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Elders and Obama's Speech

Posted Apr 14 2011 8:30am

category_bug_politics.gif Did you watch President Obama's speech yesterday afternoon? Whew! It was better than I feared it would be. Kinda busy today (Wednesday) so mostly I'll stick to the major points affecting elders.

If you will recall, Paul Ryan's deficit reduction plan, widely praised by Republicans, would turn Medicare into a voucher program which, as the president said, “would end Medicare as we know it.”

“It says that ten years from now, if you’re a 65 year old who’s eligible for Medicare, you should have to pay nearly $6,400 more than you would today,” said Obama. “It says instead of guaranteed health care, you will get a voucher. And if that voucher isn’t worth enough to buy insurance, tough luck – you’re on your own...”

“They want to give people like me a two hundred thousand dollar tax cut that’s paid for by asking thirty three seniors to each pay six thousand dollars more in health costs? That’s not right, and it’s not going to happen as long as I’m President.” [emphasis is mine]

Write that down, everyone. Paste it on your desk and as the debate on the budget continues in Washington, let's not let him back down.

One of the biggest budget busters in Medicare is the prescription drug plan. Rammed through Congress during the Bush II administration by a Louisiana legislator, Billy Tauzin, who almost immediately left Congress for a $2 million per year job as head of the pharmaceutical industry lobby, the bill specifically denies Medicare the right to negotiate drug prices as the Veterans Administration does.

Yesterday, Obama sounded like he wants to rescind this horrendously expensive giveaway to big pharma:

“We will cut spending on prescription drugs by using Medicare’s purchasing power to drive greater efficiency and speed generic brands of medicine onto the market.”

Medicare is the largest purchaser of prescription drugs in the country and allowing negotiation would go a long way toward reducing Medicare costs. I'm pretty sure the board rooms of drug companies are going ballistic this morning while planning their assault on Congress members to reject this idea.

Referring to Medicare and Medicaid, Obama said he would reform these programs, “but we will not abandon the fundamental commitment this country has kept for generations.”

”That includes, by the way, our commitment to Social Security,” he continued. “While Social Security is not the cause of our deficit, it faces real long-term challenges in a country that is growing older...

“[B]oth parties should work together now to strengthen Social Security for future generations. But we must do it without putting at risk current retirees, the most vulnerable, or people with disabilities; without slashing benefits for future generations; and without subjecting Americans’ guaranteed retirement income to the whims of the stock market.”

Okay, he rejected privatization of Social Security. That's good. He wants to protect current beneficiaries and not “slash” benefits for future retirees. That's sort of good. Unfortunately, he left the door wide open for some kind of cuts for people younger than 55, for smaller cost-of-living adjustments and made no reference to maintaining the current retirement age.

And there was no mention, either, of raising the salary cap which, if it were to be eliminated, would fix almost all the Social Security shortfall for the next 75 years. So, there are still some red flags to Obama's commitment that we need to keep our eyes on.

Those are the big points relating to elders. I like it when Obama gets all warm and gooey about what America is (or should be), as in this passage of his speech:

”The America I know is generous and compassionate; a land of opportunity and optimism. We take responsibility for ourselves and each other; for the country we want and the future we share.

“We are the nation that built a railroad across a continent and brought light to communities shrouded in darkness. We sent a generation to college on the GI bill and saved millions of seniors from poverty with Social Security and Medicare.

“We have led the world in scientific research and technological breakthroughs that have transformed millions of lives.

“This is who we are. This is the America I know. We don’t have to choose between a future of spiraling debt and one where we forfeit investments in our people and our country. To meet our fiscal challenge, we will need to make reforms.

“We will all need to make sacrifices. But we do not have to sacrifice the America we believe in. And as long as I’m President, we won’t.”

Nevertheless, I was struck by the president's offhand acknowledgment of a sad truth about you and me and everyone who is not rich. While enumerating the many things wrong with the Ryan budget proposal, Obama said,

“There’s nothing serious about a plan that claims to reduce the deficit by spending a trillion dollars on tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires. There’s nothing courageous about asking for sacrifice from those who can least afford it and don’t have any clout on Capitol Hill. [emphasis is mine]

That's the president saying out loud that if you're not rich, you don't have a say in government which implies that any benefits for the middle class and poor are left to the largesse of the corporate controlled government. Oy vey. What an admission.

If you missed the speech, the full text is here .

Okay, that's the best I can do right now. Beginning today, my entire home is being painted and yesterday (while writing this too), I needed to prep for it by removing everything from the walls and moving stuff around to make space for the painter to work.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Madonna Dries Christensen: Touching Norma

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