It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us.’ Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens.
From Washington last week came an “epoch of incredulity” in a continuing “age of foolishness.” More than Dickens, an observer might think rather of “Alice in Wonderland.” Certainly, Congresswoman Lummis gets what Alice called, “Curiouser and curiouser” explaining her vote for this budget. Lummis says the country doesn’t have “a tax problem, it has a spending problem.” Alice’s Mock Turtle understood this line of reasoning better than I. “Well, I’ve heard it before, but it sounds like uncommon sense.”
Even more cuiouser and uncommon sense are the words of Lummis’ guru Paul Ryan. “The spending spree is over,” Congressman Ryan said. “We cannot keep spending money we don’t have.” Unless, he might add, those dollars are used to pay for tax cuts for people who do not need them! “Well, said Alice, “I've often seen a cat without a grin; but a grin without a cat! It's the most curious thing I ever say in my life!”
I am unsure whether Lummis is a cat without a grin or a grin without a cat as she and her colleagues spend trillions of dollars to pay for reduced tax rates for corporations and the wealthiest Americans while talking about the need to reduce the deficit. They propose to do that by eviscerating Medicare. They will end Medicare and replace it with a coupon of declining value allowing seniors to go hat in hand to an insurance company in the hopes they can then afford coverage we all know they cannot now afford.
Lummis was 11 years old when Congress created the Medicaid program. She might be excused if she doesn’t remember what it was like for seniors before 1965, though one of her Wyoming peers sent me this email after Lummis voted to end Medicare. "When I was in high school in 1965, before Medicare and Medicaid, my pastor took several of us every Sunday to visit the elderly in the county "poor farm." I remember grey people, in grey beds with grey covers, with trays of congealed grey food, eager for the voice or the touch of a stupid teenager who cared enough to come sing to them and say hello and hold their hand.”
This is more than politics and economics. It’s about moral responsibility. The Catholic Church Conference of Bishops says it well, “A just framework for future budgets cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor persons. It requires shared sacrifice by all, including raising adequate revenues, eliminating unnecessary military and other spending, and addressing the long-term costs of health insurance and retirement programs fair!
Grey people in grey beds with grey food while GE and other wealthy-beyond-your-imagination Americans enjoy tax breaks. That’s what America looks like through Lummis and Ryan’s rear view mirror. But as much damage as it does, their vision doesn’t even add up to a balanced budget. As Alice would say, “Let me see: four times five is twelve, and four times six is thirteen, and four times seven is -- oh dear! I shall never get to twenty at that rate!”