The disability community is justifiably concerned about the ultimate fate of Medicare and Medicaid. These programs are at serious risk of additional cuts and spending caps as the Federal budget deficit reduction fight plays out.
You’ll recall that Congress passed the Budget Control Act of 2011 in August. It imposed caps on future discretionary funding and created the Congressional Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction to offer additional deficit reduction recommendations. Entitlement programs survived major cuts in the initial rounds, but the future is precarious.
The Joint Committee has a November 23rd deadline to agree upon recommendations to cut the deficit by at least $1.5 trillion over the next ten years. If Congress fails to act, an automatic “trigger” mechanism would make $1.2 trillion in evenly divided defense and non-defense spending cuts starting in 2013.
Republicans strongly oppose the defense trigger cuts. They claim that the military would lose its competitive edge in weapons technology and they would require reinstating the draft. Democrats counter that these are scare tactics to garner public support for deeper entitlement program cuts.
So far, the media and government watchdogs have complained about the secrecy surrounding the Joint Committee’s work. Open hearings and public testimony were promised, but it appears that the real decisions are being made behind closed doors.
It’s becoming apparent that deficit reduction is merely a political pawn being manipulated for the 2012 presidential and congressional elections. A Washington Post article revealed that powerful Washington D.C lobbyists have been briefed by Republican Leaders that the bipartisan effort is a sham. They have no incentives for compromise.
The first reason is that Republicans are not really interested in deficit reduction. Instead, their goal is to keep taxes as low as possible, especially for the wealthy. The second reason is they know that they can repeal the trigger if they win the presidency and control of Congress since those cuts won't be triggered until 2013. If they prevail, they will continue to drastically shrink the Federal government.
The trigger was designed to make bipartisan compromise preferable to deadlock. Theoretically, Democrats would cooperate to avoid deep cuts in domestic spending. Republicans, in turn, would be pressured to strike a deal to avoid defense cuts.
In reality, the Republican strategy is to use the deficit reduction rhetoric to inflame voter dissatisfaction over the economy and convince voters to sweep them into power. If so, they will eliminate many existing programs and impose permanent cuts and entitlement program spending caps.
This explains why Republicans may be content to allow the Joint Committee to fail. They are betting all of their chips on winning the elections. They want to convince voters that cutting programs for seniors, the poor, and people with disabilities is a necessary trade off to protect their economic self-interests.
The disability community must mobilize in the upcoming elections because nearly everything we have won to support independent living is in danger. A reinvigorated coalition of Republican Conservatives and Tea Partiers would make the horrific budget cuts proposed over the past two years seem tame by comparison.
This is getting serious.