Medicare now faces a more uncertain future than at any time in its history. That’s not because it has lost popularity or failed to control costs as effectively as private insurance has. On the contrary, the program continues to enjoy overwhelming public support, and since the late 1990s, its costs per beneficiary have grown more slowly than those of private insurers. Nor does Medicare confront an imminent crisis; in fact, its costs have decelerated in the past year.
(Sipa via AP Images) President of France's far-right National Front party Marine Le Pen gives a press conference after protesting a French National Assembly vote that authorized a 15 billion euro aid package for Greece.
The epic financial crash of 2007–2008 should have produced a massive political defeat for the conservative ideology whose resurgence began three decades ago. Its signal achievement, liberated finance, did not reward innovation, enhance economic efficiency, or produce broad prosperity. Rather, the result was a speculative bubble followed by a severe crash. Along the way, the super-rich captured a disproportionate share of the economy’s gains, while other incomes stagnated. In the aftermath, ordinary people have suffered large losses of earnings, assets, social protections, and hopes for their children.
Last week, Ben Bernanke delivered a speech in which he agreed that the government should reduce the deficit. However, he cautioned, "a sharp fiscal consolidation focused on the very near term could be self-defeating if it were to undercut the still-fragile recovery."
Do Republican leaders in Congress answer to Tea Party activists or to Wall Street? That question will be answered in the next few weeks as the debt-ceiling fight comes to a head. The choice that GOP leaders make will influence more than fiscal policy or the financial markets; it will also shape the 2012 election and reveal the true identity of today's Republican Party.
When I saw that Rep. Paul Ryan, the GOP budget guru who's led the charge for Medicare repeal, was planning a major address on foreign policy, my hopes were not high. Indeed, the speech he delivered last Thursday offered its fair share of nonsense, partisanship, and ideological ax-grinding. But in some respects, Ryan's core ideas about international relations were refreshingly sensible.
For some time, liberals have felt that their messenger-in-chief has been AWOL. In the wake of President Barack Obama's acquiescence to $38 billion in spending cuts, many targeted at vulnerable populations, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote of the president that "arguably, all he has left is the bully pulpit. But he isn't even using that -- or, rather, he's using it to reinforce his enemies' narrative."
Ezra Klein: The first thing I wanted to talk about was your support for a balanced budget amendment. Tell me why you think the country needs one.
Bill Richardson: We have a $9 trillion debt, and this fiscal irresponsibility is threatening not just important programs, but America's kids -- there's not going to be any funds to spend for important social programs like health care and education. My view is this: Look what happened with infrastructure, look what happened with the fact that the war has taken most of the discretionary spending -- $450 billion -- so there's no funds to repair bridges, there's no funds to deal with college loans for kids, no funds to put more into Medicaid for the states. What I would do, and if you look at this -- are you a young guy?