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Weekly Audit: Republicans’ Budget Declares War on Medicare

8:49 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

The Republicans are poised to unveil a model budget on Tuesday that would effectively end Medicare by privatizing it, Steve Benen reports in the Washington Monthly. House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan (R-WI) is touting the budget as a strategy to reduce the national debt.

Ryan’s plan would turn Medicare from a single-payer system to a “premium support” system. “Premium support” is a euphemism for the government giving up to $15,000 per person, per year, to insurance companies to defray the cost of a health insurance policy.

As Benen points out, privatizing Medicare does nothing to contain health care costs. On the contrary, as insurance customers weary of double-digit premium increases can attest, private insurers have a miserable track record of containing costs. They excel at denying care and coverage, but that’s not the same thing.

The only way the government would save money under Ryan’s proposal is by paying a flat rate in vouchers. Medicare covers the full cost of medical treatments, but private insurers are typically much less generous. So, after paying into Medicare all their working lives, Americans currently 55 and younger would get vouchers for part of their health insurance and still have to pay out-of-pocket to approach the level of benefits that Medicare currently provides.

Taking aim at Medicaid

The poor are easy targets for Republican budget-slashing, Jamelle Bouie writes on TAPPED. Ryan’s proposal would also cut $1 trillion over the next 10 years from Medicaid, the joint federal-state health insurance program for the poor, by eliminating federal matching and providing all state funding through block grants. Most of this money would come from repealing the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion, which is slated to add 15 million people to Medicaid.

Block grants are cuts in disguise. Currently, Medicaid is an entitlement program, which means that states have to enroll everyone who is eligible, regardless of the state’s ability to pay. In return, the states get federal matching funds for each person in the program. Ryan and the Republicans want to change Medicaid into a block grant program where the federal government simply gives each state a lump sum to spend on Medicaid. The states want to use this new found “flexibility” to cut benefits, narrow eligibility criteria, and generally gut the program.

This is incredibly short-sighted. The current structure of Medicaid ensures extra federal funding for every new patient. So when unemployment rises and large numbers of new patients become eligible for Medicaid, the states get extra federal money for each of them. But with a block grant, the states would just have to stretch the existing block grants or find money from somewhere else in their budgets. Medicaid rolls surge during bad economic times, so a block grant system could make state budget crises even worse.

Ryan’s proposal has no chance of becoming law as long as Democrats control the Senate. The main purpose of the document is to lay out a platform for the 2012 elections.

Fake debt crisis

In The Nation, sociologist and activist Frances Fox Piven argues that the Republicans are hyping the debt threat to justify cuts to social programs:

Corporate America’s unprovoked assault on working people has been carried out by manufacturing a need for fiscal austerity. We are told that there is no more money for essential human services, for the care of children, or better public schools, or to help lower the cost of a college education. The fact is that big banks and large corporations are hoarding trillions in cash and using tax loopholes to bankrupt our communities.

She notes that Republican-backed tax cuts for the wealthy are a major contributor to the debt.

Jesus was a non-union carpenter?

Josh Harkinson of Mother Jones reports on the religious right’s crusade against unions. He notes that James Dobson of the socially conservative Family Research Council tweeted: “Pro-family voters should celebrate WI victory b/c public & private sector union bosses have marched lock-step w/liberal social agenda.”

Harkinson reports that the Family Research Council is backing the Republican incumbent, David Prosser, in today’s Wisconsin Supreme Court election–a battle that has become a proxy fight over Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-collective bargaining bill:

The FRC’s new political action committee, the Faith, Family, Freedom Fund, is airing ads on 34 Wisconsin radio stations in an effort to influence the April 5 judicial election that could ultimately decide the fate of the law. The ads target Wisconsin Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg, who’s running against a conservative incumbent, David Prosser, for a seat on the state Supreme Court. If elected, Kloppenburg would alter the balance on the court in favor of Democrats, giving them the ability to invalidate the recently enacted ban on public-employee collective bargaining. “Liberals see her as their best hope to advance their political agenda and strike down laws passed by a legislature and governor elected by the people,” say the ads. “A vote for Prosser is a vote to keep politics out of the Supreme Court.”

