Posts Tagged ‘Medicaid’

The Republican Party: Mean to the Bone

Saturday, July 1st, 2017

By Bob Gaydos

Trump signs a bill allowing the shooting of alaskan bear cubs, as they hibernate.

Trump signs a bill allowing the shooting of Alaskan bear cubs, as they hibernate.

In much the same way that a broken clock is correct twice a day, so did our narcissist-in-chief (NIC) stumble into a truism the other day when he described a “health-care” bill approved by the Republican-dominated House of Representatives as “mean.”

Why did our clueless leader suddenly think a bill he had only recently pushed for and extravagantly celebrated at the White House was “mean”? Surely not because almost everyone who knew anything about it except for Tea Party Republicans thought it was mean. That’s never bothered him before.

I suspect it had more to do with the fact that he needed the Senate, also run by Republicans, to also pass a health-care bill so he could brag about it again and he just happened to be in the room, sitting there like a broken clock, when someone said if there was any hope of getting a bill through the Senate it had to be different from the House bill, which was, as he subsequently repeated, “too mean.”

Those are the kind of simple words the NIC understands. Big. Great. Best. Bad. Fat. Lousy, Mean. He likes to use them. A lot. Mean is not good. It’s bad. People don’t like mean things. How is the bill “mean”? Nuance is another matter.

Well, the bill that was presented to the Senate by a 13-member, all-white, all-male, Republican-only task force was apparently only a tad less mean than the GOP House bill, which means most of the country still thinks it’s awful policy, as do a handful of Senate Republicans. Actually, a lot of Senate Republicans think it’s not mean enough. In fact, not enough Republicans like it for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring it to a vote that would carry, so he put it off to allow for arm-twisting and bribing.

As he apparently demonstrated at a ballyhooed arm-twisting meeting with all the Senate Republicans at the White House, the NIC doesn’t know — or even care — how the bill works. He’s apparently confused about the difference between Medicare and Medicaid, stuff like that. No matter. Mean or not, he just wants a health care bill passed so he can have another Rose Garden celebration and thumb his nose at Barack Obama. That’s pretty much the entire Trump policy.

McConnell, for his part, resorted to his favorite weapon — bribery — to try to get 50 Republicans to buy in to the bill. That comes in the form of billions of dollars in local projects for Republican senators who might face difficult reelection if they vote for the still-mean health care bill.

Tell me that’s not an awfully mean way to conduct public policy. And to no purpose other than to give tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans so they will continue to fund campaigns and vote for Republican candidates who promise to cut taxes even more, to eliminate pesky regulations that force businesses to be accountable for any harm they do, and to remove all those “deadbeats” Rush Limbaugh rails about from the Medicaid, food stamps, unemployment and welfare rolls.

In other words, Republicans have totally lost the concept of governing for the public good. They have been against everything for so long they don’t know how — or seem to even care to try — to work with Democrats on creating useful legislation. I’ve been trying to figure out when “mean” became the Republican go-to word in policy. Maybe it was Ronald Reagan’s phony trickle-down spiel. The middle class and poor are still waiting for the first nourishing drops. A lot of them — many Trump supporters — are those supposed “deadbeats” of Limbaugh’s. Of course, they did have to suffer through a major economic disaster brought on by those rich individuals and corporations, who apparently didn’t have enough stashed away from the tax breaks so they had to simply cheat people out of their money. And they got away with it.

By the way, Republicans just voted to do away with an Obama regulation that required people dealing with other people’s money — brokers — to tell their clients what was in their best financial interests, not the brokers’. Bad idea, according to Republicans. Mean, I say.

Mean is slashing hundreds of millions from Medicaid, which pays for health care for 20 percent of Americans, including seniors in nursing homes, simply to cut taxes for those who don’t need it — the one percent. The very wealthiest Americans. Mean is cutting funding for Meals on Wheels and food stamps. Mean is promising coal workers that their dying industry will be revived while creating no jobs for them, but allowing coal companies to dump their waste into streams from which the workers get their drinking water. Mean is putting the Environmental Protection Agency, which protects Americans from such things as water pollution, under the direction of someone who wants to eliminate the agency.

Mean is looking to do away with hundreds of regulations that protect people from health and safety risks posed by unscrupulous cost-cutting minded corporations looking to improve their standing with shareholders. If Republicans want to take an object lesson about such short-sighted governing, they need only to look at the recent Grenfell Tower fire in London that killed 79 people.

