My friend Pete was angry and upset after the presidential election last year. He said that, by the end of this year, we’d be living in the dark in burned-out buildings and eating rats to survive. I tried to cheer him up a little. We’ve been friends for a long time. I said they’d be terrific rats, tremendous rats, the biggest rats ever. And they’d be rats from America. He didn’t laugh.
Since then the social safety net has been gradually worn away. Basic protections for the most vulnerable people have been scaled back or eliminated. And we hear a lot about how those protections are “entitlements” and the people they protect are “entitlement people.” The terms are pejorative but not always clear. It depends on your point of view.
The cost of some people’s health insurance is subsidized directly through the Affordable Care Act or Medicare or Medicaid, but the cost of other people’s health insurance is subsidized indirectly by not requiring them to pay income tax on the value of employer-provided premiums. The cost of some people’s housing is subsidized directly through vouchers or payments to landlords, but the cost of other people’s housing is subsidized indirectly by allowing them to deduct the amounts they pay in mortgage interest and property taxes. You can probably come up with more examples if you think about it, but you may not want to think about it too much.
The Republicans weren’t able to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but they’re continuing their plan to cause it to fail by refusing to fund its key components. And now they’re pushing a tax bill that favors the rich and the very rich at the expense of everyone else. The idea, apparently, is to reduce the tax burden for corporations and for rich people so that it’ll be easier for them to invest in new businesses and to create jobs. The benefits will then trickle down to others. Unfortunately, there’s no way to be sure they won’t invest in new mansions, new jets, or antique pearl-handled dueling pistols.
And what happens if the rich guys don’t behave the way they’re supposed to? That’s when the automatic spending cuts kick in. We’ll just find entitlement programs to eliminate. They’ll be programs that help people who are poor or sick or old or lonely or frightened, programs that help people feed their families, send their kids to good schools, find a doctor when they’re sick, afford their medications, care for their elderly parents, get training for better jobs, and feel safe at home and at work. The people who depend on those programs don’t have lobbyists or lawyers. They don’t have a voice. And they don’t have a chance.
But our entitlements are safe. Someone else will lose out. But no rich guys were harmed. And that was the point all along.
The Ridgefield Democratic Town Committee provides this column. Tom Madden is the DTC’s Chairman.