Roger Bybee of Working In These Times argues that recalling Republican state senators in Wisconsin is not enough to defend workers’ rights from Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-union onslaught.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Audit for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Mulch, The Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Audit: Massive Protest In Wisconsin Shows Walker’s Overreach

7:51 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

Creative Commons, Flickr, Jessie Reeder

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

About 100,000 people gathered in Madison, Wisconsin to protest Gov. Scott Walker’s new anti-collective bargaining law. The state Senate hurriedly past the bill without a quorum last Wednesday. Roger Bybee of Working In These Times reports:

The rally featured 50 farmers on tractors roaring around the Capitol to show their support for public workers and union representatives from across the nation, stressing the importance of the Wisconsin struggle. Protesters were addressed by a lineup of fiery speakers including fillmaker Michael Moore, the Texas populist radio broadcaster Jim Hightower, TV host Laura Flanders, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, and The Progressive editor Matt Rothschild, among others.

The bill is law, but the fight is far from over. The Wisconsin Democratic Party says it already has 45% of the signatures it needs to recall 8 Republican state senators. So far, canvassers have collected 56,000 signatures, up from 14,000 last weekend. The surge in signature gathering is another sign that the Walker government’s abrupt push to pass the bill has energized the opposition.

Polling bolsters the impression that Walker overreached by forcing the bill through with a dubious procedural trick. Simeon Talley of Campus Progress notes that, according to a recent New York Times/CBS News poll, Americans oppose efforts to limit the collective bargaining rights of public employees.

Jamelle Bouie of TAPPED notes that the enthusiasm gap that helped elect Scott Walker last year has disappeared. In June 2o10, 58% of Democrats said they were certain to vote compared to 67% of Republicans. In March 2011, 86% of Democrats and 85% of Republicans surveyed said they would certainly vote.

Firefighters shut down bank

Wisconsin firefighters found a way to get back at one of Scott Walker’s most generous donors, Madison’s M&I Bank, Julianne Escobedo Shepherd reports in AlterNet. Firefighters Local 311 President Joe Conway put a call out to his members who banked with M&I to “Move Your Money.” Firefighters withdrew hundreds of thousands of dollars of savings in cashiers checks. The beleaguered bank closed its doors at 3pm on March 10.

John Nichols of the Nation reports that other unions got in on the act. He quotes a pamphlet distributed by Sheet Metal Workers International Association Local 565:

“M&I execs gave more money than even the Koch Brothers to Governor Walker and the Wisconsin GOP,” the message goes. “M&I got a $1.7 billion bailout while its CEO gets an $18 million golden parachute. Tell M&I Bank: Back Politicians Who Take Away Our Rights (and) We Take Away Your Business.”

Nichols explains that the next big step in the fight to overturn the bill will be the Wisconsin Supreme Court election, set for April 5. Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg is challenging conservative state Supreme Court Justice David Prosser. Legal analysts have raised serious questions about the bill and the process by which it was passed. A court challenge to Walker’s law might stand a better chance if a liberal justice replaces the conservative pro-corporate Prosser.

Guess what? We’re not broke

Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly takes on a GOP talking point, the myth that the United States is broke. It’s a convenient claim for those who wish to make massive cuts to popular programs without having to justify taking them away. If we don’t have the money, we don’t have the money. If it’s a choice between cuts and bankruptcy, cuts suddenly seem not only acceptable, but inevitable.

But the United States has a $15 trillion economy, immense natural resources, a highly educated workforce, and countless other economic advantages. The problem isn’t a lack of resources, it’s extreme inequality of distribution. Over the last 20 years, 56% of income growth has been funneled to the top 1% of the population, with fully one third of that money going to the richest one-tenth of one percent.

