complex that Eisenhower warned us about, and cuts to programs that effectively changed the expected lifespan of Americans by taking senior citizens out of poverty and giving them access to quality and affordable health care.
The Obama budget proposes changes to Medicare that would preserve the program, but improve its long-term financial viability. The Ryan budget changes Medicare so dramatically that current users would not recognize the program. Ryan seems to have forgotten the protest signs that said, "Keep Government's Hands off My Medicare."
Obama assumes that the Affordable Care Act (ACA), known by its opponents as Obamacare, will be upheld as constitutional. His budget provides financing to implement ACA, including "helping States establish Affordable Insurance Exchanges and developing the infrastructure to provide cost sharing and premium assistance to make coverage affordable." Colorado has already begun to design the Affordable Insurance Exchanges required under ACA. Colorado law recognizes that there needs to be a vehicle to help uninsured low-income families shop for and afford health insurance.
Obama's changes to Medicare include more robust fraud controls. Fraud drains money that could be used to satisfy the health care needs of patients. Fraud lines the pockets of unscrupulous doctors and clinics, while robbing taxpayers.
The stated intent of the Obama budget is to "extend Medicare's solvency while encouraging provider efficiencies and improved patient care." The proposals to achieve efficiency include changing how providers are compensated, changing co-payments by users, and implementing the best practices of Medicaid into Medicare- presumably that means allowing Medicare to negotiate for prescription drug prices, just as Medicaid already does.
The Ryan budget proposes to make Medicaid a block grant to the states and to slash its funding, which is adamantly opposed by Obama. However, the Obama plan does recommend changing the funding formulas for all federally funded health care programs, streamlining administration of the programs, and the accompanying administrative expenses. All together the Obama proposals to change Medicaid would save $51 billion over the next 10 years.
Greenstein reports "a new Congressional Budget Office analysis that Chairman Ryan himself requested shows that, after several decades, the Ryan budget would shrink the federal government so dramatically that most of what it does outside of Social Security, health care, and defense would essentially disappear. ...That includes everything from veterans' programs to medical and scientific research, highways, education, nearly all programs for low-income families and individuals other than Medicaid, national parks, border patrols, protection of food safety and the water supply, law enforcement..."
Both budget proposals are available online. Before you jump on either the Republican or Democratic bandwagon this election season, take the time to read them.
Claudette Konola has been analyzing the president's Budget proposal at her blog www.konola4colorado.com. She can be reached at Konola@Bresnan.net.