This past Wednesday, the neoconservative majority in Washington, on the heels of the State of the Union address, made front-page news by taking a minuscule but tragic bite out of the budget of the United States in the name of "financial integrity."
The size of the cuts, $39.5 million over the next five years, wasn't what left the neoconservatives glowing, it was the fundamental guiding principal behind them - the absolute end of government assistance programs. Representative Mike Pence called the cuts "a step toward restoring public confidence." Sadly, it wasn't the public that gained confidence in the 216-214 vote Tuesday afternoon. A paper-cut wound in government spending at the expense of society's weakest will inspire confidence only in those whose wealth and power is inexorably linked to the continued rise and ultimate success of the neoconservative Medusa.
It will be 2010 before the Treasury Department ultimately realizes all of the financial benefits of these cuts. Breaking the cuts further down, they represent under $8 billion a year in savings, or less than $2 billion a quarter. Real money? Absolutely. But considering that the tab for the conflict in Iraq is now over $18 billion a quarter and the State Department spends many times that every three months, the savings are insignificant. The money is immaterial to the our country's financial position, but the moral of the cuts is as paramount to the Medusa as the financial effects will be devastating to our less-fortunate friends and neighbors.
After the bill passed by just two votes, Roy Blount stated that "Certainly, if we hadn't won, it would have been a huge thing." Not realizing savings that are the smallest of crumbs in our budget would have been huge? No. What is huge to the neoconservatives is the fact that despite President Bush's low ratings, they maintain the ability to pursue one of their core goals: that any vestage of a social assistance program must be eliminated; without question, comment, concern or opposition.
Their quest for the holy grail of the end of Social Security may be temporarily stalled, but their vision for an America where the fundamental concept of government assistance is relegated forever to the history books is alive and well. These cuts prove that even the smallest, most compassionate assistance programs will be attacked as a weakness of our system not as an act of humanity for the less fortunate.
The writing and passage of this bill not only shows the goals of the Medusa but also demonstrates how clearly quid pro quo the relationship is between the businesses who fund the neoconservative agenda and the legislation we all now have to live with. The bill wasn't written by Congressional staffers or aides, it was crafted by and for the benefit of the drug and insurance companies. The core strategy is equal parts brilliance and evil: in the name of "budget cuts" and "financial integrity" corporate America increases its profits at the expense not of the average American but of the weakest members of our society.
Some highlights from this legislation:
The most tragic cuts are in the Medicaid health care program for the poor and disabled, the most vulnerable of the vulnerable in our land. Less than $1 billion a year will be saved by the forced increases in co-payments the under-privileged must make for prescription drugs. The government saves relative pennies as millions of Americans are forced to decide among the basics of heat, food and the drugs to help them live. This nod to "financial integrity" is the moral equivalent of a family with Household Income of $150,000 a year locking the dog in the basement and letting him starve to save three buchs a month.
All Medicare beneficiaries will see higher premiums. And there's also a freeze in payments to home health care providers. As Boomers turn sixty, as our population ages, we are punishing those who are helping our parents and our aunts and uncles live at home in dignity. But for the neoconservatives, the principal of the end of social assistance far outweighs the human toll their policies will wreak.
Finally, the bill requires that interest rates rise on student loans - for both the popular Stafford loans and the relatively-rare PLUS loans. The rate on the latter will jump from 6.1% to 8.5% while the former will increase to 6.8% from 5.3% on July 1st. 10 million American students need these loans every year to go to college; a country's future is built upon the foundation of its citizen's education and yet, the neoconservaties are actively and intentionally pursuing an agenda that makes the dream of a college degree harder to realize rather than easier. Who would intentionally make a loan for a college education substantially more expensive than a mortgage for a home? Now you know.
Perhaps some reading this are wondering if, in a time of war and terror, a bill like this could have slid through without the Bush Administration knowing or understanding the true impact of the legislation. Well, considering last December when the Senate debated these cuts, the deciding voice was cast by Vice President Cheney, I think the administration's position is clear. The goals of these cuts are not at the periphery of the neoconservative vision, they are at the heart and soul of it.
The last word belongs to Representative Sherwood Boehlert of the majority. The present course is unsustainable, we can't keep cutting taxes and cutting revenues, while cutting programs to protect the most vulnerable in society."
Somewhere, the Medusa chuckles. Sustainable? You better believe it is.