The fire is believed to have been started by a faulty refrigerator and spread rapidly up the high-rise, fueled by a highly flammable exterior wrapping, called cladding, that is banned for use on high-rises in the United States, but which its maker is allowed to sell in places where regulations aren’t as stringent. In the aftermath of the deadly blaze, Arconic — formerly Alcoa — said it would no longer sell the cladding, which has a polyethylene core, for high rise projects anywhere in the world. The company makes a more-expensive, fire-resistant cladding. Grenfell is a public housing project whose residents had complained for years that there were no fire alarms, no sprinklers, no safety tests and only one stairwell.

Public housing. No safety features. Total disregard for safety regulations. Cheaper construction material. Years of complaining with no response from British politicians more concerned with helping businesses save money rather than protecting people’s lives. Mean.

Since Republicans took control of the White House and both houses of Congress, they have eagerly worked to erase safety regulations issued late in the Obama administration, including rules to keep coal companies from dumping waste in streams and denying federal contracts to dangerous companies. And it’s not just people who are the target of Republican callousness. The NIC recently signed a bill to allow the shooting of bears and wolves — including cubs — as they hibernate. Heartless.

This list could go on and on and undoubtedly will so long as Republicans, once the proud party of Lincoln, now seemingly a collection of mean-spirited individuals lacking in compassion and tolerance, have access to power. Trump is not really even a Republican, but party leaders have been cynical enough to try to use him to advance their cruel agenda.

It is an utterly depressing state of affairs that calls for new Republican leadership or a new party entirely. If you’re a Republican and are offended by any of this, that’s your problem. The rest of us are appalled. It’s your party. You are responsible for what is being promulgated and promoted in the seats of power in Washington. Your silence is tacit approval.

Like the clueless one said, “Mean.”

rjgaydos@gmail.com

A livable, not a minimum, wage

Wednesday, September 30th, 2015

By Bob Gaydos

Gov. Andrew Cuomo ... wants $15/hr minimum wage

Gov. Andrew Cuomo
… wants $15/hr minimum wage

When New York’s Gov. Andrew Cuomo raised the ante on the state’s minimum wage a couple of weeks ago, saying that $15 an hour sounded good to him, he also changed the nature of the political debate about what people get paid.    

For those who decide such things — well-paid politicians, usually — no longer is it a question of how little can we get away with paying people to do boring, tiresome jobs we wouldn’t do ourselves, but rather, what constitutes a minimum amount people can actually support themselves on? What’s a minimum livable wage?

With echoes of his late father’s call to take heed that all are included in the fruits of a prospering society, Cuomo did an about-face on the $15-an-hour wage shortly after signing on to that rate as a minimum for fast-food workers in the state. A panel appointed by Cuomo had recommended the $15 minimum and the state labor board agreed. Cuomo made it official. That rate will be phased in over six years.

But that left the state with the somewhat awkward circumstance of largely part-time, fast-food workers earning more than some people working at other, full time jobs in offices, schools, etc. Challenged on this contradiction, Cuomo was quick to recognize it. If $15 an hour is the minimum that fast-food workers need to live in New York without depending on other assistance, it certainly is a fair minimum wage for all workers in the state, he agreed. He said he would urge the state Legislature to approve the increase.

On cue, Republicans went into mock shock at the thought that every New Yorker should be able to earn, not just a wage, but a livable wage. Alluding to the governor’s own comment of a few months ago that a $15-an-hour minimum wage being sought by fast-food workers was “too high” and that $10.50 an hour was more realistic, State Sen. Jack M. Martins, chairman of the Senate Labor Committee, said, “I really don’t know what happened between $10.50 six months ago and $15 now. What’s the significance of $15? In my mind it’s a political number. The governor has not established $15 as a fair number.”

Well, I can’t read the governor’s mind, but let me answer Martins’ question anyway. What happened between $10.50 an hour and $15 is that the Republican-controlled state Senate flatly rejected Cuomo’s request for $10.50 and agreed instead to phase in a raise in the state minimum wage from $8.75 an hour to $9 an hour next year. Apparently, Republicans senators — who are paid a base salary of $79,500 a year and receive a $172 per diem allowance — consider a quarter-an-hour raise to be a major beneficence.

So maybe Cuomo did some calculations, mathematical and, yes, political, and decided it made no sense any more piddling around with proposals for small, incremental increases when the math added up otherwise. At $15 an hour, for a 40-hour week, someone would earn about $31,200 a year. That’s a barely livable wage for someone with a small family, but it’s a lot better than the $21,840 that a $10.50-an-hour salary adds up to.

In fact, that $21,840 is barely above the $20,090 federal poverty level for a family of three, according to government figures used to qualify people for a variety of assistance programs, including Medicaid. The $9-an-hour rate New York legislators generously approved comes to $18,720 for a full time, 40-hour work week. Of course, fast-food franchises typically don’t hire anyone for a 40-hour-week, thereby saving on overtime, insurance, sick pay, vacation and other benefits. The $15-an-hour rate would at least help workers make up for some of those exclusions.

