The consequences of three decades of anti-government Reaganism and free-market extremism are now coming clearly into view, a cruel and brutish America split sharply between a few lucky haves and many desperate have-nots.
As Rep. Paul Ryan proudly declared in unveiling the Republican budget plan for fiscal 2012, "This is not a budget; this is a cause."
It is the "cause" advanced in the modern era by President Ronald Reagan and economist Milton Friedman. It calls for further slashing the tax rate for the richest Americans by another ten percentage points, from 35 percent to 25 percent, while enacting a wide range of domestic spending cuts, including phasing out the Medicare health program for the elderly as it has existed since the 1960s.
Under Ryan's plan, senior citizens in the future would have to select a private health insurance policy with the government paying "premium support" worth about $8,000 to the company, thus shifting a heavier, even crushing, financial burden onto the elderly.
And, since Ryan's plan also would repeal President Barack Obama's health reform, which prohibits insurance companies from excluding coverage of "preexisting conditions," senior citizens suffering from chronic illnesses might find themselves unable to get coverage of those ailments and likely consigned to a premature death.
As medical writer Sheila Guilloton noted about Ryan's plan, "What is not clear or even addressed is the problem of putting eligibility to purchase health insurance back in the hands of the health insurance industry."
Even today, people just shy of Medicare's 65-year-old threshold find themselves either shunned by insurance companies or paying exorbitant amounts. Yet Ryan envisions thrusting Americans over 65 into that same predicament, only worse because they are more likely to have health problems and are less likely to be under a company plan.
"For older people the prospect of getting and paying for private health insurance is daunting," Guilloton wrote "For instance, in Connecticut a PPO with a $5,000 deductible would cost a 60-64 year old and spouse between $1,400 and $1,900 a month. And that cost presumes that they either are part of a company group plan or have no pre-existing conditions.
"The plan to return control of access to health insurance companies without addressing the issue of eligibility and cost control is simply to return to the very pattern of abuse in place before the attempt at health care reform."
The elimination of Obama's health-care reform also would remove requirements that insurance companies devote a high percentage of their premiums to medical services rather than diverting the money to higher executive salaries and greater profits.
In other words, Ryan's plan would fatten the insurance industry's bottom line by squeezing the elderly on health care. In effect, the plan would create a free-market "death panel" by forcing many senior citizens to skip necessary care.
Ryan also would "save" large sums by turning the Medicaid program for the poor into a state block grant system, which would leave states little choice but to also turn their backs on many sick and disabled.
No Balanced Budget
Yet, even as Ryan touts his goal of cutting government spending by more than $6.2 trillion over the next decade, compared to Obama's budget, Ryan's plan would still not result in a balanced federal budget for nearly three decades, let alone pay off the accumulated national debt.
That's because Ryan would accompany his steep spending cuts with lower tax rates for the wealthiest Americans. And those lower tax rates -- based on an ideological devotion to Reagan's "trickle-down economics" and Friedman's "free-market" extremism -- have been a principal cause of the debt problem.
Remember just a decade ago, after President Bill Clinton and the congressional Democrats raised the tax rates modestly, the U.S. government was running a surplus and was on a path to eliminate the entire federal debt.