Two-thirds of the Arkansas congressional delegation seek to end Medicare, thereby calling "lights out" for millions of Americans dependent on the program for survival. If Wilbur Mills were still around, he'd be crying "Give me my country back!"
Mills, the influential congressman from Kensett, guided Medicare through Congress in 1965, the greatest triumph of his long and distinguished career, and among the great moments in American history. Before Medicare and Social Security — another Democratic program, enacted 30 years earlier — America's elderly were considered redundant. The sooner they died of the ailments to which old people are subject, the sooner they would be out of the way of the profit-making enterprises of young go-getters. Why extend the lives, Republicans asked, of those no longer fit for barge-toting and bale-lifting.
Medicare and Social Security have allowed the old to live their final years with some degree of dignity, rather than begging on street corners, sleeping in parks, or being passed from one unwelcoming relative to another before burial in a pauper's grave. American exceptionalism has never been more evident than in its aid to needy senior citizens. There is no comparable program in Afghanistan or the Congo or any of the other backward countries that Republicans want the U.S. to emulate.
Three members of the six-member Arkansas delegation — Reps. Womack, Griffin and Crawford — have turned thumbs down on the old folks, and John Boozman will join them when the House-approved bill comes before the Senate. The end of Medicare is part of a Republican Party-endorsed budget bill, and Senator Boozman votes an unvarying party line. Only Rep. Mike Ross and Sen. Mark Pryor stand up for elderly Arkansans.
The Republican budget would not only quash Medicare, it would reduce money for Medicaid and convert that program for the poor into an unsustainable block-grant scheme. It would privatize Social Security. It would enact even greater tax cuts for the very rich, who already scarcely pay, and it would assure greater profits for private insurance companies. The Center on Budget and Policy priorities says the Republican plan would "produce the largest redistribution of income from the bottom to the top in modern U.S. history, while increasing poverty and inequality more than any measure in recent times and possibly in the nation's history." "Disastrous" is too mild a word for the plan, "shameful" too mild for those who support it. "Live sicker, die quicker and don't bicker," they tell us. Stealing our money is not enough for them. They would steal our pride, our independence, our America. The very stoutest resistance is mandatory.