Just how much the welfare state has damaged America's political culture over the past 50 years was demonstrated on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday, when former House speaker and current Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich dug a political knife into the back of House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan -- who is the most effectively outspoken fiscal conservative in Congress.
The knife had been handed to Newt by "Meet the Press" host David Gregory.
"Do you think that Republicans ought to buck the public opposition and really move forward to completely change Medicare, turn it into a voucher program where you give seniors some premium support ... so that they can go out and buy private insurance?" Gregory asked Gingrich, alluding to the Medicare reform plan included as a long-term policy goal in the House Republican budget authored by Ryan.
"I don't think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering," said Gingrich. "I don't think imposing radical change from the right or the left is a very good way for a free society to operate."
So, what change does Gingrich want? On "Meet the Press," the former speaker went on to suggest that Medicare could be reformed by preventing it from paying "$70 billion and $120 billion a year to crooks."
"But not what Paul Ryan is suggesting, which is completely changing Medicare," asked Gregory.
"I think that that is too big a jump," said Gingrich. "I think what you want to have is a system where people voluntarily migrate to better outcomes, better solutions, better options, not one where you suddenly impose upon the -- I don't want to -- I'm against Obamacare, which is imposing radical change, and I would be against a conservative imposing radical change."
Clearly, Gingrich was suggesting here -- on the liberal establishment media's premier Sunday talk show -- that Ryan's proposal for long-term Medicare reform is somehow akin to Obamacare and would "suddenly impose" on Americans what Gingrich believes is "radical change."
Let's start with the historical perspective.
How many Americans received Medicare benefits in 1789, when George Washington was elected president? Zero.
How many Americans received Medicare benefits in 1964, when Lyndon Johnson was elected president? Zero.
Medicare was signed into law by LBJ in 1965. From the founding of the Republic until then, American seniors and their families -- sometimes with help from local communities and states -- took care of their own health care. The federal government did not provide seniors with health care and could not take it away.
Then LBJ and a Democratic Congress socialized the health care system for Americans over 65.
Socialism had not worked in the other places it had been tried, and it did not work in the health care system for American seniors.
As of now, Medicare is the main force driving America toward bankruptcy. In January, the Government Accountability Office figured that under one projection (in which current tax rates were generally maintained) "roughly 89 cents of every dollar of federal revenue will be spent on net interest costs, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid by 2020."
To deal with the impending fiscal catastrophe, House Budget Chairman Ryan came up with a long-term budget plan that would cut $6.2 trillion in government spending over the next decade compared to President Obama's budget proposal. Along the way, Ryan's plan would reform entitlements to get the federal budget on a trajectory toward a long-term balance and to begin liberating people from government dependency.
Despite Gingrich's description, Ryan's Medicare reform plan is not radical change.
First, it would not in any way impact Medicare for people 55 or over today. They would keep the current system.
Second, younger Americans would have more than a decade to get ready for the new system.
"Starting in 2022, new Medicare beneficiaries will be enrolled in the same kind of health care program that members of Congress enjoy," says Ryan's budget plan. "Future Medicare recipients will be able to choose from a list of guaranteed coverage options, and they will be given the ability to choose a plan that works best for them. This is not a voucher program, but rather a premium-support model. A Medicare premium-support payment would be paid, by Medicare, to the plan chosen by the beneficiary, subsidizing its cost."
"The Medicare premium-support payment would be adjusted so that wealthier beneficiaries would receive a lower subsidy, the sick would receive a higher payment if their conditions worsened, and lower-income seniors would receive additional assistance to cover out-of-pocket costs," says the plan.
This does not get America back to 1965, when seniors were not dependent on the government for health care. They will still be dependent.
But it will introduce a little market discipline into the system, where instead of having the government ration care -- like they do in completely socialistic systems -- people will have some latitude to pick and choose what type of plan they want to purchase.
Newt Gingrich's reaction to Ryan's plan on "Meet the Press" exemplified the debilitating effect establishing a welfare state has on the nation. Not only do people tend to become satisfied with government dependency, but politicians become pandering fools for it.
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