The idea didn’t originate in New York. The cities of Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley have plans in motion to raise their minimum wage to $15 an hour. New York would be the first state to do so.

But is it, as Martins questioned, a fair number? Apparently New Yorkers think so. Two recent surveys showed a solid majority of residents in favor of the $15 minimum wage. A Quinnipiac University poll found that 62 percent approved of $15 an hour, with Democrats and Independents favoring it and Republicans opposing. A more recent survey conducted by Siena College found that 59 percent of respondents support an across-the-board $15 minimum wage, while 38 percent oppose it. Again, Republicans were against the rate, Democrats in favor. That speaks volumes about what the two parties stand for.

The business community in New York has, not surprisingly, joined with the restaurant industry in arguing against the $15-an-hour wage. Senator Martins even said many fast-food franchise owners were “scared” of the proposal and worried about their ability to stay open. Cuomo couldn’t say anything about that prospect for political reasons, but I can’t help but think that a few less fast-food establishments would be a major boon for the entire country, reducing obesity and other health problems and lowering health costs along the way, including Medicaid and Medicare expenses.

Business associations have also raised the usual argument that raising the state’s minimum wage would force some employers to cut payrolls. That’s just an argument to keep wages stagnant while profits rise. It also never seems to come up when top executives get huge raises.

In reality, when the wages of the lowest-paid workers are increased, they spend more money on goods and services and depend less on taxpayer-funded government subsidies. The money doesn’t go into offshore accounts. As opposed to the Reaganesque trickle-down GOP fantasy of giving the wealthy tax cuts so that they will invest more in the economy and thereby raise workers’ salaries — never happened, never will — a higher minimum wage actually trickles up through the economy, benefitting everyone.

And for all the doom-and-gloomers accusing Cuomo of playing to the populist mood of the country, there’s also the political reality that Cuomo is not about to casually alienate the state’s business owners. He says the new wage would be phased in over a period of years, allowing businesses to plan. He also says he’d propose tax cuts for businesses (they love that) and look to reduce other burdens (regulations), so that the increase would be affordable.

It sounds fair to me. In fact, it sounds like something I could live with.

AARP: New Publishers Clearing House

Wednesday, May 8th, 2013

By Michael Kaufman

I had hoped the annoying email from the AARP would stop after I didn’t renew my membership a while back. I should live so long. They are relentless. And just in case I don’t look at my email, they make sure to send regular reminders via the U.S. Postal Service. Those I don’t mind quite as much. I want Crystal, our letter carrier, to keep her job, along with all the postal workers around the country whose jobs are being threatened by the austerity hawks in Congress.

Really, I don’t need an AARP card to show that I qualify for the senior discounts. And lately I’m finding their emails at least as annoying as the letters I get from Publishers Clearing House announcing in big, bold type that I could be the next winner of their Grand Prize. Look closely and there is small type saying “no purchase necessary,” and “odds of winning Grand Prize: 300,000,000 to one.” At least the AARP gave better odds in their email last month when they wrote, “Michael, We’re Giving Away $25,000 in the Brain Health Sweepstakes – Enter for Your Chance to Win.” I didn’t read any further: Brain health isn’t my forte.

Then there was one that said, “Michael, Intimacy After 50: What’s Normal?” I have to admit I was tempted to read that one just to see what they had to say on the subject. I imagine they don’t think highly of whips and chains and such. That reminds me of my favorite line from Eating Raoul where Paul Bartel as Paul Bland says, “I’m into S&M and she’s into B&D and we met at the A&P.” I like that movie.

There was one in January: “Michael, For a Limited Time Save 40% on the AARP Driver Safety course.” And in February: “Michael, For a Limited Time Save 20% on the AARP Driver Safety course.” That would have really bugged me if I were going to take a driver safety course and I’d missed out on that 40% off deal. There was another in March: “Michael, For a Limited Time Save 30% on the AARP Driver Safety course.” Now I’m waiting for that 40% off to come around again. When it does I’m going to jump on it. (I told you brain health isn’t my forte.) I figure you can never learn too much about safe driving.

The one on March 29 was kind of spooky: “Michael, Why Do Couples Split after 25 Years or More?” I didn’t look at that one either but I suppose they split for the same reasons couples split after fewer than 25 years. But the thing that was spooky about it is that Eva-Lynne and I would soon be celebrating our 25th anniversary. Was AARP trying to tell us something?

And then there was one that resembled a headline in the National Enquirer: “Michael, You Can Prevent Arthritis with These 7 Tips.” I have no idea what the tips are but it is way too late for me to prevent arthritis. I’ll tell you this though: If AARP can come up with some tips that will cure arthritis, I might consider renewing my membership. But for now I’ll pass.

