By Bill Boyarsky
Watching Mitt Romney talk about the 47 percent of Americans he says are freeloaders, I thought of Paul Ryan’s mom, a Medicare recipient.
I also thought of the hypocrisy of the Romney-Ryan ticket, how it has tried to hide the extent of its right-wing economics, an effort that was exposed by Romney’s now-famous speech to rich contributors in April secretly recorded on video and then released this week by Mother Jones. That was the real Romney talking.
Romney’s comments put Paul Ryan’s mother, Betty Ryan Douglas, 78, a retiree, into the freeloader category, along with many in the Ryan family, including the vice presidential nominee himself.
Ryan, speaking at a rally at a Florida retirement community in August, said, with his mother watching, Medicare, “was there for our family, for my grandma, when we needed it then, and Medicare is there for my mom while she needs it now and we need to keep that guarantee.” Although he seemed sincere, his “guarantee” would probably destroy Medicare. We’ll get to that later.
Back to the freeloaders in Ryan’s family: His grandmother, on Medicare, suffered from Alzheimer’s and moved into the Ryan home, occupying a room next to Paul’s. When his father died, his mother enrolled at the University of Wisconsin, a public university supported by government money, to prepare for a career. Ryan, himself, attended Miami University in Ohio with the help of the Social Security survivors benefits he received after his father’s death.
These are the kinds of benefits mocked by Romney in his speech to rich contributors.
Romney said, “There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. ... [M]y job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives. ...” He also complained that this 47 percent doesn’t pay federal income tax.
Actually, as Nancy Cook wrote in the National Review this week, most of those who pay no federal income tax (46.4 percent to be precise) do pay federal payroll taxes for Medicare and Social Security. “The people who pay neither make up just 18.1 percent of the non-taxpaying population and these people are dirt poor…either elderly people or workers who earn less than $20,000 a year,” Cook reported.
The major significance of the Romney speech was the way it exposed the hypocrisy of the Romney-Ryan campaign.
The pledge Ryan made at the Florida retirement community to save Medicare was misleading. Instead of the benefits now provided by Medicare, Ryan, beginning in 2023, would give beneficiaries vouchers to purchase private insurance or traditional Medicare policies. Since his plan has strict cost limits, chances are the vouchers would cover a smaller part of medical costs each year. The eligibility age would rise from 65 to 67. Moreover, the private plans, by offering high deductibles and benefits such as health clubs, could draw the healthiest patients away from the traditional Medicare plan, which would be stuck with the sickest and most expensive beneficiaries, eventually dooming the program.
The voucher system for Medicare is just part of the Ryan economic plan, adopted by Romney.
It would wipe out much of the federal government, as we now know it, reducing and crippling programs that are an essential part of the safety net. Federal funds to states and local governments would be cut for education, road and transit construction, public health and law enforcement. More than 60 percent of the cuts in the Ryan plan would come from programs for low-income people, such as Medicaid, Pell Grants for higher education, food stamps and job training.
And finally, there are taxes, one of the main subjects of the Romney speech to contributors.
The Romney-Ryan plan would decrease taxes for the wealthy, but leave them the same for low-income Americans, or, in the case of those earning less than $30,000 a year, actually raise taxes. This is because the Ryan plan would end certain deductions, tax credits and other measures installed in the tax code to help the poor.
As Nancy Cook noted in her National Journal article, these provisions were backed by Republican Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, who favored tax breaks for the working poor and families with children. The presence of the Reagan-Bush tax breaks for the poor in the tax code is a major reason why so many of Romney’s 47 percent pay no taxes.
Under a Romney administration, they’ll have to pay up. And so will middle class recipients of government benefits such as Medicare, as its costs rise and recipients’ benefits diminish.
Medicare isn’t an entitlement, as Romney and many others dismiss such government programs. Paul Ryan’s mother and every other recipient earned it. They paid for it with federal payroll taxes.
If anyone is sitting on the fence in this election, they should watch the Romney tapes. Ryan’s mom should watch them, too. She’ll see smug fat cats, including Romney, in action, blathering about taxes and contemptuous of those who depend on government help.
I’m not expecting Ryan’s mother to vote against her son. But the rest of us should.