By Bill Boyarsky
White House/Pete Souza
We Obama apologists had grown desperate. The mangled launch of Obamacare, the persecution of journalists and their sources, and the unimaginable NSA spying had us almost sorry we’d supported him.
Then along came Paul Ryan. On the very day the Affordable Care Act squeaked past its 7 million signup goal, the congressman brought home the sheer meanness of the Republican approach with his latest budget plan. As Democratic Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois said, “Thank you, thank you Congressman Paul Ryan for reminding us what the Republicans would do if they had control.”
Maybe we apologists haven’t been wrong, after all. President Barack Obama celebrated a victory when he announced that 7.1 million people had signed up for Obamacare through the federal and state exchanges, 3 million young adults had been assured of coverage by staying on their family’s plan, and millions more gained insurance protection through the expansion of Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. In addition, an undetermined number of people have signed up privately, outside the exchanges, for policies that comply with the Affordable Care Act.
These numbers will change in the next several months. Glenn Kessler, writing in The Washington Post, liked the way Obama presented the figures, but he urged prudence. “In general, politicians need to be cautious in how they talk about the ACA enrollments. You can’t just add up figures from various reports, with different methodologies, without getting in trouble. Obama’s more recent language, with his transparent explanation of the various numbers, is in the ballpark.”
This means that Obamacare is becoming entrenched in our national safety net, with millions already receiving benefits.
Carol White, a retired Minnesota resident, saw this when she volunteered as an Obamacare signup aide for the state exchange, MNsure, which had trouble getting started. In a piece for the Minneapolis StarTribune, she wrote:
“While the process was often long and filled with website lockups and deletions, MNsure enrollees were remarkably patient and appreciative of the efforts of the navigators. I think of newspaper photos of people in long lines waiting patiently to vote for the first time in some far-off small country.
“At my second enrollment event, a young mom came out of the enrollment room with a huge smile. She had come the previous Thursday and stayed for three hours, unsuccessful in finishing the enrollment. She returned on a Saturday for another hour and said that for the first time, she and her two special-needs children would have health insurance.
“At another event, families with older non-English-speaking immigrants came and there was someone who could speak Hmong or Somali to help them get insured.
“At my last event, a woman walked in with four school-aged children trailing her. After an hour, she came out with teary eyes and said to us: ‘I tried to use the website myself at home and I thought insurance would cost me $500 per month. Here I found out that my children qualify for Medicaid and my insurance will cost me $46 a month. I just went through a terrible divorce, and now I know I’m going to make it.’ ”
She wouldn’t make it under the budget proposal announced by Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican who was his party’s vice presidential candidate in 2012.
The Affordable Care Act would be repealed if Ryan has his way. The divorced mother might be given a tax rebate to shop on her own for insurance in a market stripped of even the weak regulation of Obamacare. She would no longer be assured of being able to buy a policy that doesn’t ban those with pre-existing conditions. Instead, she would be shopping in a hostile marketplace.
Instead of an expansion of Medicaid to many more of the working poor, the Ryan plan would cut it back. Funds would be given to states in block grants, leaving benefits up to those Republican governors and legislatures that have fought so hard against the Affordable Care Act.
In a special touch of meanness, college students would be hit hard. Pell Grants, which help them through school, would be cut by $90 billion and students would be charged interest while still in school, bringing in $40 billion to the government.
And Ryan’s government would need it. He proposes cutting the corporate tax rate from 36 percent to 25 percent.
Unbelievably, Ryan has proposed all this while the federal deficit is shrinking, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Ryan’s rigid ideology has made him oblivious to the facts.
Richard Kogan of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities wrote, “Some 69 percent of the cuts in ... Ryan’s new budget would come from programs that serve people of limited means, our forthcoming report finds. These disproportionate cuts—which likely account for at least $3.3 trillion of the budget’s $4.8 trillion in non-defense cuts over the next decade—contrast sharply with the budget’s rhetoric about helping the poor and promoting opportunity.”
This is the unchanging Republican vision. If you put it up against the Affordable Care Act, we apologists have nothing to apologize for.
White House/Pete Souza