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Political Animal

Discount Coupons

Back in 1994, I wrote a column mentioning how whenever the issue of schools came up, then gubernatorial candidate Ellen Sauerbrey could always be counted on to push the issue of school vouchers. Sauerbrey would say that her plan for giving $2,000 vouchers as a matter of school choice would work perfectly at the Unseld’s School in West Baltimore.

What went unsaid in her school-voucher plan would fill volumes. Pulling $2,000 per student out of public schooling would gut the public school system, while essentially giving wealthier families a two-grand discount coupon for their kids to go to private schools such as Gilman or McDonogh. Sauerbrey always mentioned the Unseld’s School because it made her look good to the black community that might be favored to listen to her message—but the Unseld’s School, at the time, only served pre-K through fifth grade, and total tuition cost $2,600. That meant that low-income parents would have to find $600 out of their own pockets, and they were on their own once their child got to sixth grade.  Oh, and by the way, there were virtually no other schools like the Unseld’s School at the time, thus misrepresenting the educational market.

Free-market Republicans are big fans of the bait-and-switch discount coupon trick when trying to apply market forces to things such as education and health care, where there’s no line item for doing the right thing on a cost-benefit analysis. When a member of the GOP tells you he or she will give you a voucher, it’s probably in your best interest to start looking at the fine print, because deep down, you know that the program for which they want to give you that voucher is something they want to kill.

I probably shouldn’t have to remind you that the GOP has been constitutionally opposed to Medicare since its beginnings, right? Conservative hero Ronald Reagan recorded a vinyl LP in 1961 as part of an orchestrated campaign against Medicare. Its title? Ronald Reagan Speaks Out Against Socialized Medicine. Its most quoted line was Reagan painting the bill that became Medicare as the beginnings of a totalitarian future, and we all would rue the day if it wasn’t stopped:

And if you don’t do this and if I don’t do it, one of these days you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children, and our children’s children, what it once was like in America when men were free.

It’s been 50 years, and we can see how that prediction panned out, but it still hasn’t stopped the GOP from trying, despite the fact that along with Social Security, Medicare is one of the most popular—and effective—social programs in the history of the country. It provided a telling bit of irony during the health care debate of 2010 when we saw pictures of people waving signs reading keep your government hands off my medicare.

The latest trick from Republicans trying to kill Medicare is—what else—a voucher plan. Rep. Paul Ryan put forth his idea as part of his draconian budget, which also included more tax cuts for the rich, naturally. The Ryan plan would essentially give anyone under the age of 55 a voucher to use in purchasing private insurance. Except the voucher wouldn’t keep up with the rate of health care inflation, and anyone using one would still be subject to the vagaries and whims of the already borderline-criminal private for-profit health care industry. In other words, it’s the Sauerbrey discount coupon all over again.

The GOP went whole hog for the Ryan plan back in April, with all but four of their members in the House voting for it. And now it’s starting to haunt them.

After Newt Gingrich went on Meet the Press and called it “radical change” and saying it was “too big a jump,” the Tea Party and the hard right (but I repeat myself) rose up in anger against him. Gingrich then did his about-face pirouette, and in a move that made him fodder for every political comic in America, declared that if you quoted him saying what he said, you were lying.

Last week, the first chickens came home to roost over the Ryan Medicare evisceration, when Democrat Kathy Hochul took away a seat in the House that last election went to a Republican with 76 percent of the vote. The race was all about the Ryan Medicare vote—and we’ll be seeing a lot more of this in the coming year. Already the lying has begun, with conservatives pushing the line, “It’s not killing Medicare, it’s saving it.”

Right now, Republicans who herded themselves toward the edge of the cliff with the April vote are stuck between their love for the hard right of the Tea Party and their historic commitment to killing Medicare, and their actual constituents, who would never put up with scrapping Medicare as we know it.

Somehow, it’s not hard to picture those pitchfork-waving angry constituents holding worthless discount coupons in their other hands.

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