Beat GOP Privatizers

George Bush, his 2-point mandate in hand, is going full-steam ahead with his scheme to privatize Social Security. This fraudulent plan is a gift to Wall Street; Democrats should treat it with the scorn it deserves. If Democrats can't drive this privatization campaign back into the hole where it belongs, they don't deserve to govern.

Republicans won a majority in Congress in 1994 in large part because they assured seniors that they would not do anything to harm Social Security Insurance. But now that they have a firm hold on the White House and both chambers of Congress, a White House aide wrote Jan. 3 in a memo leaked to the press, "for the first time in six decades the Social Security battle is one we can win." That is, surrendering guaranteed retirement benefits to the whims of stock markets. But to win, White House aide Peter Wehner wrote, the public must be convinced that "the current system is headed for an iceberg."

It's hard to keep up with the lies being spread by the multi-million-dollar campaign to build that iceberg, but at populist.com we try to at least point you to debunkers.

A unified Democratic Party is needed to preserve Social Security. Democrats who can't support the guaranteed retirement and survivor benefits of Social Security Insurance should just go ahead and cross over to the other side. Remaining Democrats should hang the anchor of privatization around the neck of every Republican. And every Demopublican who signs onto its variations needs a primary opponent next year.

Contact your Congress member to reinforce the point: No diversion of Social Security taxes. Keep promised benefits. If there's any "reforming" to be done, increase the taxable wages from the current $87,000 limit and earmark estate tax revenues to Social Security.

Let Republicans as well as Democrats feel the heat on this issue -- many Republican Congress members are holding off on declaring support for privatization, waiting to see how the wind blows. Send a gale their way. Phone them at 202-224-3121 or send an email via the AFL-CIO labor federation's e-Activist page on Social Security at aflcio.org.

The Republicans are modeling their privatization plans on programs in Britain, Argentina and Chile that, upon inspection, have proven disastrous. Norma Cohen writes in the February American Prospect:

"For all the fanfare that surrounds the Bush administration's efforts to present a bold new idea on pension reform, the truth is that it is not new at all. In fact, the proposal looks suspiciously like the plan set in train during [Margaret] Thatcher's first term in 1979 and which has since led Britain to the brink of a crisis. Since then, the nation's basic pension, which is paid for out of tax receipts, has shrunk dramatically. The United Kingdom has the stingiest state pension program of any G8 nation, and there is growing consensus -- even among British conservatives -- that reform is needed. And ironically enough, considering that America is on the verge of copying Britain's mistake, most experts seek reform in the direction of a more generous, and simpler, basic state pension -- one similar in design, in other words, to America's Social Security program."

US Social Security is solvent past 2042, even using the pessimistic economic forecast of Bush's own Social Security trustees. Under normal economic conditions the fund is solvent long past that date with no "reforms." Privatization would cost the government at least $2 trillion in the next decade, the White House admits, but Paul Krugman, the economist and New York Times columnist, estimates that privatization could cost $3 trillion in its second decade, $5 trillion in the decade after that and another $5 trillion in the following decade. That's $15 trillion in expanded debt. And even if everything went according to Bush's plan, privatization still wouldn't begin to reduce the federal budget deficit until 2050.

But if that sort of government spending is acceptable to the GOP, Democrats should insist that it go instead to implement a universal health care plan such as the one Dennis Kucinich promoted in his presidential campaign.

The Cleveland congressman's plan would replace insurance companies and HMOs with an expanded Medicare program that would allow patients to choose their own health providers. Individuals would not pay premiums, deductibles or co-pays as they do under the current system. Researchers at Harvard Medical School and Public Citizen estimate that national health insurance could save $300 billion or more annually that now goes to corporate bureaucracies. That's enough to cover the 45 million uninsured working poor and their families and provide full prescription drug coverage. It also would relieve the stress on state Medicaid programs and charity and public hospitals. Funding would come from a 7.7% tax on employers, which would raise almost $1 trillion, in addition to the $1 trillion the government already spends on health care.

Employers who are increasingly hard-pressed to provide health coverage for their workers should join organized labor and consumer groups in pushing for national health care. A 7.7% payroll tax would be a bargain for most small businesses and would remove the competitive disadvantage they face against corporate freeloaders such as Wal-Mart.

The Malpractice Apologist

George Bush also tortured the truth in his recent junket to Illinois Jan. 6 when he labeled Madison County and neighboring St. Clair County (commonly known as Metro-East, across the river from St. Louis) "judicial hellholes," He claims that limiting the damages juries can award to injured patients will fix the nation's health-care problem.

Bush is willing to make outrageous misrepresentations to promote the corporate agenda, but Public Citizen (citizen.org) noted that out of 720 medical malpractice and wrongful death cases filed in Madison and St. Clair counties from 1996 to 2003, only 14 cases -- or 1.9% -- resulted in jury verdicts. Only six of those verdicts favored plaintiffs. And of those six damage awards, only one in Madison County produced a verdict in the last seven years that would have been affected by Bush's proposed $250,000 cap on non-economic damages.

Now, $250,000 seems like a lot of money. But medical malpractice suits require expert medical witnesses, so complicated cases are among the most expensive cases to litigate. The threat of large jury verdicts causes insurers to settle cases. Take away that threat and insurance companies simply refuse to settle, even when their clients have made catastrophic mistakes.

In Texas, voters in September 2003 approved a constitutional amendment limiting non-economic damages in medical malpractice lawsuits to $250,000. The change was supposed to improve access to health care. It hasn't happened. But it has made it harder for victims of medical malpractice to find lawyers willing to take their cases. And doctors are still seeing their insurance rates go up. The nation's largest medical malpractice insurer, GE Medical Protective, filed to raise Texas physicians' premiums 19% six months after Texas enacted those caps, saying the caps lowered payouts by just 1%.

Public Citizen noted that some of America's largest corporations want to take away the legal rights of consumers and patients to hold them accountable for wrongdoing. But US businesses file four times as many lawsuits as private citizens.

Public Citizen and Victims and Families United advocate a new approach to the medical malpractice impasse: It's called "Sorry Works!" This program encourages doctors to apologize quickly for medical negligence and errors, and it offers fair compensation to families and their attorneys. Sorry Works! is proven to reduce anger, lawsuits and medical liability costs, but victims receive swift justice, constitutional rights are not limited, and repeat medical errors are reduced.

For details, see www.victimsandfamilies.com. -- JMC

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