Last weekend, all over the United States 21st Century Town Hall Meetings were held by an organization that calls itself AmericaSpeaks. The town hall meetings focused on the budget and economy in America and featured a particular focus on cutting deficits.
Leaders from health care organizations like Healthcare-Now! and Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), which both continue to advocate for a publicly financed system of health care in this country, sounded the alarm (along with others) when they heard that AmericaSpeaks was funding efforts for organized citizen input into the conversation on how to balance the budget and fix the economy.
The following videos feature Margaret Flowers of PNHP and Katie Robbins of Healthcare-Now!. They were both interviewed at the US Social Forum in Detroit. (For more info on the US Social Forum, click here.)
The two talked about how the US Social Forum was re-energizing their organizations' push for Medicare for All and addressed the latest development or possible threat to social programs in this country, AmericaSpeaks "21st Century Town Hall Meetings," funded by interests unopposed to cutting Social Security and Medicare to address economic problems in the United States.
Both had plans to attend the AmericaSpeaks meeting on Saturday, June 26th, on Wayne State University's campus and protest. The meeting was tucked away in the center of campus, free from public visibility. There were maybe twenty people who showed up to protest. Those who came to protest found out they could go into the AmericaSpeaks meeting and participate in town hall meeting.
The two went inside and attended the meeting. Afterward, I caught up with Flowers and talked about the meeting -- who was in attendance, what agenda was being pushed, the setup and process of the meeting, etc.
There was much indication after the AmericaSpeaks meetings on the budget and economy took place for six and a half hours that the American people were able to beat back the free enterprise agenda that those behind the AmericaSpeaks were hoping participants would support. For example, Frances Perkins wrote about attending a meeting in Augusta, Maine. While expressing an understanding that the organizers would likely spin the results and continue to spin the results to advance their agenda, Perkins concluded:
Here's the real story: More than 3500 people in cities across the United States came together to sit at tables with strangers for six and a half hours to work on reducing the 2025 deficit, and this was their overwhelming answer to the problems we face: "We do not shrink from raising taxes on those most able to pay. This means those in the top two tax brackets. This means Wall Street. We do not shrink from cutting the military budget. And we do not shrink from taxing the use of fossil fuels." What a challenge to Congress, which dares not do any of these things. May it give our representatives courage.
That one would conclude this is especially interesting given the report from the Center for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) that many participants left the discussion still very misinformed on why the budget and economy continues to be in the state it is in:
When asked how average wages would compare in 2040 to the present, almost half (46.7 Percent) answered that they would be the same or lower. Only 22.7 percent correctly answered that they are projected to be more than 15 percent higher in 2040. (The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects that real wages will be on average 38.8 percent higher in 2040 while the Social Security Trustees project that they will be 34.8 percent higher.) The growth path of average wages would likely have been an important piece of background information in considering some measures, such as a phased increase in the Social Security tax.
The Center's findings on what attendees knew about Medicare and Social Security when they left are intriguing as well:
The participants were much better informed on the problem of health care in the United States. Eighty two percent correctly answered that health care costs much more in the United States than in Canada and Western European. Interestingly, participants were given no options with regard to reducing overall health care costs. The booklet prepared for the session only gave participants options for reducing public sector health care spending by cutting Medicare and other public programs.
Participants did not seem well informed about the health of the Social Security program. This is perhaps not surprising since the booklets prepared for the session never discussed the trust fund and the projections of the Social Security trustees or the CBO. The Social Security trustees project that the program will be able to pay all scheduled benefits for the next 27 years while CBO projects it can pay all benefits for the next 33 years. Only 31.1 percent correctly answered that the program could pay benefits for more than 25 years even if no changes are made. 23.0 percent thought that the program would first run short of money in less than 15 years.
This may say more about the intentions and agenda of the organizers than any open discussion of the people who serve on the Board of Directors and Board of Advisors for AmericaSpeaks or those who are in the Facilitators or Associates Network of AmericaSpeaks.
The lack of knowledge citizens left with on Social Security, Medicare, wages, the budget, etc possibly indicates there is some data and information on Social Security, Medicare, wages, the budget, etc that the people behind the deficit-cutting agenda don't want citizens to know. It possibly indicates organizers have no interest in dealing with people who would really know the state of Social Security, Medicare, wages, the budget, etc in this country because then they might favor (even more) the strengthening of these social programs, the raising of taxes on people in higher income brackets, and increased cuts to defense spending.
For the time being, the debate is still open. Both Flowers and Robbins recently testified before the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform on June 30 in Washington.
Here is an excerpt from Robbins' testimony before the Commission:
According to Harvard University studies, eliminating the waste of the multi-payer private insurance industry and moving to a single-payer system will save $400 billion a year. More savings are found in cost controls that a single-payer system can provide such as negotiating drug costs and medical equipment, and global budgeting for hospitals.
Since H.R. 676 [Medicare for All] was introduced in 2003, it has received tremendous support including endorsements by 582 union organizations in 49 states, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, 63 local governments which include 10 of the nation's 30 largest cities, the Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church, the Unitarian Universalist Church, the Union for Reform Judaism, the United Church of Christ, and the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, and the majority of nurses, patients, and physicians...