US spends too much on elderly, too little on kids

“We are eating our seed corn.”

Marian Wright Edelman, Children’s Defense Fund, 2009

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama started the adult conversation over debt and taxes last week — if only barely. In a forthright and feisty speech, Obama defended the traditional social safety net while also acknowledging the need to curb the growth of spending, especially on health care.

But he riled many Republicans by re-introducing an inconvenient truth: Taxes must be raised. The nation simply cannot pay its debts and sustain worthwhile federal programs without more revenue.

While that’s a generally accepted bit of grade-school math in much of the political realm, it has become heresy in the GOP, which has taken up residence in a parallel universe of fairy godmothers, unicorns and Easter bunnies.  In that universe, lowering taxes for the rich magically creates jobs, fills government coffers and spreads prosperity for all.

That’s bunk, of course. George H.W. Bush famously called it “voodoo economics.” Still, that notion — proved wrong as recently as the presidency of George W. Bush — has gained a certain power through frequent repetition.

So it fell to Obama to remind Americans of the Clinton years — when taxes were higher, the budget was balanced, the deficit falling and prosperity widespread. The balanced federal budget was squandered by Obama’s predecessor, who slashed taxes, spent recklessly and presided over a period of tepid economic growth.

Obama will need to repeat the facts that link higher taxes with increased prosperity time and again. And even he didn’t go far enough; the president ought propose raising taxes on the merely affluent, not just the rich.

Moreover, Obama has only started to nibble at health care spending in Medicare, a voracious federal program. He ought to be frank with the nation’s elderly: they are draining an exorbitant amount of the national treasury, taking up resources that ought to be going to the young.

Somehow, we’ve managed to create an upside-down social safety net that maroons far too many children while swaddling the elderly in a cocoon. How can the nation “Win the Future” if we spend 2.5 times as much on its old as the young? (If you count federal spending alone, the ratio is more like 7 to 1.)

I don’t mean to sound cavalier about the needs of the elderly, who tend to be sicker and have higher medical expenses. Obama was right to pledge to protect Medicare against the predations of U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-), who wants to end it.

But an adult conversation — a truly adult conversation — would engage seniors and help them to understand the consequences of our current spending curve. In nations that suffer famine, we hear wrenching stories of starving parents who give the last scraps of food to their children. We’ve taken a starve-the-kids, feed-the-old approach, instead.

While too many children are stuck in bad schools and poor housing, while community clinics that deliver vaccinations and asthma medicine beg for money, while young adults skip college because they can’t afford it, the elderly were given a budget-busting prescription drug plan during the Bush administration. That makes little sense.

If resources are limited (and they are), the nation needs to make choices – some more painful than others. My brother, Kevin, a Boston physician who treats kidney disease, talks about the Medicare program that pays for dialysis for anyone with failing kidneys — including the terminally ill. Started in the 1970s to help adults still in the workforce, its fastest-growing population is now over 65, he said.  And it costs tens of billions a year.

“It may not be the best use of resources for the frail and infirm elderly, and it also forces many elderly patients to spend their last days in the hospital, rather than at home,” a more comfortable setting, Kevin told me.

Yet, many patients, even octogenarians who don’t expect to recover, find it difficult to turn down the treatment. “And physicians resist having a conversation with patients that recommends they forego dialysis because it’s an uncomfortable conversation to have. It’s easier just to recommend the treatment,” he said.

But those are exactly the adult conversations we ought to be having.

218 comments Add your comment

SmittyATL

April 15th, 2011
8:14 am

Cynthia is partially right. The US (all of us, collectively) spends too little on kids, and the GOVERNMENT spends too much on the elderly. FAMILIES should take better care of their kids and their elderly.

They cut hair, don't they?

April 15th, 2011
8:18 am

“Innopportunely, now that we’re facing High Noon, we’ve managed to festoon an upside-down social safety net that maroons far too many unspooned children while swaddling the elderly in a cocoon.”

I really love that sentence. Cynthia is an amazing writer.

Bob

April 15th, 2011
8:19 am

Headstart is a waste of money.

Peadawg

April 15th, 2011
8:20 am

“US spends too much on elderly, too little on kids”

I think the US spends too much on ALL entitlements, period…but good article nonetheless.

Good Grief

April 15th, 2011
8:21 am

Love it, CT. Absolutely love it. Obama, the great and powerful, will surely solve all our problems by throwing more money at them.

Seriously, I stopped reading at the unicorns comment. You used to be better than this CT. There once was a time when you could have reasoned debate over the things you wrote. Now, you drifted into an even more partisan mindset that you’ve taken reasoned debate off the table. Sad to see.

Kamchak's Gerbil

April 15th, 2011
8:21 am

Why should I pay for someone else’s food?

Bob

April 15th, 2011
8:21 am

In sum, this report finds that providing access to Head Start has benefits for both 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds in the cognitive, health, and parenting domains, and for 3-year-olds in the social-emotional domain. However, the benefits of access to Head Start at age four are largely absent by 1st grade for the program population as a whole. For 3-year-olds, there are few sustained benefits, although access to the program may lead to improved parent-child relationships through 1st grade…

Stonethrower

April 15th, 2011
8:24 am

“Them that’s got shall get, them that’s not shall lose” God bless the child that’s got it’s own”!

Peadawg

April 15th, 2011
8:26 am

“Seriously, I stopped reading at the unicorns comment.”

Although it was a very childish statement on Cynthia’s part, it describes the GOP in Washington perfectly.

They cut hair, don't they?

April 15th, 2011
8:30 am

Ideologically, it’s difficult to pull the plug on the Schiavos out there. This is where religion and politics themselves are the issue. Some clashes are unavoidable.

Guy Incognito

April 15th, 2011
8:38 am

A new record, this marks the 2nd time in 4 months that I agree with at least 1/2 of your article, CT. As for me, when I become a burden on my wife, bring on the morphine drip, and let me drift off to Valhalla………………

jhf

April 15th, 2011
8:45 am

cindy talks about the clinton good times but forgets about the dot com bubble burst

cosby

April 15th, 2011
8:45 am

Ahh…more class war fare by CT and Obama..those damn wealthy should pay..Why is it the governments responsibility to take care of anyone…should not the families, church’s, charity organizations come into play..perhaps we should make the salvation Army illegal as it competes with the Federal government…Time for The USA to grow up..it is not big daddy Federal Government to support anyone…as for the tax code ..how about the FAIR TAX..that way the Fed’s cannot use the tax code to promote class war fare….more of the same from CT and Obama..big Brother will take care of you..bull hockey!!!

buck@gon

April 15th, 2011
8:47 am

“President Barack Obama started the adult conversation ….. ”

Cynthia,

Got to stop you right there. I think you are hyperbiased based on your lust for a ride on Airforce One while massaging HIS shoulders. You aren’t thinking clearly now, and with only two posts this week, I can’t find any evidence that you have for at least seven days.

This post you began isn’t even begun true, never has been, and I want you to end a very low-productivity, under-achieving (what, is this your SECOND post? Whoop de doo!) week with a post that doesn’t reek of caca del Toro.

How is this untrue? Leaders, and particularly Presidents offer specifics in “adult conversations” and they offer them to adults directly, not to hand-picked Democrat college students at elite institutions. Presidents get things done, they bring together when its crunch time; they don’t alienate and divide. They don’t hold the military, roads and bridges hostage by claiming outrageously that if not his plan, then, (to reverse a pun) no highway.

Please start your post over; this time, open with a declaration (if that’s the way you want to do it) that can be proven entirely untrue.

Dan

April 15th, 2011
8:47 am

Government does not spend too little on kids at all, they spend more than enough, they just spend it foolishly and with no monitoring. Lets not forget for every dollar you spend on the child that is just another dollar the dead beat moms and dads don’t have to pay, and they can then fund their other pecadillos

Paul H

April 15th, 2011
8:49 am

Wow I’m blown away. Simple grade school math. Raise taxes. All our problems will be fixed. Force people to pay even MORE taxes for their hard work. That’s what will stimulate the economy.

(Please note sarcasm)

Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton have a scheme for you......

April 15th, 2011
8:50 am

Enter your comments here

Realtalk

April 15th, 2011
8:50 am

Typical Dribble from CT….

Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton have a scheme for you......

April 15th, 2011
8:51 am

Please ask George Soros to give you some new and fresh mindless comments to spew in your next article….these are getting boring…

fascist gop(h)er

April 15th, 2011
8:52 am

If your not producing you’re a parasite to paraphrase the gop rational. Crank up the death panels and lay out the death traps. Greatest generation, due us all one more solid and off yourselves. Proof you really love your Country.

BehindEnemyLines

April 15th, 2011
8:52 am

I thought death panels were just a scare tactic used by that horrid GOP?

GA Buddy

April 15th, 2011
8:53 am

You state something like

“Obama was right to pledge to protect Medicare against the predations of U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-), who wants to end it.”

Then end your article with

“But those are exactly the adult conversations we ought to be having.”

It’s easier to have an adult conversation when someone isn’t stating things with the sole purpose of scaring people. You may not agree with Ryan’s change to medicare by having the govt give the funds directly to the elderly so they can shop for insurance, but that is a change, it is not the end of coverage. At most, it’s the end of the way it’s working. But of course, saying it would be changed doesn’t rile up old people as much as saying the program wouldn’t exist anymore.

