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US budget talks target $1 trillion in cuts

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A separate survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, released Wednesday, showed that 60 percent of the people "would prefer to keep Medicaid as it is, with the federal government guaranteeing coverage and setting minimum standards for benefits and eligibility."

Medicaid is the principal underwriter of medical care for the poor and the disabled and of nursing home care for many elderly people. More than 40 percent of Medicaid recipients are disabled and cannot work.

Only 13 percent in the Kaiser survey supported "major" reductions in Medicaid spending to reduce the federal deficit, while 30 percent supported only "minor" reductions, and the rest opposed any reductions at all.

In an indication of the impact of recession and cuts in benefits, some 69 million people are now covered by Medicaid. The Kaiser survey found that about half the population reported that someone close to them has been or is receiving Medicaid benefits.

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The mass support for these social programs is expressed only in a very contradictory and distorted way in the official political system. Last year, Republicans profited from the cuts in Medicare that were incorporated into the Obama health-care reform plan to pay for the limited extension of coverage to the uninsured. There was a sharp swing to the Republicans among the elderly, and dozens of Republican congressional candidates defeated Democratic incumbents by indicting them for cutting Medicare.

Then these same House Republicans last month approved the plan drafted by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan that would abolish Medicare entirely and replace it with a "premium support" plan based on private insurance, with the elderly forced to pay the lion's share of their health-care costs.

In the first contest since the emergence of the Ryan plan, Tuesday's special election in New York's 26th congressional district, the Republicans lost a safe seat outside Buffalo to a Democratic candidate who campaigned almost exclusively against the attack on Medicare. Elderly voters, including those identifying themselves as Republicans, voted to repudiate the Ryan plan.

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Hoping to capitalize politically on the New York result, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid brought the House Republican budget, including the Ryan plan, up for a vote Wednesday. The measure was defeated by 57-40, with five Republicans joining all the Democrats against it.

This is a transparent political stunt, aimed at allowing the Democrats to posture as defenders of Medicare, even while the two parties continue their backroom talks on how to slash Medicare, Medicaid and other vital programs.

The Senate's top Republican, Mitch McConnell, gave perhaps the bluntest explanation of what is now taking place in Washington, during a meeting with Barack Obama Monday at the White House. He proposed a deal on entitlement programs such as the one negotiated by Republican Ronald Reagan and Democrat Tip O'Neill -- then the House Speaker -- on Social Security in 1983.

McConnell recounted how, in his first Senate election campaign in 1984, he was never asked his opinion on the Social Security deal, which raised the retirement age gradually to 67 and cut future benefits. "The reason for that was they did it together," McConnell said. "And when you do something big and difficult together, it's not usable in the next election."

The Democrats and the Republicans make a backroom deal that the American people never have the opportunity to vote against, because both parties support it. Here is the logic, not merely of "bipartisanship," but of the entire two-party system. Both parties do the bidding of the financial elite, and neither party can be held accountable when they work together.

Such brazen cynicism only underscores the political challenge facing working people in the United States. It is necessary to break with the two-party system and build an independent mass political movement of the working class, based on a socialist program, to defend jobs, living standards and social services, and oppose the social counterrevolution being conducted by both the big business parties.

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Patrick Martin writes for the World Socialist Website (wsws.org), a forum for socialist ideas & analysis & published by the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI).

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