Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Subsidies for Weapons Programs, but Not for Working Moms

From taking one look at the House during the president's speech on health care this evening, one thing was quickly apparent. The era of bipartisanship is far from over and, clearly, a house divided is a house that can't stand.

At a time when the average working family has taken a harder hit than at any other time in our history with the exception of the 1930's, the U.S. became the world's number one weapons supplier, increasing its share, according to the New York Times, to greater than two-thirds of all foreign arms deals. At a time when both Republican and Democratic members of Congress balk at where we're going to get the money to make health care universally accessible, the U.S. signed weapons agreements valued at nearly $40 billion in 2008, an increase from $25 billion in 2007

One can say that the munitions industry hasn't felt a thing during the recession which forced millions into foreclosure, and food banks.

Thank goodness America wasn't in recovery from eight years of a Republican contract on America back when another president, Lyndon B. Johnson, signed Medicare into law back in 1965, a program that now covers 41 million people.

Still, to hear people talk, one might understand why President Obama is encountering so much opposition to his health care reform bill, one that is modest, and conservative in comparison to the idea which was originally Truman's.

To hear people talk, one might almost believe that Medicare were free, but it is not. There is a deductible, of course, and you have to pay a set fee with a ration averaging about 80/20-- 80% paid by the government.

While President Obama's plan for health reform is conservative, and his vision of a pubic option is like a side dish in a larger buffet that is enough to satisfy his opponents. One of the underlying sticking points in Obama's health reform proposal is the plan for the federal government to subsidize medical insurance payments for those unable to meet their full obligation. So, for example, if Jane Doe, a third year law student and part time corporate training, has a monthly health insurance bill of $170, but she can only pay $100, the government will pick up the additional $70 a month.

In tonight's speech, President Obama resoundingly agreed it's time that federal subsidies which have been going to health maintenance organizations instead go to pay for a public option, but those aren't the only government subsidies that need to be redirected.

Why would there be any objection to the government providing a subsidy to working men and women in this country especially in light of the fact that the federal government already provides subsidies, or "empathy payments," to farmers, and companies like Home Depot, so they can open more franchises in underdeveloped areas, to Amtrak, to airports, to private military contractors, or to companies that build federal prisons? It seems that it's only when subsidies, or tax relief, are intended to go to working families that the Republican opposition becomes most energized.

If the mandated portion of President Obama's health care reform plan passes, every American will be required to carry medical insurance. His plan for the government to supplement the payments of those who are unable to meet their obligation already has opponents screaming "government run insurance," and "socialism."

But, where were the cries of "socialism" when the government subsidized Amtrak? Where was the vitriole when, according to the Cato Institute, as of October, 2006, there were close to 1700 subsidy programs in the federal budget that dispensed hundreds of billions of dollars annually? Why weren't neo-cons concerned about the growing federal deficit then?

Where was the opposition when former New York mayor Rudy Guiliani reportedly gifted the Yankees with $25 million of public funds, as a going away present, by allowing them to withhold $5 million a year in rent?

Clearly, the issue isn't government subsidies, per se. The issue is who is being subsidized. As long as the federal government finances Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Halliburton, weapons manufacturers, and the tobacco industry, all is fine and dandy. It's only when Uncle Sam wants to help a single mom trying to provide medical coverage for herself, and her three children, pay for her medical benefits that you hear terms like "socialism" bandied about, and assertions that Obama is aiming to have the government take over health care and the automobile industry. Nobody seemed to be terribly concerned about government take-overs when subsidies act to distort energy markets in favor of the oil cartel.

War is itself the most egregious government subsidy for military contractors, manufacturers of bombs, tanks, bulletproof vests, and weaponry of all kinds, as well as anyone in the lucrative field of longterm incarceration. We now have the dubious distinction of having the most people in prison of any country in the industrialized world, but fully 45 million Americans, a whopping 12% of us, are without health coverage.

Now that the unemployment rate has officially reached a 26 year high, it's time to take a long, hard look at those crooks and liars who would like us to think they're in favor of smaller government, and lower taxes while sticking their fat little fingers into our pockets, fueling their corporate gluttony while leaving us to our austerity diet. It's time to ask what kind of country gives our tax dollars to those who build federal prisons while, at the same time, denying access to health care to those who can least afford it.

Those of us who wanted to see Obama step up to the plate, and show that he has the power, and fire, to lead can be heartened tonight by a speech that had the dynamism of a Southern preacher. Yet, one can hardly recall a time when the partisan divide was as stark, and as evident, as it was tonight. This president would be ill advised to spend his time working for consensus, but should instead keep his eye squarely on a vision for equal protection, and equal opportunity for all.