Although it was written almost a decade ago, The West Wing is still relevant today. Arguing about Social Security with one of his advisors, fictional President Josiah Bartlet cautions against participating in the debate. “Social Security is the third rail of American politics,” he warns, “Touch it, and you die.” His advisor looks down, then looks the president straight in the eyes and responds, “That’s because the third rail is where all the power is.”
While that prescient piece of dialogue concerned social security, it could have been a modern commentary on debates over the future of Medicare and Medicaid. Here in Wisconsin, people are catching on to the fact that the financial solvencies of Medicare and Medicaid – government health insurance programs which serve the elderly, the disabled and low-income families – are in jeopardy. Because it’s election season, this discussion has turned into a fierce debate over which candidate for Senate, Democrat Tammy Baldwin or Republican Tommy Thompson, would be the better representative in Washington to do something about it.
First the facts: Program costs are high and still rising. Kaiser Health predicts that in about eight years, Medicare and Medicaid expenses will comprise about 20 percent of the federal budget. These programs are popular, at least in Wisconsin. In a Marquette University Law School poll 65 percent of respondents agreed that “Medicare should continue as it is today, with the government … making sure that everyone gets the same defined set of [health care] benefits.” The Affordable Care Act – pejoratively known as ObamaCare – extends the projected solvency of the program from 2016 to 2024, largely due to the $716 billion cut to providers and insurers.
Much of this has been skewed by the usual campaign conjecture. Both candidates have been quick to accuse their opponents of wanting to make drastic, threatening cuts to these programs. Thompson has charged Baldwin with supporting the $716 billion in cuts which he says will directly affect program participants. He has further contended that Democrats don’t have a viable plan for reforming healthcare, and he argues they are “going to stand around and watch it go broke.” Baldwin, for her part, has launched a strong counter-narrative, putting the spotlight on the millions of dollars Thompson has earned working for health care firms since leaving the Bush administration.
So, who do you trust with the power?
I don’t see this issue as even-handed. Thompson makes a fair point when he explains there are financial issues which are not being talked about. It’s also important to note the plan he supports, a voucher-esque idea similar to the one proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, is par for the course as far as details go.
That being said, I’m voting for Tammy Baldwin. Here’s why.
As a young person, I feel uneasy voting against the candidate who wrote the law that allows me to stay on my mother’s health insurance until I’m 26. As a student who believes in the value of higher education, I find it difficult to vote against the candidate who supported this law, which makes it more likely for young people to enroll in college. According to a study by Towson University, “A student who is insured via her parent’s health insurance plan is 5.7 percent more likely to enroll as a fulltime student than a student without parental coverage.”
I’m not voting for Tommy Thompson because the last few years of his professional life exemplify the shady “revolving-door” politics that go on between the public and private sector. After regulating the health care industry under President George W. Bush, Thompson made millions of dollars while under the employment of those same companies. If that smells fishy to you too, well, it is.
Health care’s financial problems are not going anywhere. It’s difficult to balance budgets and even harder to do it evenly. But some groups have young people’s futures in mind while others want to play down the past. Vote for Tammy Baldwin. Let’s give the right group the opportunity to ride the third rail.
Nathaniel Olson (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a senior majoring in political science, history and psychology.