CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Thanks to the elevation of Paul Ryan as the standard-bearer for the Republican Party, we now know with total clarity just what the other side intends to do if they take over the White House this fall.
His budget proposal, which to his credit is quite specific, would tackle the deficit by shredding the safety net that families across this country rely on to care for parents and children.
In essence, Ryan is gutting programs for seniors, people who are disabled, children, families struggling to make ends meet and then turning over those savings for more than $4 trillion worth of tax breaks for wealthy Americans and large corporations.
Consider some of the better-known elements of his plan:
• Ryan would end Medicare for the 52 million seniors and people who are disabled and turn it into a privatized voucher-type program.
According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, the federal government last year spent $5,500 for each senior on Medicare, and it also estimates that the cost per senior will rise to between $8,600 and $9,600 by 2030. Yet the Republican budget would cap the spending at $7,400 per senior.
If seniors aren't able to pay the difference, then they're simply out of luck under the Ryan plan.
• Ryan's plan also rips apart the Medicaid program by turning it into a block grant program.
Right now Medicaid is a lifeline to 68 million people including low-income families and children. And it provides long-term care for seniors, covering about half of long-term care in the U.S. -- which helps millions of seniors with care in their homes and nursing home care.
Scaling back Medicaid so that it's little more than a block grant just forces state governments to pick up the rest of the tab, or cut services to beneficiaries, as the cost of care increases. And this is at a time when so many state budgets are already strapped.
That element of Ryan's plan would effectively create a country where millions of people can't afford health care, they would become sicker, and it would increase health costs even more nationwide. It also would force nursing homes across the country to slash services, turn away seniors, or close their doors.
Meanwhile, Medicaid is one of the least expensive ways to provide health care to people, and it creates tons of jobs. It was estimated that a similar proposal to cut Medicaid would cost 3 million jobs from 2013 to 2020.
• Finally, let's touch on Social Security -- a program that workers pay into to make sure that people have a safety net when they retire, or in cases of disability or early death, so our children are protected.
Since 2004, Ryan has led efforts to privatize Social Security -- meaning people would bet their retirement savings in the stock market.
Just think back to 2008 when the financial crisis hit. If every American had privatized Social Security accounts then, their retirements would basically no longer exist. Instead, many people lost a lot of money in the stock market because of the crash -- but their Social Security benefits were safe.
Ryan's first two budgets called for privatizing Social Security, and while he backtracked on it in his most recent budget, he showed his true colors on where he stands.
If given the platform to try again, I'm very worried he would make another serious push to jeopardize people's retirements in the false name of deficit reduction. We need to fight to protect Social Security, not destroy it.
In coming weeks, we'll continue to hear a lot of back and forth about Paul Ryan and which members of Congress are willing to support his plan. It's my hope that as more Americans come to understand exactly where Ryan wants to take this country's life-saving social programs, they will run in the opposite direction.
The Republican budget is a slap in the face to millions of people. We will reduce the deficit, but not this way.
Rockefeller is West Virginia's senior senator.