But he gets his countries mixed up
Speaking at the start of his Asian trip, George W. Bush was surprisingly a master of Kyoto protocol, though not the rules of behavior that would protect our climate against his usual hot air.
Bush and his handlers finally did get a few things right, like in this passage from his speech today in Kyoto:
Unlike China, some Asian nations still have not taken even the first steps toward freedom. These regimes understand that economic liberty and political liberty go hand in hand, and they refuse to open up at all.
China’s still a land of harsh repression, but it’s true that it has opened up somewhat. Bush continued:
The ruling parties in these countries have managed to hold onto power. The price of their refusal to open up is isolation, backwardness, and brutality. By closing the door to freedom, they create misery at home and sow instability abroad.
Wait, who’s he talking about? It’s certainly not China, of which he says:
As the people of China grow in prosperity, their demands for political freedom will grow as well.
The problem, as I’ve written about plenty of times, including in a piece last January called “The Numbers Beyond the Bling,” is that the U.S. is heading in the opposite direction from China in economic and political freedom.
In light of what Bush is saying, what will happen to the demand by Americans for political freedom? Does this mean that if the Bush regime and its Capitol Hill allies continue expanding the underclass and making paupers out of the middle class there will be less demand for economic freedom?
Remind me to check this out with Milton Friedman.
But just take our own nation’s capital. The income gap between rich and poor in Washington, D.C., is wider than in any other of the nation’s big cities, and its citizens can’t even elect their own independent government. Congress directly controls D.C.’s government, laws, and purse strings.
In any case, forget the absolute measures of freedom when comparing China with the U.S. China’s still much more repressive — overall and for most of us — despite the ongoing whitening of New Orleans and assorted other brutality directed toward poor Americans, especially those of color.
But let’s look at trends. All you have to do is read just one of the latest reports from those indefatigable analysts at the mainstream Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The CBPP’s recent analysis of congressional budget-slashing figures shows that the Bush regime and its pals in Congress are taking us on the opposite path from economic and political freedom. Some highlights of CBPP’s heavily documented analysis of what could happen during this year’s budget process, based on the Congressional Budget Office’s own figures:
• More than 100,000 people would lose Medicaid coverage because they wouldn’t be able to afford higher premiums.
• “Under the House bill, states would no longer be required to cover all low-income children who are enrolled in Medicaid for all medical services and treatments the children are found to need in medical screenings. Substantial numbers of near-poor children could lose coverage for such services as eyeglasses, hearing aids, speech therapy, and crutches.”
And there’s more in store from these “compassionate conservatives” who are so concerned about “family values”:
• Major cuts in funding for child-support enforcement would result in $24 billion in payments that would go unpaid. The CPBB’s Robert Greenstein, Sharon Parrott, and Isaac Shapiro note: “By sharply weakening child support enforcement, the House bill would undercut one of the government’s principal tools for enforcing personal responsibility on those who father a child.”
• 295,000 citizens a month would lose food stamps. By 2008, 70,000 legal immigrants (most of them the working poor and the elderly poor) would be cut off from food stamps.
• “40,000 fewer poor children would receive free school meals each day.”
• “Child care subsidies would be eliminated for 330,000 children in low-income working families.”
Those are just the unusually raw figures. Even worse is the trend:
Official government data show that poverty, income inequality, food insecurity, and health coverage all have worsened in the past few years. The House approach would exacerbate these trends.
The CBPP report suggests specific alternatives, such as “curbing excessive payments” to HMOs, but as we know by now, the easiest fix — cancel or delay the outrageous tax cuts for the wealthy — won’t fly under this regime’s radar. The CBPP notes:
The House could readily produce the same amount of savings without sharp cuts in assistance for low-income families, if it wished to do so.
In the words of Tony Little‘s stooges, “Tell me more!”
For instance, the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC), Congress’ official advisory body on Medicare payments, has identified tens of billions of dollars in excessive payments by Medicare to managed care plans. The Senate achieved substantial savings in this area in its reconciliation bill. The House achieved none. Similarly, the House did far less than the Senate to lower the prices that Medicaid pays for prescription drugs, because the House essentially shielded the pharmaceutical companies.
To save $50 billion over the next five years — the approximate effect of the House bill — the House could have curbed the excessive payments to managed care plans (as recommended by MedPAC), lowered the cost of prescription drugs under the Medicaid program (as the Senate did), and cancelled two tax cuts exclusively for high-income people that are scheduled to start taking effect on January 1. These two new tax cuts will be on top of existing tax cuts that, the Urban Institute-Brookings Tax Policy Center reports, already are providing average tax cuts of $103,000 apiece to people who make over $1 million a year. Washington Post and Newsweek columnist Robert J. Samuelson, among others, has called for repealing the two new tax cuts before they take effect.
Indeed, the savings just from canceling the two new cuts, which will provide no benefit to middle-class households but confer an average tax cut (when the new tax cuts are phased in fully) of an additional $19,000 a year to people making over $1 million a year, would be more than enough to replace all of the House bill’s cuts in assistance programs for low-income families and individuals.