Benen notes that the Republicans didn’t think we were broke when they were advocating for a $538 billion tax-cut package, which wasn’t offset by a dime of cuts.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Audit for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Mulch, The Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Audit: Standoff Continues in Wisconsin

8:43 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

Creative Commons, Flickr, antrover

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

The 14 Democratic state senators who fled Wisconsin to thwart the passage of a draconian anti-union have no plans to return.

On Sunday night, a Wall Street Journal blog reported that the senators planned to return soon. Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly found it odd that the piece didn’t contain any direct quotes from the exiled Democrats. The claim that the Democrats were planning to return rested on a paraphrase of State Sen. Mike Miller said about the Democrats coming back. Miller says the Journal misconstrued his remarks and that the Dems are only coming back “when collective bargaining is off the table.”

It would be an odd time for Democrats to return. Republican governor Scott Walker has offered them zero concessions. Furthermore, as Benen observes, Walker’s popularity is plummeting. The latest poll by the Wisconsin Research Institute puts the governor’s approval rating at 43%, with 53% disapproving. A majority of respondents had favorable opinions of state Senate Democrats, public employee unions, and teachers’ unions.

Benen writes:

The significance of these polls can’t be overstated — they stiffen Democratic spines, while making Republicans increasingly nervous about standing behind an unpopular governor with an unpopular plan.

In YES! Magazine, Amy B. Dean explains why every American should care about the situation in Wisconsin. The collective bargaining rights of public employees are the central issue in this standoff. Walker is testing a radical new approach to unions and several other Republican governors are poised to follow his model if he succeeds. It is naive to assume that the war on unions will end with the public sector.

Jobs gap

Writing at The Nation, Chris Hayes explains why Washington doesn’t care about jobs. Hayes argues that Washington elites are insulated from the toll of unemployment by class and geography. The jobless rate for workers with college degrees is only 4.2%, which is less than half of the official unemployment rate of 9% and a quarter of the 16.1% underemployment rate. (The underemployment rate counts both the jobless who are still looking for work and those who have given up and left the labor force.) Furthermore, Hayes notes, the unemployment rate in greater Washington, D.C. is only 5.7%, which is lower than that of any other major city in America. He writes:

What these two numbers add up to is a governing elite that is profoundly alienated from the lived experiences of the millions of Americans who are barely surviving the ravages of the Great Recession. As much as the pernicious influence of big money and the plutocrats’ pseudo-obsession with budget deficits, it is this social distance between decision-makers and citizens that explains the almost surreal detachment of the current Washington political conversation from the economic realities working-class, middle-class and poor people face.

Even as the overall unemployment rate falls, economic recovery proves elusive for many workers of color, Shani O. Hilton reports at Colorlines.com. The February jobs report shows that the economy added 192,000 jobs, with overall unemployment falling by a tenth of a percentage point, bringing joblessness to its lowest rate since 2009. However, the unemployment rates for black and Hispanic workers remained fixed in February, at 15.3% and 11.6%, respectively.

Hilton notes that even if the economy were to add 200,000 jobs a month, it would take three years to bring general employment up to pre-recession levels.

Public innovation

The stereotype is that the private sector drives innovation. However, as Monica Potts reports in The American Prospect, industry’s well-deserved reputation for innovation is built on a foundation of publicly funded basic research. Conservatives often argue that the private sector would pick up the slack if public funding for basic research were reduced. Potts argues that public funding for basic research is essential because companies will naturally gravitate towards research that has an immediate payoff, instead of investing in cultivating deeper scientific understanding through basic research.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Audit for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Mulch, The Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Audit: Police Defy Order to Clear Protesters from Wisconsin Capital

9:18 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

Creative Commons, Flickr, eaghra

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

On Monday afternoon, the Capitol Police in Madison, Wisconsin refused to enforce an order to clear the Capitol building of hundreds of peaceful protesters who have been occupying the site to protest Governor Scott Walker’s plan to eliminate the collective bargaining rights of public employees.

Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! interviews State Rep. Kelda Helen Roys (D), who spent Sunday night in the Capitol building with other protesters. Roys describes what happened at four o’clock on Monday afternoon when the government gave the order to clear the protesters from the building:

And after several hours of the same sorts of scenes that we’ve been seeing all week—singing, chanting, drumming, speechifying—the Capitol police captain, Chief Tubbs, made an announcement, and he said that the protesters that had remained in the building, they were being orderly and responsible and peaceful and there was no reason to eject them from the Capitol.

Police attempted to clear the building of protesters on Sunday night, but they relented when the protesters refused to leave and allowed them to stay another night. On Monday, the police decided not to eject protesters already inside, but no additional activists would be allowed in. The governor plans to deliver his budget address on Tuesday afternoon. Walker is expected to call for spending cuts that could exceed $1 billion dollars.

Gov. Walker has threatened mass public sector layoffs if the Democratic senators do not return from Illinois by March 1. However, the Uptake.com reports that one of the absent legislators, State Sen. Jon Erpenbach, claims Walker is not telling the truth. Erpenbach says the unions have already agreed to come up with the money the governor needs to balance the budget, and therefore, he has no need to lay anyone off to bridge the gap.

Wisconsin 101

Matthew Rothschild of The Progressive describes the epic scale of the Wisconsin protests:

This is the largest sustained rally for the rights of public sector workers that this country has seen in decades — perhaps ever.

The crowds at the state Capitol have swelled from 10,000-65,000 during the first week all the way up to 100,000 on Feb. 26. Hundreds of people occupied the Capitol building with a sit-in and sleep-in for days on end, and total strangers from around the world ordered pizzas for them.

In case you’re still wondering what all of this means, Andy Kroll, Nick Baumann, and Siddhartha Mahanta of Mother Jones have joined forces to bring you this “Wisconsin 101″ primer.

The Republicans in the Wisconsin House passed a bill that would take away collective bargaining rights for public sector unions, restrict their ability to collect dues, and force them to undergo yearly recertification votes. But the bill cannot become law until the state Senate also passes it. Currently, 14 Democratic state senators are hiding out in Illinois to deprive the Republican majority of the quorum they need to vote on the bill. However, as Kroll notes, if only one Democrat breaks faith and returns to Madison, the Republicans will be able to pass the bill.

Nationwide solidarity

Jamilah King of Colorlines.com brings us a photo essay on the solidarity rallies held around the country over the weekend in support of the Wisconsin protesters. From San Francisco to Salt Lake City to Atlanta to New York, people took to the streets in support of the right of workers to organize. Also at Colorlines.com, historian Michael Honey draws parallels between the situation in Wisconsin and Dr. Martin Luther King’s last crusade. Shortly before his assassination, King stood with the sanitation workers of Memphis to demand collective bargaining rights and the power to collect union dues.

George Warner of Campus Progress profiles some young activists who took to the streets of Washington, D.C. to express their solidarity with the Wisconsin protesters. About 1,500 people came out to a rally in support of the protesters on Saturday.

Anonymous strikes again

In a bizarre twist, a loosely organized coalition of anarchic hackers known as “Anonymous” attacked websites linked to Koch Industries on Sunday, Jessica Pieklo reports for Care2.com. The Koch brothers are among Gov. Walker’s most generous benefactors. The hackers launched a distributed denial of service attack on the website of the Koch-funded conservative group Americans for Prosperity.

In addition to generous campaign contributions, the Koch brothers gave $1 million to the Republican Governors Association, which in turn paid for millions of dollars worth of ads against Walker’s opponent in 2010. Walker is evidently very grateful to Koch. Last week, a writer for a Buffalo-based website got Walker on the phone by pretending to be David Koch.

Don’t look now, but…

Meanwhile, in Indiana, the state assembly reconvened on Monday to find most of the 40 Democratic members had decamped for Illinois. The legislators are apparently taking a page from the Wisconsin playbook. Indiana’s Republican governor is trying to pass legislation that would make permanent a ban on collective bargaining by public sector workers and the Democratic legislators are seeking to deny him the 2/3rds quorum required to vote on the bill.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Audit for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Mulch, The Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.