I’m proud to be a Democrat due to our party’s many accomplishments over the years. For example, nearly twice as many jobs were created during Democratic Presidencies as opposed to Republican Presidencies between 1962 and 2012. At the present time, President Obama has created more jobs than the last two Republican Presidents combined and the unemployment rate is now lower than it was at anytime during the Reagan Administration. (As we know, Reagan is regarded as the gold standard for Presidents by Republicans.) Every Democratic President beginning with Jimmy Carter has reduced the deficit and President Clinton was the last President to balance the budget.
The Democratic Party is not only the best party for economy, we have also been very successful in both insuring and lifting out of poverty millions of Americans. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act (ACA) were all passed due to the leadership of Democratic Presidents and over the hyper-partisan opposition of the conservative wing of the GOP. These critical reforms would have never occurred during a Republican Presidency. The reality is that reducing poverty and insuring more people simply isn’t a priority for the GOP.
The first major effort to reduce the poverty rate was Social Security which passed during the FDR Presidency in 1935. Before the passage of this program, poverty among the elderly was a serious problem. Many people were forced to retire early because their bodies were ruined through years of brutally hard labor during the first Gilded Age. Many senior citizens became a financial burden for their children and made their childrens’ ability to retire to become more difficult. Other senior citizens were confined to the poor house or the poor farm – many of which had horrific conditions. Those poor seniors were essentially sent there to die.
In response to FDR’s introduction of Social Security, conservative Republicans predicted that it would ruin the economy and the country. Conservative doomsayers prognosticated that workers would never see any benefits when they retired. Instead, the money would be spent on other priorities by the federal government. Other right wingers fearlessly predicted that FDR’s New Deal would cause hyper-inflation and that if anybody every received any benefits, they would be rendered worthless by that inflation. As early as 1936, GOP Presidential nominee Alf Landon predicted that Social Security would go broke. (The right wing has persisted in making that erroneous prediction up to the present time.)
As it turned out, all of those predictions of doom and gloom turned out to be wrong. Social Security is the most effective anti-poverty program in U.S. history. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Social Security presently keeps 22 million Americans out of poverty.
Social Security is not only preventing millions of Americans from falling into poverty – it is also in no danger of going broke. At the present time, this program is in a position to pay out all promised benefits until 2034. If absolutely no changes are made in Social Security by then, the program can still pay out something like 78% of it’s promised benefits. Nevertheless, a series of small tax and/or benefit tweaks could preserve the solvency of Social Security for the indefinite future.
FDR wanted to include a health insurance program as part of his Social Security bill in 1935 but he lacked the votes in Congress to pass it. It took another Democratic President to finally realize FDR’s vision when the Medicare program was enacted in 1965 during the Johnson Administration.
Before Medicare, approximately 56% of senior citizens lacked health insurance. This is because many senior citizens have illnesses and other pre-existing conditions that put the price of insurance out of reach for many of them. Simply stated, the private health insurance industry can’t make money insuring senior citizens. That’s why we need Medicare.
When Medicare was being debated in the early to mid-1960s, the conservative wing of the GOP predicted disaster would ensue if senior citizens were insured. Ronald Reagan led the GOP opposition to Medicare. At that time, Reagan boldly predicted that Medicare would “curtail Americans’ freedom” and that “pretty soon your son won’t decide when he’s in school, where he will go or what he will do for a living. He will wait for the government to tell him.” The former movie actor even went so far as to say that: “We are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children, what it once was like in America when men were free.”
Once again, as in the case of Social Security, all of the predictions of doom from the right wing of the GOP proved to be wildly inaccurate. Today, thanks to Medicare, nearly all senior citizens have insurance and 75% fewer are mired in poverty. Moreover, the combination of Social Security and Medicare have reduced poverty among the elderly from 50% to 9%.
The passage of Medicare was a tremendous accomplishment and success but there was still a major coverage gap in America. When President Obama took office, the U.S. was an exceptional nation in that we were the only First World industrialized country that lacked universal health care coverage. During the Bush Administration between 2001-09, 8 million Americans lost insurance coverage and the rate of the uninsured in this country soared to 18%.
In response to this breakdown in the U.S. health care system during the Bush years, President Obama proposed the ACA – which was aimed at insuring an additional 25 million Americans. Once again, the GOP trotted out it’s tired and all too predictable prognostications of doom and disaster. John Boehner predicted the ACA would cause “Armageddon” and “ruin our country.” Just two years ago, Ben Sasse made the absurd prediction that the implementation of the ACA would cause America to “cease to exist.”
Once again, the silly predictions of doom and gloom from the GOP proved to be dead wrong because the ACA has proven to be a success. This landmark health care law has resulted in 17 million formerly uninsured Americans in becoming covered for the first time. The rate of uninsured Americans has fallen to an all time low of 9%. Thanks to the ACA, the number of uninsured Americans have fallen at it’s fastest pace since the passage of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965.
As Democrats, we have the right to be very proud that our party has led the way in reducing poverty and insuring more of our fellow countrymen. However, we can’t take these achievements for granted. The right wing of the GOP and the billionaires who finance them want to gut or otherwise abolish these programs because they prove that government can actually work and improve the lives of millions of Americans.
Unfortunately, Nebraska’s Congressional Republicans have led the way in the thus far futile efforts to take away insurance from millions of Americans. Fischer, Sasse, Fortenberry and Smith have all voted to end Medicare as we know it and turn it into a voucher program. This radical privatization scheme would cost the average senior citizen thousands of dollars in additional out of pocket medical expenses every year.
These same four Nebraska Republicans have also voted repeatedly to repeal the ACA and go back to the old, failed health care system that President Obama inherited from the Bush Administration. If the Republicans were to get their way, millions of Americans would have their insurance policies canceled and those hated pre-existing condition clauses would return.
Not only is Medicare and the ACA in the cross hairs, Ben Sasse and virtually all of the Republican candidates for President want to privatize Social Security and turn it over to Wall Street. Just imagine the harm that all Americans would have suffered in the stock market crash of 2008-09 if Bush had gotten his way in 2005 and privatized Social Security? It could have turned a very deep recession into a depression.
What this means is that the stakes in the 2016 election cycle couldn’t be much higher. The modern GOP is committed to gutting or otherwise repealing the Progressive reforms of the 20th and 21st centuries. We as Democrats need to run on our accomplishments and make sure the voters know about them. We will need to sharpen the differences with the GOP and inform the voters that they aren’t your father’s Republican Party. We need to let the voters know that we don’t want to back to the dark days of 2008 when the economy was losing 800,000 jobs per month and millions of Americans were losing insurance coverage. As I’ve said before, if we don’t message our accomplishments, nobody else will. Now let’s get it done!