Paul Ryan’s Distorted Definition of Compassion
Rep. Paul Ryan has a piece in today’s Washington Post’s op-ed page responding to President Obama’s Wednesday speech that offered a stark moral contrast to Ryan’s plan to end Medicare as we know it and gut the safety net for the poor, seniors, children and those with disabilities. In addition to mischaracterizing the President’s plan and ignoring fundamental flaws of his own plan, Ryan attempted a moral defense:
… Our budget offers a compassionate and optimistic contrast to a future of health-care rationing and unbearably high taxes. We lift the crushing burden of debt, repair the safety net, make America’s tax system fair and competitive, and ensure that our health and retirement programs have a strong and lasting future.
I always thought of compassion as a deep care for and commitment to the well-being of our neighbors. Let’s review how Ryan’s budget stacks up:
- It would extract two-thirds of its budget cuts from programs that support low-income Americans while inequality soars and poverty hovers near record levels as the economy sputters.
- It would replace Medicare’s guaranteed health care coverage with vouchers that transfer costs heavily onto seniors and force them onto the private insurance market. And repealing the Affordable Care Act, as Ryan would do, would strip them of protections against lifetime caps on coverage and discrimination on the basis of pre-existing conditions.
- It would take away health care coverage from 30 million to 50 million Americans.
Not exactly reflective of compassion for seniors and those hit hardest by the economic crisis. However, Ryan’s budget is effusively compassionate toward a small, select group of Americans: the millionaires and billionaires he would lavish with tax cuts. By locking in the Bush tax cuts, Ryan’s plan would deliver an average annual savings of $125,000 for Americans with incomes over $1,000,000. If Ryan thinks taxes would be “unbearably high” if we let these cuts expire, he has forgotten how much the top one percent thrived during the ’90s. Furthermore, under Ryan’s plan the “crushing burden of debt” isn’t lifted, it’s foisted onto seniors, state governments and hard-hit families left to fend for themselves during tough times. This is no “strong and lasting future.”
The concern that future generations will suffer if we do not get our debt under control is certainly valid, and one could argue that starting this process now is consistent with compassion. But the notion that it’s compassionate to tackle the debt by subjecting millions of families to concrete hardship while further enriching the very richest Americans is, to put it kindly, a very selective application of the concept.