‘All these numbers’ tell a story now

In modern political campaigns it’s a given that opponents will attack each others’ ideas, misrepresent each others’ record and, metaphorically, make every attempt to rip each others’ ugly face off.

Since this vitriol is expected, little of it finds traction. It’s “politics as usual” and, as usual, it rarely changes minds, votes or outcomes.

A far more stinging political rebuke, however, is faint praise — that barely-warm bucket of rhetorical spit a candidate might get from someone he or she thought a friend.

For example, in an Aug. 13 New York Times gallop through 30 years of Republican economic policy, former GOP golden boy David Stockman begins a lengthy barbecue of Mitt Romney’s just-named vice presidential running mate this way: “Paul D. Ryan is the most articulate and intellectually imposing Republican of the moment …”

“Of the moment” isn’t just faint praise, it’s the only praise Stockman offers in his ensuing 950-word pasting of Ryan who, he says, “folded like a lawn chair on the auto bailout and Wall Street bailout …” by voting for both.

Ouch

Stockman later spotlights a “greater hypocrisy … (Ryan’s) phony ‘plan’ to solve the entitlements mess by deferring change to social insurance by at least a decade.”

Pretty rough stuff from a fellow Republican and fellow budget wonk who served as director of the Office of Management and Budget in the Reagan White House from 1981 to 1985. He also was the goggle-eyed whiz kid who, in the Dec. 1981 Atlantic Monthly, famously labeled Reagan’s infamous supply-side tax cuts “just trickle-down theory.”

Stockman, the guy in charge of White House numbers, then went on to confess that “None of us really understands what’s going on with all these numbers.”

Ryan’s career eerily tracks Stockman’s: a kid policy wonk, kid congressman, a fresh-faced party lieutenant full of budget reform ideas. One, however, quickly learned what “all these numbers” mean — total federal debt ballooned from $998 billion in 1981 to $2.1 trillion in 1985 — the other now seeks a chance to learn.

Target

Ryan’s biggest reform ideas take dead aim at America’s three costliest social programs: Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Any change in either, or all, will have profound effects across farm country, though, because rural America relies more heavily on all three than the nation’s urban areas.

Social Security shows that disparity. According to a Nov. 2011 study by the National Academy of Social Insurance (source links found at www.farmandfoodfile.com), 9.3 percent of “total personal income” in rural counties comes from Social Security.

By contrast, Social Security is just 5.0 percent of total personal income in urban America. Moreover, Social Security is the economic lifeblood of many rural counties.

For example, Orangeburg County, SC, gained $232 million of income — or about $1 billion in overall economic activity — in 2009 through Social Security.

Growing numbers

The story is the same for Medicare and Medicaid’s impact on farm and ranch country. While one in six, or 49 million, Americans, receive Medicare benefits, 12 million, or one in four, of those beneficiaries live in rural America. And that number is growing; 15 percent of rural America is 65 years old or more while just 12 percent of urban Americans are senior citizens.

Medicaid, too, has an enormous impact on farm and ranch country: 16 percent of all rural residents and 35 percent of all rural children up to 18 years old receive Medicaid benefits. The “urban” numbers, respectively, are 13 percent and 28 percent.

Additionally, six out of 10 rural nursing home residents receive some form of Medicaid.

One more Medi-barrage: It is estimated that 56 percent of all rural physician income and 60 percent of all rural hospital cash flow is tied to Medicare and Medicaid.

Hardest hit

In short, any change to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid will be felt first and hardest in rural America.

But (warning: faint praise ahead) unlike those brilliant Capitol Hill wonks who need 14 years in Congress or four in the White House to figure that out, we know it now.

About the Author

Alan Guebert was raised on an 800-acre, 100-cow southern Illinois dairy farm. After graduation from the University of Illinois in 1980, he served as a writer and editor at Professional Farmers of America, Successful Farming magazine and Farm Journal magazine. His syndicated agricultural column, The Farm and Food File, began in June, 1993, and now appears weekly in more than 70 publications throughout the U.S. and Canada. He and spouse Catherine, a social worker, have two adult children. farmandfoodfile.com More Stories by Alan Guebert

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