Desolation Row: Five Pictures of the Future in a Paul Ryan/Mitt Romney America
Economic radical Paul Ryan has endorsed Mitt Romney, Romney's embraced the Ryan budget, and the House Republicans have voted to enact the Romney/Ryan vision of the future into law. Yet an eerie silence has settled over the vision itself: How would it affect our daily lives? What kind of country would we become?
The Romney/Ryan America of tomorrow is more like the science-fiction worlds of H.G. Wells' Time Machine or Fritz Lang's Metropolis than it is like the United States, as we know it. The privileged few would be even wealthier than they are today, while the rest of us struggle to survive in a dystonic world of disease, deprivation, and fear.
That's not lefty rhetoric, either. All you have to do is read the budget.
What did Romney say about Ryan's budget? "He is setting the right tone for finally getting spending and entitlements under control. Anyone who has read my book knows that we are on the same page." For his part, Paul Ryan expressed confidence that Romney will enact something very close to the budget he proposed and House Republicans passed this week.
And yet the real vision they're offering for the country is somehow off-limits in polite company. They're being treated like reasonable politicians, rather than as radicals whose social agenda is severely out of step with that their predecessors in both parties. That has to stop. We need to quit discussing the political horse race and start talking in real-life terms about the country they intend to create.
Here are five glimpses of the American future under Romney, Ryan, and the Republicans:
1. Diseased America
Forget what it means to be a just society for a moment (they certainly have) and think about what it will mean for the public health of our nation if the Romney/Ryan budget is ever enacted.
By 2022 their plan would cut Federal Medicaid funding by roughly one-third. The Urban Institute has estimated that states would drop between 14 million and 27 million people from Medicaid by 2021. Provider reimbursements would drop by roughly one-third, too, meaning that even people who still have Medicaid coverage will find it increasingly difficult to find doctors and hospitals willing to treat them. The Romney/Ryan plan's radical changes to Medicare would also dramatically cut older Americans' access to health care.
We live with the constant threat of deadly pandemics like avian flu and SARS. The fact that those two diseases didn't kill millions shouldn't be taken as proof that it can't happen, any more than failed terrorist attacks prove we aren't at risk: We are. And we're increasingly facing the risk of MRSAs and other deadly drug-resistant infections, which have a tendency to develop and spread in medically underserved populations such as inner cities and prisons.
So forget the inhumanity of this plan, one-percenters, and look at it selfishly: The Romney/Ryan plan to dismantle health will endanger your lives.
2. Time Machine America
Middle class? Not in their world. There will be the rich -- and everybody else.
The Romney/Ryan plan guts the financial security of middle-class Americans by leaving them to face on old age of deprivation, impossibly costly health care, and reduced benefits. What's more, their radical cuts will create a cascading wave of unemployment that will make today's intractable job situation even worse.
At the same time the Romney/Ryan plan promises more huge tax cuts for the wealthy and uber-wealthy (more about that shortly), which it tries to offset by closing unspecified loopholes.
Which loopholes could they mean? There aren't many to choose from. They probably intend to cut or eliminate the mortgage interest tax deduction, which would decimate already-struggling middle class homeowners, and the tax deduction for employer-provided healthcare, which would leave middle-class Americans with even less health coverage than they have today.
Their tax policy, along with the dismantling of our retirement security, will guide us toward that H.G. Wells world, where a small-pampered elite frolicking in luxurious gardens while the rest of the country struggles in dark underground tunnels of job insecurity and financial difficulty.
3. Starving America
And a lot of those "underground Americans" will starve. As the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities documents, 62 percent of the Ryan/Romney cuts come from programs that serve low-income communities.
Millions of people would or see their benefits cut substantially, even though studies have shown that this program doesn't contribute to the deficit in any substantial way. (In other words, they're just doing it because they don't like people in need.)
The Ryan/Romney plan to promote what Ryan calls "Welfare Reform Part 2" ignores the lessons of Part 1. By reducing funds and turning many of these programs back to the states, their plan would subject low-income Americans to humiliating tests, steep benefit cuts, and other cutbacks.
The end result would be a steep increase in food insecurity and hunger, in a nation that's already at or near the top of the charts for these problems when compared to other industrialized nations. In fact, at last report more than 9 percent of US homes experienced "food insecurity" and 5.4 percent of homes were severely food insecure. Expect those figures to rise sharply in Ryan and Romney's America.
4. Death-Star America
Romney and Ryan don't want to cut all government spending. They're proposing steep increases to defense expenditures, in ways that clearly violate the last "grand bargain" between Congressional Republicans and the President.
When combined with their steep cuts elsewhere, which reduces all non-mandated government spending to something close to zero, the Romney/Ryan vision of government is one that provides less than the bare minimum to its citizens while spending many times (see CBPP and Matt Yglesias for more) what other nations spend on extravagant and needless military programs.
Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan would turn our nation into an armed fortress, ringed on the outside with expensive but often-nonfunctional science-fiction weaponry and rotting from within from poverty and fear.
5. Obscene-Wealth America
That's the world the rest of us would live in. But for wealthy people like Mitt Romney life would be very sweet indeed. Millionaires would get to keep their extravagant Bush tax cuts, under which a top tax rate that was 91 percent under Eisenhower and 70 percent under Reagan is only 35 percent - and Ryan and Romney would top that off by giving them another $265,000 per year in cuts!
As the CBPP reports, " After-tax incomes would rise by 12.5 percent among millionaires, but just 1.9 percent for middle-income households" - and after the many other cuts and "loophole closings" in Romney/Ryan, after-tax income would actually plummet for those middle-income families.
Conclusion: Romney World USA
All that - and it doesn't even reduce the deficit! In fact, Ira Stoll correctly notes in Reason that "it would increase federal outlays to $4,888 billion in 2022 from $3,624 billion in 2012, an increase of about 35% over ten years."
And yet Ryan's being celebrated in the media as a "bold" advocate for deficit reduction, and he's Mitt Romney's right-hand man on the economy. Americans need to understand what kind of country we will become if they succeed. Mitt Romney is likely to become the standard-bearer for his party, and he has embraced this vision of the future.
Voters need to understand what that means. When they talk about budgets they're not talking about numbers on a page. They're talking about us.