The design behind the Republican voucher plans: Medicare and Education
John Locke wrote that “a long train of abuses, prevarications, and artifices, all tending the same way, make the design visible to the people” Two voucher proposals, the Ryan Medicare plan in Washington and the Piccola education voucher plan in Harrisburg, show us the real design of the Republican Party today— to help the very rich by harming working people.
Both proposals claim to address real problems. Congressman Ryan’s plan is meant to deal with the long term costs of Medicare. State Senator Piccola’s plan supposedly helps low-income kids who attend failing schools.
However, the proposals will not meet those goals. The Medicare plan does nothing to reduce the costs of senior health care. Indeed, it repeals the Affordable Care Act which would reduce those costs by $500 billion in the first ten years, and far more later.
The education voucher plan won’t help many low income students leave failing public schools to attend good private schools. It does nothing to guarantee space in those schools. And the vouchers don’t begin to cover the costs of attending good private schools. A Republican staff report admits that the vast majority of students who receive vouchers will be those already attending private school.
By undermining the public sector, both plans harm the people they are meant to serve. The Republican plan shifts the costs of health care from the federal government to seniors by replacing Medicare with a voucher to purchase private insurance. The voucher covers only half the cost of private health insurance in the first year and won’t keep pace with increases in health care costs thereafter. By 2030, 65-year-olds will be paying an average 68 percent of their Medicare coverage costs, compared with 25 percent today.
Multiple experiments with vouchers show that they do little to improve education. And nothing in the Pennsylvania plan holds private schools accountable for offering a safe, let alone good, education. What’s worse, by the third year, the plan will take $1 billion away from our public schools—in addition to the $1 billion reduction proposed by Governor Corbett—making problem schools worse and undermining more effective schools.
Once the plans undermine public education and senior health programs, political support for them will decline. Support will vanish for a Medicare replacement that does little to provide health care for seniors. Support for public schools that fail because they are severely under-funded will also disappear.
These results will not be an accident. They are intended by the Republicans. Paul Ryan is an acolyte of the libertarian Ayn Rand, who opposed both public education and Medicare. Look at the websites of the organizations spending immense sums in support of vouchers and you will see that their ultimate goal is to “end government involvement in education.”
The voucher proposals in Washington and Harrisburg are a foot in the door for extremists who intend to radically change the historic role of government in education and health care. American prosperity was created both by our free market and by public education, which has given us the most productive and well paid workforce in the world. Medicare has dramatically improved the well-being of our seniors. And the amazing accomplishments of American medicine are in no small part due to federal support of medical research, tertiary care hospitals, and the training of our doctors.
It is not just ideology but self-interest that drives the radical right and the billionaires that fund it. The rich benefit from huge reductions in the public sector benefit in two ways. First, they make further cuts in taxes possible. Federal taxes as a percentage of GDP have dropped to levels not seen since 1950. That’s still not low enough for some greedy billionaires and corporate executives, even though they have received most of the benefits of economic growth in the last 15 years.
Second, as the Republican staff of the Congressional Joint Economic Committee said in March, “a smaller government workforce increases the available supply of educated, skilled workers for private firms, thus lowering labor costs.” Lower wages for us means higher short term profits for corporations.
The contemporary right wing believes that businesses and the rich do well only when the rest of us do poorly. But, throughout our history, America has shown that an highly educated, high wage work force and a substantial public sector strengthens businesses and the economy. The ultimate design of the proponents of radical voucher plans, then, is to reverse this history. That’s why we must stop these extremist, un-American voucher plans now.