So much of what is happening in the economy and the healthcare debate in America right now can be traced directly back to the agenda that was set in motion with the presidency of Ronald Reagan during the 1980s.
In demonstrations against the healthcare reform ideas of President Obama around the country we hear the familiar refrain that "government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem," as famously voiced by Ronald Reagan during his First Inaugural Address, and conservatives also decry any potential that healthcare reform could add to the national debt by increasing the federal budget deficit.
Here is the situation. The federal government is currently massively in debt. The reason that the federal government is massively in debt is because the Republicans have intentionally put the federal government into debt.
When Reagan came into office in 1981, he brought with him a team of economists and political ideologues who had up to that point been outside the reins of power. The presidency of Reagan was truly a revolution in this country. Radical new agendas and policies were put into effect during the Reagan years and a new ruling class of ideologues came to power that would influence the highest levels of politics in this country for generations.
One of the major policy agendas that was put into place during the Reagan presidency was the use of massive deficit spending as a political weapon.
You see, Reagan and his cabinet were ideologically opposed to government domestic spending programs. Reagan and his allies believed that so-called social spending was actually counter productive, i.e. that a dollar spent by the government to help the poor or provide services to the public actually had a counter effect, making the poor poorer and the needy needier.
Their view was that they had to put a stop to social spending. They also knew that many of these programs were popular and hard for politicians to vote against. So their belief was that in order to put a stop to social spending they first had to effectively bankrupt the government. So, what they did was they massively cut taxes on the wealthy, raised taxes on the poor, and gave tiny token tax cuts to the middle class, resulting in an overall reduction of tax income to the government when adjusted for inflation (many Reaganophiles claim that the cuts increased revenues by 80% (or more), but this is only true in pure dollar terms, not inflation adjusted terms. Tax revenues grew at the lowest rate under Reagan compared to those that came before and after him). The next part of the agenda was to massively increase military spending. The only thing harder to vote against than popular domestic programs is military funding. So what Reagan did was he cut government revenue and increased government spending, but with almost all of those increases going to the military.
The result was the largest budget deficits since the presidencies of FDR and Truman during World War II. The big difference, however, is that taxes were very high during their presidencies and the debt was paid back down quickly after the war. There was no plan on paying back the debt racked up by Reagan however.
Indeed the bleeding incurred by Reagan was so dramatic that his successor, Republican George Bush Sr., was forced to raise taxes even after he promised not to. There was nothing else he could do, as Reagan had set the govenrment on a path to bankruptcy had something not been done.
What happened during the Reagan years is basically that the government pulled out a massive credit card and charged everything. Its like you had a grandpa that as he was getting old he started buying lots of nice things for the family: a new car, new furniture, and of course just giving family members cash. Then grandpa died and you found out that all of that stuff that grandpa bought you was on credit cards and that grandpa had racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, and today what we find out is that we are still legally obligated to pay the debt. So while it seemed like fun and games and a great time when grandpa was alive buying you stuff, now you see that it was all an illusion and that the fun during those times was bought with a lie and that now you have to pay for the careless finances of your grandpa - that what seemed like a nice thing at the time is now wrecking your finances.
That is the presidency of Ronald Reagan, but its even worse, because Reagan didn't even invest in the country so we don't even have anything to show for it. You see, Reagan was fundamentally against domestic spending - he and his cronies thought it was wrong. They reduced spending on everything from education to welfare to highway and bridge construction and maintenance. So, if they reduced spending on so many things, then how did they rack up this massive debt?
(Note: Income Assistance includes Unemployment Insurance)
Military spending. Its all been military spending for the past 30 years that's been driving up the debt.
By 2008 military spending accounted for roughly 30% of the total federal budget, not counting entitlements (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid), which are paid for with their own separate taxes. It is the single largest expenditure of the federal government. As of 2008 combined military spending and payment on the debt accounted for almost half of the entire federal budget, leaving only 53% of all the revenues collected for domestic spending.
Since Reagan, conservatives and Republican administrations have followed the agenda set in place during the Reagan years: to drive up the deficit in order to use it as an anchor around the necks of anyone who would seek to engage in domestic spending. This is one of the things that Bill Clinton got right. During this first year in office, when he still had a Democratic majority in Congress, Bill Clinton passed balanced budget legislation that set his administration on the path to paying down the debt. Once George Bush Jr., came into office however, with Republican control of Congress, they quickly set about engaging in massive deficit spending again, driving the national debt up to record breaking heights.
This is what people need to realize, the Republicans have been using the debt as a weapon against domestic spending ever since Reagan came into office, and you can't understand national politics unless you understand that. The Republicans would basically rather burn taxpayer money than allow it to go to domestic programs. The Reagan brought to power a whole generation of conservatives who fundamentally believe that government is indeed bad, and their belief is that its better to bankrupt the government than it is to have the government help its people. They have been engaged in a war on the federal government for decades now, and deficit spending is the weapon they have used to try an bring the government to its knees. They engage in deficit spending by ensuring that a larger and larger portion of the federal budget each year goes toward military spending and payment on the ever growing debt, which consumes more and more federal money the larger it gets, which is exactly what the Republicans want because they would rather just burn the money on debt payment than see any of it go toward so-called "social spending".
And they know that any time anyone comes into office and tries to engage in any kind of domestic spending, that the national debt which they have racked up will act as an anchor around their neck dragging them down to the bottom of the sea and making any domestic reform programs highly unlikely to succeed.
What enables the Republicans to get away with massive deficit spending, while still being able to use it as a weapon against their opponents, is that they spend the money on the military, which is effectively politically unchallengeable in this country. You can spend a thousand dollars on the military without question in America, but if you spend one dollar on any domestic program, from education to healthcare reform, the conservatives will jump all over it as fiscally irresponsible. The military is seen as patriotic and essential, while everything else is portrayed as unnecessary.
Quite literally, the American military is destroying America. Very literally the American military is killing Americans. Out of the top industrialized countries, America stands at the top of the list in countries where preventable deaths occur, i.e. deaths that could have been prevented had proper medical treatment been given. Those deaths, some 18,000 a year in America, could be prevented with money that is instead going to absurd military programs that build fantastically overpriced and unneeded weapons that sit in warehouses doing nothing. Today the United States spends more on its military than almost all other nations in the world combined.
That military isn't making us safer, it is killing us.
If we can't afford healthcare reform, the reason that we can't is because of out of control military spending for the past 30 years and the Republican's intentional running up of the national debt.
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