Monday, March 18, 2013

Crowding out all those things we call "the government"

Here's George Will two months ago:
"You wonder why discretionary spending is so low? Because nondiscretionary spending on entitlements is crowding out the Marine Corps, scientific research, everything else. And this is our future. We're going to be an assisted living home with an Army. That's going to be the American government."
And here's Robert Samuelson today with "America the Retirement Home."
The budget debate’s central reality is that federal retirement programs, led by Social Security and Medicare, are crowding out most other government spending. Until we openly recognize and discuss this, it will be impossible to have a “balanced approach” — to use one of President Obama’s favorite phrases. It’s the math: In fiscal 2012, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and civil service and military retirement cost $1.7 trillion, about half the budget. If they’re off-limits, the burdens on other programs and tax increases grow ever greater.
It's probably too late to turn back from the abyss.  As I wrote many years ago, the time for reform was before the horde of Baby Boomers retired.  Now that the largest group of American voters are getting their checks, and no politician is going to risk his or her career to stand in the way.  Samuelson notes that it's up to the President to tell America that programs initiated when the light bulb was "the latest thing" need to be reformed for the 21st century:
Only the occupant of the bully pulpit can yank public opinion back to reality. This requires acknowledging that an aging America needs a new social compact: one recognizing that longer life expectancies justify gradual increases in Social Security’s and Medicare’s eligibility ages; one accepting that sizable numbers of well-off retirees can afford to pay more for their benefits or receive less; one that improves generational fairness by concentrating help for the elderly more on the needy and poor to lighten the burdens — in higher taxes and fewer public services — on workers; and one that limits health costs.
In other words, we're doomed.  Sorry kids.  Now get to work.

No comments: