Sunday, January 18, 2004

Schwarzenegger's Class War: Terminate the Poor and Middle Class

Let me make one thing perfectly clear: The budget battles over cuts in government spending vs. raising taxes are not just fights over different philosophies of government, about the size of government, or attempts to "get government off of our backs." They are fundamental fights over who wins and who loses in this society, who government rewards and who it penalizes. Go one direction -- tax increases on higher incomes -- and those most able to pay for needed government services will foot some of the bill. Go the other way -- cuts in needed public services such as health care and social services -- and those least able and most in need bear the burden, not so much in money, but in pain and suffering.

We're watching the battle play out in all of its starkest dimensions right now in California with a big deficit, plus a "moderate" Republican governor's promise not to raise taxes on anyone. Despite Republican denials and name calling, there's only one way to characterize what's going on there (as well as in other states -- and the federal government for the past three years): Class War
In his campaign last fall, Mr. Schwarzenegger, a Republican, praised the Healthy Families program and vowed to do whatever he could to make sure all those who qualified for the program were enrolled. But in his budget, which is certain to be modified by the Legislature, Mr. Schwarzenegger proposed $2.7 billion in cuts in social service programs, including the cap on enrollment in Healthy Families.

Virtually every state safety net program for the poor — including Medi-Cal, welfare and programs for the infirm, the aged, the severely disabled and those living with AIDS — faces substantial reductions under the governor's spending plan.

Mr. Schwarzenegger also proposed a 10 percent reduction in fees to doctors and other medical providers under the Medi-Cal program, a move some fear will drive many providers out of the overburdened system. A court has blocked a 5 percent reduction in Medi-Cal reimbursements imposed last year, so the $462 million Mr. Schwarzenegger hopes to save from the larger reduction is hypothetical at this point.

The governor's proposal would cap health care payments for illegal immigrants, reduce state payments for in-home care of the elderly and disabled and suspend the scheduled 2005 cost-of-living increase in the state's share of the Supplemental Security Income program.

More than 75,000 legal and illegal immigrants and 110,000 children in low-income families would lose health coverage in the first year of the plan, according to Health Access, a nonprofit group that advocates expansion of coverage. The California HealthCare Foundation estimates that the plan would add 350,000 Californians to the ranks of the uninsured over the next two years.
Scharzenegger's people, of course, see no evil:
"Anyone who characterizes it as balancing the budget on the most vulnerable is just not accurate," said Rob Stutzman, the governor's communications director. "The pain is balanced throughout government."
Yeah, right. Show me one wealthy family (who, by the way, have been spared any tax increases) who have to take their kids into crowded, dirty emergency rooms every time they're sick.