On May 25, Republicans in the U.S. Senate followed their colleagues in the House of Representatives in a high-profile vote to end Medicare. It's difficult to imagine politicians would openly declare they want to end a hugely popular program that has benefited millions of Americans, but it's been an increasingly strange season in national politics in recent years.
Several phrases come to mind when considering the Republicans' position on this vote: One is "walking into a buzzsaw," and another is "lemmings following each other over the cliff." Or how about "walking the plank." Take your pick. It's bizarre how ostensibly savvy politicians could make such a colossal misjudgment.
In last Wednesday's dramatic vote -- which Americans will be hearing more and more about as the 2012 elections slowly draw closer -- 40 of the Senate's 47 Republicans went on record officially backing a national budget plan promoted by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. The budget includes a provision to get rid of Medicare by phasing it out and then privatizing it.
Ryan's budget plan passed in the House of Representatives last month as virtually every Republican member of Congress voted to support it. Only four Republicans -- in addition to every Democratic Party House member -- voted "No" on what can only be categorized as a Bizarro World budget. It's a budget proposal in which middle class and poor families are asked to sacrifice in order to maintain tax cuts for the wealthiest among us and to continue to pay for multi-billion dollar subsidies to the oil and gas industry.
The bill Republicans have been supporting would, over the next decade, replace Medicare with a "subsidy" to buy regulated insurance on an exchange. The value of the subsidy would shrink over time relative to health care costs -- requiring seniors to pay increasingly more for their medical bills.
Proponents of the plan are quick to point out that Medicare won't change for anyone already over 55 -- as if that makes ending Medicare in the future no big deal. All of us, if we live long enough, are going to be over 55 at some point. And most of us would like to have Medicare there to help us out with our medical bills.
Yet the good news is, citizens appear to be wide awake and strongly pushing back on the direction Republicans are trying to take this country.
Look no further than a special election to fill a congressional vacancy in New York on May 24, the day before the Senate went on record. In a heavily Republican congressional district -- one which Republicans had held almost exclusively since the Civil War -- the Democratic Party candidate won comfortably.
How Republican was that district? In 2008, John McCain carried the district over Barack Obama, and in the 2010 election, the Republican congressional candidate won with 74 percent of the vote. Yet on May 24, a Democrat won the seat. How? By promising to defend Medicare.
Yet the next day, Ryan said he still believes his approach is the proper one and he is not backing away from it, saying he believes Americans want this type of change.
The basic issue seems to be that Republicans, as a guiding philosophy, do not believe in government these days. They seem to believe that private industry is best suited to handle virtually everything. So even when a program works very well -- Social Security, for example -- they would prefer to turn everyone's account over to Wall Street insiders rather than allow the federal government to continue to operate it.
The good news is, Republicans are coming out into the open with these beliefs. This will allow Americans to vote accordingly. The results in New York give us hope that most citizens understand the stark dangers in blindly accepting the Ryan blueprint for America.