At a time when issues of vital concern to seniors, when Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security are on the chopping block, AARP sent, “Michael, These Inns Are So Fancy You May Never Want to Leave Your Room.” The accompanying text describes “Quaint inns for the astute and deep-pocketed traveler.” Of one, AARP wrote, “Countless repeat guests don’t blink at the $1,260-and-up nightly tab, which includes three sumptuous, made-to-order gourmet meals each day; plentiful outdoor activities, from snowshoeing to flyfishing; and personalized service that extends to round-trip transfers from distant airports.”

I replied to that one April 27: “Shame on you, AARP.” So far they haven’t answered.

Michael can be reached at michael@zestoforange.com.

 

Some Entitlements in Need of Reform

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

By Michael Kaufman

I am always amazed when I hear some millionaire or billionaire (or their spokespeople in Congress or Fox News or talk radio) proclaim, “We’re broke!” According to them, our government no longer has the means to continue safety net programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

They themselves are not broke, of course. They’re doing just fine. And if you ask them, everyone in this country is pretty well off too, so we don’t really need the safety net anymore. They’re just symptoms of the “nanny state” anyway and that’s what’s wrong with this country by golly: all those people looking for handouts (you know, like retirees, veterans and disabled folks). You’ve probably heard statements of this sort (either on Fox News or on The Daily Show when Jon Stewart shows clips of the dumb things they say on Fox News):  “Poor people never had it so good as they have it now in the U.S. They have refrigerators, air conditioners and television sets. How bad off can they be?”

The Wall Street Journal published an article recently that even tried to make the case that the “middle class” in this country has not been harmed by the fact that real wages (adjusted for cost of living changes) have not gone up in decades as wealth has ballooned for a small percentage of people at the top of the economic ladder. According to the writer, wages aren’t a good measure anymore because of all the advances that have taken place that make life better for us all, as in healthcare, for example. (I’m not making this up.)

Another article in the WSJ a while back suggested that income disparity is good for everybody. The writer used Michael Jordan as an example. See, when Jordan was leading the Chicago Bulls to championships, his mediocre teammates got paid better, the arena was packed, which meant more people were hired to prepare and serve food and show people to their seats. Talk about a win-win. But a two-hour drive from Chicago would have taken the author to Freeport, Ill., and the shut down Sensata plant. Sensata, which manufactures sensor parts for the auto industry, is owned by Bain Capital, the private equity company founded by Mitt Romney. Despite a profitable 2011 Sensata laid off all the workers in Freeport last year and moved manufacturing to China—but not before forcing the American workers to train their replacements. Ironically, the plant was shut down the day before Election Day.

As described by Dave Johnson of the Campaign for America’s Future, “Bain’s business model is to purchase companies using ‘leveraged buyouts’ that borrow huge sums using the purchased company’s own assets as collateral, uses the borrowed money to immediately pay itself, then cuts costs by doing things like sending jobs to China, cutting wages and manipulating tax rules to cut taxes owed, along with standard big-business practices like consolidating business units, taking advantage of economies of scale not available to smaller competitors, squeezing distribution channels for price cuts, and other practices that bring competitive advantages.”

Bain is “entitled” to do this under the current laws of the United State of America. I think it’s about time we had some entitlement reform to stop this kind of thing from happening. If a U.S.-based company making good profits in this country wants to move to China, it should be allowed to do so only after providing extended health benefits and severance packages to each and every person who will lose a job as a reult of the move–or not be permitted to move at all.

Another entitlement in need of reform is the one that permits the underachieving or none-too-bright sons and daughters of wealthy people to attend great colleges and universities simply because a relative went there before. These “legacy students” are taking up space that might otherwise be given to hard-working students who have earned admission but whose families cannot afford the steep cost of sending them to a place like Yale or Harvard, for example. A worthy reform might be to require those who can readily afford it to pay for the education of one of those deserving people in addition to that of their own family member. The deserving individual would be selected at random from a pool of worthy candidates regardless of their race, creed or color. All they would have in common is that their families can’t afford to send them to the school. This would avoid the usual complaints about “reverse discrimination” that accompany affirmative action measures, while still advancing the goals because a disproportionate percentage of minority community members will be represented.

Why is someone who inherits a large piece of land “entitled” to sell it to developers for commercial use? Why is the concept of “private property” more important than preservation of the earth and the health of its inhabitants? Now there is some fertile ground for entitlement reform. Feel free to add your own. And for goodness sakes, let’s not allow them to take away the safety net:  Hands off Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid!

Michael can be reached at michael@zestoforange.com.