In the Orwellian world that Trump’s Washington has become, we are used to hearing language abused and misused to forward a right-wing agenda. This week was no different. As Kaiser Health News reported, HHS Secretary Tom Price was on Capitol Hill Thursday reciting a blatantly false Tea Party mantra: government programs for our society’s most vulnerable members deserve to be cut because they “don’t work.” This falsehood flies in the face of evidence – of history, really. But in an attempt to dismantle the New Deal and Great Society programs that boost up the neediest – which includes millions of older Americans – the administration will literally say anything even if the opposite is true.
Price appeared before two congressional committees yesterday to defend President Trump’s 2018 budget, which calls for drastic cuts to programs benefitting seniors – including Medicaid, Meals on Wheels, and medical research by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). His testimony included the following whopper:
“The problem with many of our federal programs is not that they are too expensive or too underfunded. The real problem is that they do not work—they fail the very people they are meant to help.” HHS Secretary Tom Price before the Senate Finance Committee, 6/8/17
In spreading these myths, Price is singing from the same hymnal as other administration officials, most notably Budget Director Mick Mulvaney who defended funding cuts for Meals on Wheels thusly:
“Meals on Wheels sounds great… [but] we’re not going to spend [money] on programs that cannot show that they actually deliver the promises that we’ve made to people.” – OMB Director Mick Mulvaney, 3/15/17
With an extra-Orwellian touch, Mulvaney added that draconian cuts in safety net programs are “one of the most compassionate things we can do.”
All of this begs the question: by what imaginary standard do these programs “not work” or “fail the people they are meant to help?” How does Medicaid – which allows millions of needy seniors to afford long-term care at home or in skilled nursing care facilities – not work? Or Meals on Wheels, which provides hot, nutritious meals for 2 million hungry and isolated seniors – not work? These are programs that undeniably do work.
National Committee President Max Richtman takes Secretary Price to task for telling untruths about these vital federal programs:
“As a former member of Congress and a physician, Secretary Price should know better. By maligning programs that have been a lifeline for millions of Americans for decades, Secretary Price is denying history and facts. He is attempting to create an alternative reality that is patently false and misleading.” – Max Richtman, NCPSSM President & CEO
Price also resorted to the spurious claim that rising costs in programs like Medicaid demand cuts. He insisted that cutting $610 billion from Medicaid would lead to “innovations and efficiencies.” No, cutting billions from Medicaid will result in a shortfall for states facing rising costs, forcing them to cut benefits or kick people off the rolls altogether.
The truth is that these federal safety net programs are incredibly efficient already. Medicaid’s per capita costs are significantly lower than private insurers’. Meals on Wheels can feed a senior for an entire year at the same cost as a single day in the hospital. And those are only two of the safety net programs which fall under the Trump budget axe.
Democrats on the Hill pushed back against Price’s pronouncements and Trump’s budget cuts, too:
“It’s mean-spirited. It’s not good for America. We can do much better.” – Rep. John Lewis (D-GA)
If Republican budget hawks like Price truly cared about seniors, children, the disabled, and other vulnerable segments of society, they would not be slashing safety net programs. But they cannot pay for trillions in tax cuts for the wealthy and big corporations without cutting domestic spending, so programs that benefit our neediest citizens go on the chopping block. The rationale that the Trump budget cutters are simply seeking “efficiencies” is a thin veil for denying needy seniors long term care or hot meals.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt, father of the New Deal and grandfather of the Great Society (which today’s GOP is fighting to undo) put it best when he said:
“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much, it is whether we provide enough for those who have little.” – President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Unlike Trump’s budget hawks, FDR understood the importance of authentic language that shines a light on fundamental truths. He would never confuse “compassion” for cruelty, “helping people” for hurting them, or success for failure. Neither should we.