The past week or two has been a three-ring media circus, with news of Rosanne Barr making an ass of herself, Samantha Bee trying to keep up with Roseanne, Trump pardoning the least likely felons, Tuesday primaries, Trump’s tariffs, the feud between Trump and Super bowl winners the Philadelphia Eagles, the upcoming G7 summit, and Trump’s on-again-off-again meeting with Kim Jong-un, to name a few. So it is understandable that you might have missed something important stuck in one of the back corners of the room.
By now, surely we all understand that one of the goals of Trump and his supporters is to diminish spending on domestic social programs that help people have food to eat, a place to live, and medical care. Instead, he/they would rather increase such things as military spending, which is a multi-billion-dollar gig for defense industry, and putting extra money into the coffers of wealthy corporations. Trump has, for the past 16 months, been chipping away at the programs that benefit people, such as his executive orders that put large cracks into ACA and is resulting in a spike in health insurance premiums, especially for those who can least afford it.
But the latest has the potential to do far greater damage than anything he has done so far. On Wednesday it was announced that the administration is preparing to release a sweeping plan for reorganizing the federal government that includes a major consolidation of welfare programs — and a renaming of the Health and Human Services Department.
It all started back in March 2017, when Trump signed an executive order directing the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to come up with a plan to overhaul the government to make it more efficient.
There are three major issues I see with this plan. One, the renaming, two, the consolidation of services under HHS, and three, Alex Azar, the Secretary of HHS. Let us look at each of these issues.
The name change …
Until 1980, HHS was named Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. Under President Carter, the Department of Education became a separate department, and the word “Welfare” was dropped from the name because of the stigma. Many associate ‘welfare’ with ‘lazy poor people—mainly black, single mothers—bilking the federal government’. A recent study found racial resentment fueled most white Americans’ attitudes toward social safety nets. Other studies have found that public support drops for programs labeled as “welfare” as opposed to when they are labeled as “assistance to the poor.”
The consolidation …
In part, the rationale for consolidating services under one department is explained by …
“You have low-income assistance in a bunch of different shops without one point of oversight and without a whole lot of communication. Why not have one federal agency responsible for execution?”
I see some logic in this, but … we do not have a federal government in place that can be trusted. Period. Trump has already proven he has little, if any concern for the poor, the disabled or the elderly. Congress has already proven that they will basically rubber-stamp whatever legislation Trump asks for. Consolidate all services, then he cuts the budget by 75%. What happens then?
The six major programs that would fall under the umbrella of the new department are:
- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
- Medicaid (includes Child’s Health Insurance Program aka CHIP)
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (Food stamps)
- Supplemental Security Income
- Earned Income Tax Credit
- Housing Assistance
The Secretary …
The Secretary of the current HHS department is Alex Michael Azar II. From 2012 to 2017, Mr. Azar was President of the U.S. division of Eli Lilly and Company, a major pharmaceutical drug company, and was a member of the board of directors of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization, a pharmaceutical lobby. Under Azar’s leadership, drug prices rose steadily. In fact, under Azar, the company tripled the price of insulin. Yet, when Trump nominated Azar, he called him a “star for better healthcare and lower drug prices.”
Azar has long been a critic of ACA and predicts there will be a blanket repeal before the end of this year. He is also firmly against women’s right to choose in the matter of abortion.
Last year, when Trump announced his choice of Azar, Bernie Sanders said …
“The nomination of Alex Azar, the former head of Eli Lilly’s U.S. operations, shows that Trump was never serious about his promise to stop the pharmaceutical industry from ‘getting away with murder. The last thing we need is to put a pharmaceutical executive in charge of the Department of Health and Human Services.”
I agree, and would also add that the last thing we need is to put the lives and well-being of some 40 million low income people under the direction of an agency headed by a drug czar. Everything I have read about Azar indicates that he is toeing the party line … or rather, the Trumpian line, saying nothing that resembles fact as regards health insurance. His goal, like so many others in the Trump administration, is profit. What is needed to oversee low-income assistance programs is a person whose goal is to help people. Mr. Azar does not fill that bill.
The reality is that much of this plan to reorganize the federal government, which is said to also include “big changes” in nearly every department, may not likely see the light of day, for much of it will require the approval of Congress. Then again, the current Congress hasn’t said “no” to much of anything yet. But the intent could not be more chillingly clear: the more government programs that are rebranded as “welfare” regardless of their function or intent, the easier it will be to cut them.
The full plan is expected to be released in the next few weeks. I can hardly wait (dripping sarcasm intended).