If you want an adult conversation, try to avoid the scare tactics used by both sides to hide behind instead of having an “adult” conversation.

Paul H

April 15th, 2011
8:53 am

It’s how the government allocates the money, not the amount they spend. Period. Our forefathers would be incensed at the taxes we pay already. They would literally think it was a joke.

And you want more. Unreal. Not just for the “rich” but for the “affluent.” So now we’re getting into middle class territory. Where does it end, Cynthia?

Good Grief

April 15th, 2011
8:53 am

Peadawg – I couldn’t agree more. Neither of the “big two” parties is grounded in reality. A responsible person stops spending money when they don’t have any to spend, which I suppose shows you how irresponsible our government is.

Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton have a scheme for you......

April 15th, 2011
8:54 am

Answer to America’s problem. If you pay no taxes – then you do NOT vote in federal elections. If you don’t have a stake in the country ( monetarily speaking) then why should you be allowed to vote on what politicans should do with other peoples money? hmmmmmmmmm?

Paul H

April 15th, 2011
8:55 am

“a parallel universe of fairy godmothers, unicorns and Easter bunnies.”

And then you end the article talking about the need to have adult conversations.

Wow

April 15th, 2011
8:56 am

Why does CT hate seniors?

Straight Talk

April 15th, 2011
8:56 am

CT, how do you propose to pay for all the necessary and wonderful social programs when our government is bankrupts, no creditor in their right mind will loan us any more money and we can’t print any more worthless currency? I get it! Let’s get President Obama to fire up his teleprompter and make another class warfare speech.

Felix the cat

April 15th, 2011
8:58 am

Really Cynthia?? Take out the money for the elderly. Money which you failed to mention was put in their throughout their working life time. It was promised by former administrations and for many elderly its all they have. Even their children turn their back on them when it comes to helping their parents. If you have the opportunity to live that long, you will also pass through the same gates as the elderly and you too will have your hand out for what you believe you paid into and should get back. The fact is, you will receive something. Unfortunately as most readers know, you truly will not have earned it writing articles like this. As for the children, their parents can care for them or their parents can practice more effective birth control methods.

carlosgvv

April 15th, 2011
8:58 am

While I agree taxes need to be raised, there is a reason why so many Americans are against it. Once politicans get their hands on our tax money they spend it any way they wish in spite of what the money was intended for. Until this practice changes, few voters in either Party will go for any tax raise.

Rich

April 15th, 2011
8:59 am

As tax revenues raise the government spends rises at a greater rate. The right answer is less spending.

JB Mallory

April 15th, 2011
8:59 am

@cosby I am so tired of that kind of comment. The truth is that we are in the hole. At this point it doesn’t matter how we got here or whose fault it is – we have to get out. So how do we do that? Everyone has to chip in a little. People who receive services will have to receive less. People who pay taxes will have to pay a little more. AFTER we take care of the debt, then we can talk about reducing the size of government more and THEN reducing taxes – exactly in that order. I will have to pay a little more in taxes now. I’d rather do that than pay a helluva a lot later. And BTW – I did everything right, got a house I could afford, denied myself luxuries so I could build a nest egg, receive no gov’t benefits and pay the highest bracket. I wish people would just quit complaining, roll up their sleeves and do what needs to be done.

Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton have a scheme for you......

April 15th, 2011
9:00 am

Answer to America’s problem.

If you pay no taxes – then you do NOT vote in federal elections. If you don’t have a stake in the country ( monetarily speaking) then why should you be allowed to vote on what politicans should do with other peoples money?

Bobby

April 15th, 2011
9:00 am

I’ll agree with Cynthia within limits concerning spending on children. But who told all these people who cannot afford children to have them in the first place? Look at the pregnancy rates in the black community of teenagers in school who think it’s cool to be pregnant. Where are those fathers at to help put those children in good homes and schools. We (I’m approaching elderly stage) did our part putting our children in schools and staying together as families – a mother, father (same-sex families are acceptable here) so that children had better opportunities than we did. So, I’m having to think how much I’ll buy the argument that we are spending too much on the elderly and not enough on children. Sex education and parental responsibility might help the children situation.

Good Grief

April 15th, 2011
9:01 am

carlosgvv – Right. It’s not that conservatives are against higher taxes per se. Some of us would gladly see our taxes a bit higher if the money were used for the proper purposes. But as I said to Peadawg earlier, we have an extremely irresponsible government (on both sides of the aisle) that says they’ll use the money for Purpose A, and once they get it, all them money goes to pet projects and vote buying schemes.

slobberknocker

April 15th, 2011
9:05 am

R.New

April 15th, 2011
9:06 am

Dan,

You said something then brother!

shaggy

April 15th, 2011
9:07 am

Yeah, I figured my post would evaporate. Not dirty, but against Cynthia’s politics….

