BY MAURICE WILLIAMS
At a January 5 White House news conference, Democratic president William Clinton boasted that his budget proposal for 1999 "will be the first time in 30 years that we've had a balanced budget." While extolling this as "good news for the American people," Clinton continues to probe for ways to gut Social Security, Medicare, and other entitlements won through decades of struggle by working people.
Clinton warned against "using a projected future [budget] surplus as a pretext for returning to the failed policies of the past." In other words, the president assured the U.S. rulers that when he presents his fiscal program to Congress February 2, he will not retreat on previous cuts in social entitlements implemented under the guise of achieving a "balanced budget."
In 1996 Clinton signed the Welfare Reform Act, which eliminated Aid to Families with Dependent Children. That measure hacked off a piece of the 1935 Social Security Act, affecting most of the 13 million workers and farmers receiving welfare and the 25 million people receiving food stamps. Under the 1997 "balanced budget" law, some 500,000 disabled immigrants with legal documents were restored their benefits - they were among the initial 1 million immigrants scheduled to be kicked off the food stamp program.
The day after his press conference, Clinton announced a proposal to "adapt" Medicare - the government medical program for the elderly and disabled - to include U.S. citizens between the ages of 55 and 65.
There are 3 million uninsured people in this age group who are currently not eligible for Medicare or Medicaid, which provides health care for workers with extremely low-incomes. They would be allowed to buy into the new Medicare program for $3,600-$5,000 a year. Clinton administration officials estimate that only 300,000 people will enroll in this plan if it is enacted.
To participate in this program, laid-off workers age 55 or older would pay $400 a month for the health benefits. Medicare recipients between the ages of 62 and 64 would pay $300 a month for coverage, and when they became eligible for full Medicare benefits at 65, they would have to pay $10 - $20 a month above the usual premium for health services, which is now $43.80 a month.
Clinton's Medicare "expansion" plan is presented as a measure to assist the estimated 41 million U.S. citizens who lack health insurance - including 10.5 million children.
The budget agreement Clinton signed into law last August was supposed to provide government funds to purchase medical insurance for 5 million low-income children, but congressional estimates put the figure for those who actually got coverage at about 500,000.
At the same time, that budget called for slashing $115 billion cut from Medicare and chopping $13 billion from Medicaid over five years.
More probes on Social Security
Among the rationales for not restoring some of the benefits that were slashed in the name of balancing the budget is the supposedly looming insolvency of the Social Security and Medicare trust funds.
Probing the possibility of another round of attacks, White House budget director Franklin Raines declared, "The job of dealing with Medicare and Social Security is now teed up for the political process."
According the Wall Street Journal, Clinton will "challenge" congress to "reform" the Social Security program when he delivers his State of the Union address in January. In response, Speaker of the House Newton Gingrich proposed January 5 that Congress establish a commission to study ways to gut the entitlement program.
Clinton is considering calling a special session of Congress after the elections in November to discuss further measures to chip away Social Security benefits. The president's "budget-balancing" law established a 17-member bipartisan commission to study Medicare and recommend proposals for slicing benefits.
A previous commission was set up by Congress released a report in December, 1996 that claimed the U.S. government had been overstating inflation by 1.1 percent.
The commission, headed by Michael Boskin, an economics professor at Stanford University and former chief of the White House Council of Economic Affairs under President George Bush, called for Washington to revise the Consumer Price Index (CPI. The index is used to calculate cost-of-living adjustments for many union contracts, as well as for entitlements such as Social Security.
At the January 3 annual meeting of the American Economic Association and American Finance Association held in Chicago, Illinois, Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan repeated the claims made by the Boskin commission.
"Researchers at the Federal Reserve and elsewhere have come
up with similar figures," he asserted, arguing for a
"technical" adjustment. This adjustment would cost working
people billions of dollars.
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