Starting in January hundreds of Walter Reed patients began having to pay for their meals. Technically designated “outpatients”, some 600 soldiers receiving “long term” care at the hospital in what the Army calls “medical hold” live on hospital grounds but are not bedridden. Wounded seriously and unable to return to service these vets are to be “processed out of the Army” but in the meantime must assume expenses for food, uniforms and such. (“A Military in Extremis” 1/27/2005) In what some have referred to as insult to injury it is disturbing that the government would try to pinch pennies in this manner.
And when one considers the budget the president has sent to Congress such savings seem even more ludicrous. However, because there are such large numbers of amputees, spinal cord injuries and other serious after-war conditions, it is feared that demands for increased veterans’ benefits have not yet been fully realized. That being the case it appears the administration plans to chip away at some of the costs associated with medical care by charging an enrollment fee of $250 and higher prescription co-pays for those higher-income veterans who do not have service-related disabilities and who may, then, choose to find other medical-service providers.
None of these savings, of course, will make much of a dent in the national debt, but the president is still pressing to make his tax cuts permanent and to privatize a portion of Social Security. According to Paul Krugman (NY Times 2/8/05) “…federal revenue as a share of GDP has plunged to levels not seen since the 1950s” with most of the plunge a result of the decline in “receipts from the personal income tax and the corporate profits tax…taxes that fall primarily on people with high incomes…while…the payroll tax …paid by middle…and working class Americans, remains at near record levels.” The president maintains that his tax cuts help to create jobs, but in many cases they just provide mad money for the purchase of high-end antiques at $100,000 a clip or a luxury home or car. And while such purchases boost a few people’s incomes they don’t create jobs or promote the general welfare in any substantial way.
And if the Social Security plan were to be enacted, disregarding arguments one way or the other as to the details of the plan, transition costs would be enormous, adding still further to the deficit. Joshua Bolton, the White House Budget Director, makes the rather curious argument that “transition financing does not represent new debt” because decades from now retirees would be able to rely on their private accounts rather than government benefits. Is this meant to be reassuring? One of the problems really with administration fervor to enact its privatization plan now is that no-one can claim with any degree of certainty what economic conditions will obtain so far into the future.
Still, the president continues to talk about an “ownership society.” The biggest question, however, is what is owned and by whom. As the country continues to amass debt, countries like China own more and more of our IOUs which could become a major problem down the road. Then, too, consider the Waltons – not the folksy crowd of TV fame but the owners of Walmart who are the 3rd, 4th and 5th wealthiest people in the country. One might suppose, that being the case, Walmart would pay well and provide generous benefits, however “high premiums and deductibles keep more than 2/3 of Walmart workers from participating in the company health plan.”( workers are often given advice on where to apply for food stamps and other public assistance so that communities end up helping to underwrite Walmart’s profitability.
In the end one has to wonder if most American workers are partners in an ownership society or if, as the old Tennessee Ernie Ford song, Sixteen Tons, suggested, they ‘owe their souls to the company store?’

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