The Differing Prices of Freedom and Profit

Recycling is a noble goal except when it comes to politics. Unless it’s a way forward, pushing the same ideas year after year is ignoble and ignorant. But yet again, we see the return of the single note of the dead horse of the tax cut, with the Republicans grabbing the crop and flailing away, going nowhere. Soundly rejected at the polls, they keep the idea alive that tax cuts are an idea that America can ride.

Rather than prosperity, their argument is really about power. In a government the size of America’s, more important than legislative power, the power to make laws, is budget power, the power to buy and cut, to control the purse. The advantage of politicizing the balance sheet is that buying and cutting happens outside of the public’s eye. Name the builder who got the plumbing contract for your local schools; name the company that makes the cockpit canopies for jet fighters; or the manufacturer of something as common as the military’s MREs (ready to eat meals); I can’t. Through government, we spend lots of money on things we don’t know about and have no idea how much they they cost. We also spend money on services—health care, food—that impact people directly, and these programs are well known.

The Republican path to power doesn’t involve innovation or efficiency; nor is its end goal savings. Their hunger for power recycles the buzz words “tax cut” because it opens the way to changes in the balance sheet and advances the Republican drive for power on different fronts at the same time.

One of the unique properties of democracy is that rights are expanded through government. By the same authority of government, rights can be diminished. For those with intra-gender preference, the expansion of rights to marriage, open military service, survivor’s benefits, child adoption, non-discrimination and job opportunities is tied directly to the powers of government, state and federal. The contraction of rights, say in a woman’s right to choose, also results from attacks led through government, aimed at the money spent to create the opportunities of reproductive choice. State legislation barred money from being used for choice procedures and has piled on building requirements that make it almost impossible to operate a clinic; the costs of the required modifications are too high.

The most basic rights to life and health are attacked by Republicans as entitlements. As a collective system, democracy can serve different views and needs as long as any single position doesn’t seek to be dominant. But the GOP doesn’t seek diversity, it wants dominance. By changing the terms of rights, making them cost-effective, drumming up opposition to taxes and shifting the focus away from freedom, rights are framed as costs. These costs—no longer rights—are declared to put future generations in danger. What is in danger is that future generations will lose these rights as freedoms, as they are phased out by future budget cuts. For health care, the first foray was Ryan’s vouchers, a wholly inadequate support that did not address rising costs.

Republicans also know if rights are diminished, profits expand. While Republicans loudly proclaim the need for cutting debt and taxes by cutting benefits—a policy that takes away the right to health and life to expand someone else’s wealth—they are not serious about cutting costs. Medicaid offers a glaring, easy example. The Veterans Administration can negotiate for the lowest drug prices; Medicaid currently can not. Medicaid can’t even use the payment schedule of Medicare, which is lower in costs than its own. The difference and extra expense is widely known to Congress, but Republicans have repeatedly blocked efforts to fix this loophole and save $185 billion in ten years. Carefully review the list of Republican budget cuts. Each item on the list cuts a benefit while it ignores obvious ways to cut costs. This includes reducing defense spending.

In fact, Republicans will never cut costs; their tax cuts drove the deficit up. And now they demand a larger round of tax cuts paid for by benefit cuts. There’s another reason why the GOP will not cut costs; government costs are private sector profits. So they will keep the issue alive. What they are after are not savings but the costs that support democracy’s rights. They want to reissue to all America Dr. King’s check marked “insufficient funds.”