Republican lawmakers have declared that President Barack Obama’s new health-care law will literally bankrupt the nation, driving small businesses into ruin and millions of Americans into penury. And yet despite its continuing economic woes, the United States remains the richest nation in the world, with an annual GDP (currently in the range of $15 trillion) three times greater than the world’s next largest economies, China and Japan.
How is it, then, that the world’s most prosperous nation—a nation that spends more each year on its pets ($45 billion) than the entire GDPs of 116 countries—should find itself unable to provide decent health care at affordable rates to some of its poorest citizens without risking insolvency and a crisis of apocalyptic dimensions?
In one sense, the Republican Party is surely right: the United States cannot afford the new health-care law, which is expected to cost $1 trillion over the next decade—nor Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, nor any other program of protection against the ravages of unfettered competition—if we are unwilling either to raise taxes or to begin the long and painful task of transforming our permanent war economy. It is time for a reckoning. Well into the eighth year of the occupation of Iraq, it behooves us to take stock of what the “war on terror” has cost us. Doing so may help put the price of universal health care into clearer economic and moral perspective.