Paul Adair is a 21-year Germantown resident, retired scientist, writer, and lecturer.
In recent presidential elections, seniors have been one of the few groups that Republicans have been able to rely on. For example, in 2012, those over 65 voted for Mitt Romney by a 56-44 margin. The question is, why? Many of the policies followed by today's GOP run counter to the interests of our more mature citizens. Let's examine some of those policies.
Although no one person speaks for the entire Republican Party, the broad party consensus is outlined in two documents: the 2012 GOP Platform, and Paul Ryan's manifesto, the "Path to Prosperity". Earlier in April, 218 House Republicans (including Jim Sensenbrenner) voted to endorse the Ryan plan. We draw heavily on those two documents in this discussion.
Medicare - There are few policies where the two parties are so diametrically opposed as on the future of Medicare. Democrats want to preserve this important earned benefit for future generations, as do 87% of seniors.
On the other hand, Republicans deride Medicare, calling it an "entitlement". This, despite the fact that we pay into the system our entire working lives. The GOP wants to replace Medicare with a discount coupon scheme, euphemistically called a "premium support".
According to the House GOP vision, seniors would be asked to purchase private insurance on the open market. Low-income people would be given some funds to help offset the astronomical costs of for-profit insurance for the elderly. However, there would still be significant out-of-pocket costs for most seniors.
The Affordable Care Act - Millions of seniors have already benefited from "Obamacare". By law, Medicare now covers preventive care with no co-pay. And the problematic "doughnut hole" in Medicare Part D drug coverage has been eliminated, saving seniors $8.9 billion in out-of-pocket costs through November 2013. For younger seniors, the guarantee of insurability provided by the ACA allows many to retire before 65 without worrying about whether the insurance companies will deign to sell them coverage.
Republicans are united in wanting to end all that. Both the GOP platform and Ryan's plan make it crystal clear that they want to kill Obamacare. In a maniacal frenzy, the House has taken over 50 votes to end the program. Ron Johnson went so far as to say that "Obamacare is the single greatest threat to our freedom in my lifetime."
Social Security- Social Security keeps 35% of seniors out of poverty. Democrats resist a radical change to the successful program. They instead advocate a strengthening of this basic cornerstone of retirement security.
The GOP platform advocates privatization of Social Security, stating that they want to "give workers control over, and a sound return on, their investments." Earlier versions of Ryan's "Path" also advocated privatization. However, after much push-back, recent versions of "Path" softened the language, attempting to disguise the real intent. The document now ominously "requires the President and Congress to work together to develop a solution for Social Security." Hold onto your wallet.
Other legislation of interest- In addition to the big three programs discussed above, there are many other issues of importance to seniors on which the GOP has taken the wrong side. For example, many seniors are less mobile than they once were. A UN treaty, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, would ensure foreign-traveling seniors the same ease of access that the ADA does in the US. Due to inherent far-right paranoia about anything related to the UN, Senate Republicans blocked this treaty from getting the 2/3 vote needed for ratification.
The unnecessary state-by-state drive for voter ID by Republican legislatures also harms seniors. In an attempt to solve a non-existent problem, the GOP has caused a real problem for the estimated 180,000 Wisconsin seniors who do not have a photo ID.
The House GOP "Path" slashes Medicaid, a program which is critical to many seniors in nursing homes and their families. The plan to block-grant a greatly diminished pot of Medicaid funds would lead to a situation where the famous "throw grandma off the cliff" commercials might not be so far-fetched, after all.
In addition to policies that go against the interests of seniors, many older voters do not like the "party of NO" direction that Republicans have taken. Seniors can remember a time when politics were not so incredibly rancorous. They recall a time when the main job of elected officials was to actually govern rather than to "fight the President". Many certainly don't agree with last year's GOP-engineered government shutdown. Seniors are increasingly fed-up with the GOP.
Many seniors are coming to realize that the Republican Party no longer deserves their support. Recent polls reflect this. For example, Gallup shows that Republicans had a 49-43% affiliation advantage among seniors (65+) in 2010. By 2013, that advantage had been cut in half, to 48-45%. A party that tirelessly works against the interests of seniors cannot count on their votes forever.