National Commentary

Our Safety Net

Why do the Republican lawmakers want to gut the government social programs that help the elderly, the poor, the sick and the disabled? It will be at their own political peril, I hope.

Why do the Republican lawmakers want to gut the government social programs that help the elderly, the poor, the sick and the disabled? It will be at their own political peril, I hope.

If the Republicans want to solve the $14 trillion deficit problem, they might start by reducing Congressional salaries, perks and pensions. It’s the tax payers who bailed out the banks who were too big to fail – without a quid pro quo of bank loans to small businesses and needy individuals. Since then, the banks have paid big bonuses to their top executives. Why?

The new GOP freshmen who swept the last election, thanks to the support of the Tea Party, seem to think they have a mandate to kill the New Deal programs, which were designed to help the helpless. Remember the Tea Partier’s caveat in warning that they do not want the federal government to mess with their Medicare. Understand?

The GOP got its comeuppance. In a recent election, Kathy Hochul, the Democratic clerk of Erie County, N.Y., defeated Jane Corwin in a district that had been solidly Republican for over 40 years. Hochul hammered on House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s proposal to privatize the Medicare program by using vouchers as subsidies. Lawmakers running in the 2012 national elections should take heed against tampering with the Great Society programs to solve the nation’s debt problems.

The Ryan proposal will not affect seniors until 2022, but has instilled fear in those who count on the future safety net programs during their old age. The Ryan plan passed the House, but has been blocked in the Senate. It seems the Republican freshmen in the House have a lot to learn about this country. They assumed their election victory was a mandate to kill the safety net programs.

The GOP failed to destroy Social Security during the last Bush administration, which proposed to privatize the program, enacted during the Great Depression, a time of much suffering in the nation. President Franklin D. Roosevelt became aware of the plight of the elderly during those depression years and was moved to do something to assist older Americans.

There are now 47 million Americans most of whom depend on that monthly check to pay for their food and shelter. Since it was enacted in 1935, Social Security has been expanded to include orphans and the disabled.

Medicare was signed into law by Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965, in Independence, Missouri, at the desk of President Harry S. Truman. Truman was the first to propose national medical coverage for all Americans. He stood by smiling when Johnson signed the Medicare bill into law, a dream come true.

The Republican leaders in Congress have vowed to vote against any increase in taxes to solve the nation’s fiscal dilemma. Without any new revenue, they are also standing firm against wiping out the generous tax breaks. In other words, the burden of the nation’s debt has to be carried on those who can least afford it.

Suddenly, the lawmakers are coming to the conclusion that our wars – unwinnable – in Iraq and Afghanistan, cost money. For the first time lawmakers are starting to question the cost expenditures for the 10 year Afghanistan war and the eight years in Iraq. Especially in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s death, how can we justify spending $113 billion when we are literally going bankrupt? President Barack Obama has promised to begin some pull out of the troops. The human cost has already been too much for both wars. But at last we are publicly addressing the financial cost.

Ironically, most of the nations of the world, including the western industrialized countries and the underdeveloped, have humanitarian systems for their needy people. Why not America, now in the throes of a very slow recovery from the recession, with millions still jobless and no breakthrough in sight?

President Obama must start creating programs to put millions of people back to work. The economy is expected to be the primary issue in the 2012 election. Are we our brother’s keeper? Or are we the providers for the welfare of the nation’s bankers and insurance companies? That’s the question voters will have to decide.