Written by Roshni Nedungadi and Crescent Parker, Interns at One Wisconsin Now
It looks like Representative Paul Ryan's expensive taste in wine extends to his expensive taste in constituent mailings. This time though, it's on the taxpayer's dime.
Rep. Ryan has recently released a four-page brochure to his constituents entitled "The Facts about Preserving Medicare," that he has filled with untruths and pictures of a number of happy, smiling senior citizens. He claims, "I want you to hear the truth from me," and then goes on to lie about how the changes to Medicare in his budget plan will affect his constituents.
A copy of the brochure can be found here: http://www.onewisconsinnow.org/blog/Ryan%20Medicare%20Piece.pdf
For example, Rep. Ryan says that for current retirees, age 55 or older, there will be no changes in their healthcare caused by the Medicare reforms. This is simply untrue. The Congressional Budget Office looked at the reforms and noted that the proposal would increase the amount of cost-sharing that most beneficiaries are required to pay for covered health services. The higher deductibles and co-insurance would increase costs for most beneficiaries, especially for those who experience a hospital stay.
Under the health reform law that Ryan wishes to repeal, insurers in the exchanges may not charge the oldest enrollees more than three times as much as the youngest ones. Currently the average cost of covering the oldest enrollees is over five times the cost of covering the youngest. As premiums for everyone in the exchange rise because of the influx of 65 and 66-year-olds, some of the healthiest unsubsidized participants would drop coverage, which would increase premiums further for everyone else. If health reform were repealed, as Rep. Ryan favors, increasing Medicare's eligibility age would leave many 65 and 66-year-olds unable to obtain health insurance at any price because of chronic medical conditions that would render them uninsurable.
As if that was not enough damage for Ryan to inflict with his budget reforms, his cuts to Medicare, as outlined in the Roadmap he released in January, go on to do even worse. The federal government would no longer pay a specified share of states' Medicare costs but would pay each state only a fixed amount, or block grant. The amount of the Medicare voucher and the Medicaid block grant would grow less rapidly than costs and hence would become increasingly inadequate over time. The proposal would also repeal the Community Living Assistance Services and Support (CLASS) Act -- a new, voluntary long-term care insurance program that fills an important gap in the social safety net. These changes would profoundly impair health care coverage for the elderly, people with disabilities, and people with low incomes.
In the midst of this heated debate, while Rep. Ryan is fighting to cut benefits to senior citizens and lower-income Americans, it's a comfort to know that our nation's politicians, unfazed by the damage that they are about to inflict, can still sit back and enjoy a bottle of wine with their friends. A $350 bottle of wine. This recent indulgence just proves how out-of-touch with the average citizen Rep. Ryan is. When questioned, he claimed to be completely unaware of the actual price of the bottle, which is, of course, not reassuring. While he and the rest of the elite, upper class of politicians are relaxing and enjoying their $350 bottles of wine and benefitting from these massive budget reforms, the middle class and our senior citizens are suffering.
House Republicans further illustrated this blatant disregard for money when they used taxpayer money to finance mailings going out to their constituents to support the Ryan budget bill. The franking privilege afforded to congressmen is generally well regulated, and this use of the franking privilege to promote Republicans' political goals is being called upon to be investigated by the House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa. It seems as though the House Republicans thought nothing of it though. Why spend their own money on blatantly political constituent mailings when they can take money from the American taxpayer? After all, it is important that they save their money for expensive dinner parties and $350 bottles of wine.
And let's not forget about Ryan's ideas on tax breaks for the richest Americans. When the Obama administration proposed closing tax loopholes so that CEO's could no longer receive tax incentives for things like flying their private jets, the House Republicans fought back, claiming that this was Obama trying to implement tax hikes on the rich, and they would not stand for it. Rep. Ryan has gone on to say that it's important we provide tax breaks to the rich, so that they can stimulate our economy. What he fails to realize, yet again, is that these tax breaks to the rich means tax increases for the poor and middle class. He is again taking money from those who need it most and putting it into the hands of people who are going to throw it away on jet fuel and pricey wines.
Rep. Ryan is clearly out of touch with the average American. So far, none of his proposed legislation helps our middle class; rather it all benefits the wealthy. His Medicare legislation is going to end up being a lot of the same thing, harming senior citizens and low-income families who are most in need of inexpensive health care.