The US House of Representatives has opened a debate on the direction the country should take regarding budget priorities.
At the most interesting ends of the debate, the choice is stark: A Budget for Wall Street versus a Budget for All.
Most Americans know that House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan is presenting the former option. The Wisconsin Republican has a history of crafting budgets that deliver for Wall Street. And he makes no great apology for that.
The Ryan budgets of the past several years have come at federal spending, tax, debt and deficit questions from different directions. But they have all ended up in the same place: outlining huge tax cuts for CEOs, billionaires and business insiders; proposing voucher schemes that have as their likely outcomes the steering of Medicaid and Medicare money into the accounts of private insurers; imagining Social Security "reforms" that would have American’s trusting their retirement "security" to the speculators.
Ryan says he wants to save Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. And in this he is sincere. Like many of his Republican compatriots, the budget commttee chair has collected a lot of campaign contributions from insurance-industry insiders and Wall Street speculators. But there’s more to Ryan than that. As an Ayn Rand–reading critic of government, he’s far more comfortable than most Democrats and Republicans with the idea that "the market" would do a better job of delivering health care and retirement benefits.
Unfortunately, Ryan’s route to "saving" those popular programs relies on what looks an awfully lot like the "crony capitalism" he so frequently decries. And the notion that markets work while government doesn’t is a romantic rather than a realistic one—as any comparison of the costs of administering Medicare with the costs associated with for-profit healthcare well illustrates.
What’s the alternative? The Obama administration has a budget proposal that’s more mainstream than Ryan’s. But its approach to core questions of economic renewal is unsettlingly cautious.
So how about a budget for all Americans?