Freedom

April 15th, 2011
9:08 am

WOW, really? The seniors who busted their humps for years and are now retired, and we spend too much on them???????

Wow, we could take a lesson from the Japanese. They HONOR their eldery. The COUNTRY takes care of them……

I personally, do not believe that anyone over the age of 70 should pay taxes anymore. They have paid their dues, it’s time to enjoy what’s left of life, without Uncle Sam taking his share.

ricardus

April 15th, 2011
9:09 am

Tucker pretends to care a great deal “for the children” but she supports abortion. I suppose she would just as soon gas the elderly.

Red

April 15th, 2011
9:10 am

Disagree. It’s easy to say this because you have one program, Medicare, to pin costs on. But what of the programs for children already? Look at the Department of Education. Look at half of property taxes going to schools. Look at education grants. Look at Pell Grants. Hope. Medicaid. WIC. School lunches. Endless other programs that do amount to something. It’s not like the children are deprived. Seniors have put into the system for years. They have worked most of their lives contributing to the system. Their taxes have gone in. And when they went in, government spending was not nearly what it is now. They did not demand even a quarter of what the younger generations feel it is their ‘right’ to have. Add to the fact that people like Cynthia who think healthcare is an entitlement and a right…well then give it to those who do not have the means to obtain it.

Why is CT demonizing seniors as money grabbing hoarders when they are the least of the age groups doing this? I do find it odd that CT makes a statement about the kids not getting enough but chooses to focus her thought on pulling the plug on the burdensome and costly “on death’s doorstep” types. Instead of actually telling us where the money should go in children’s programs, she used a sneaky tactic in then going off on euthanization. CT – you could have won over an audience with offering some solutions to better uses of money for say fostercare or orphans, adoption, etc. But implying we need to let the geezers sit in a running car in the garage? Wow.

Kamchak's Gerbil

April 15th, 2011
9:11 am

Right on the mark Jesse – why should people that pay no taxes have a say in elections – they would always vote to continue the freebies.

Maryj

April 15th, 2011
9:11 am

We spend too much money on the POOR children. On the lower income children…..you know, the ones who’s parents REFUSE to get a job, and mooch off of the government teet……

Meanwhile, us RESPONSIBLE parents, take care of our own. We take care of our families. Don’t need no stinkin government to take care of US……

Get the freaking government out of my life!!!!

fascist gop(h)er

April 15th, 2011
9:12 am

Lop off Florida (in the Winter to catch the maximum amount of snow-birds) and send it on it’s merry way. Aim toward the Gulf to soak up the oil. Two birds killed one stone.

BlahBlahBlah

April 15th, 2011
9:12 am

We spend too much on the elderly and too little on kids, yet Paul Ryan’s plan (which doesn’t touch anyone over 55) still gets vilified by the left.

R.New

April 15th, 2011
9:12 am

Cuts need to be made, but not if it will effect the elderly. It may be easy to toss out there when you’re not in the group that will suffer from such actions. I think they should consider slashing wellfare. They should at least have some type of benefit limits. I don’t understand how someone who has multiple kids they can’t afford be allowed to continue to increase the size of the family all while receiving government funds. Where’s the motivation to get out and get your own. The assistance should be just long enough for you to get over the hump, not create and manage a life style from it.

Hahaha!!!!

April 15th, 2011
9:13 am

Sarah Palin was exactly right. The kooks do want DEATH PANELS. Give grandma a pill for the pain the Messiah says.

Thanks for proving Palin right as usual CT

RGB

April 15th, 2011
9:15 am

“Obama was right to pledge to protect Medicare against the predations of U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-), who wants to end it.”

It’s a sad way to start Friday morning telling a boldface untruth. “Predation” is defined as “the act or practice of plundering or marauding.”

Ryan’s budget increases spending on health care for elderly Americans every year via a premium support system such as the one Congress uses.

So much for marauding…..and truth-telling.

FOX NEWS LOVER

April 15th, 2011
9:15 am

We got to quit giving our tax money away to all these foreign countries and look after the people in the USA….While we continue to spend enormus amounts of money in other countries on people who burn our flag, we got people in the USA who got serious problems….Middle class has gotten tired of paying the way….We have made it easier to sit on the side and not work and live off the government…..

sim

April 15th, 2011
9:15 am

GE makes 15 billion and gets another 4.5 billion in handouts (from us) and pays nothing in corporate tax. Nothing. The rich pay less than they ever have. We spend 2 billion a week on wars started by Bush and his cronies to enrich themselves. And now we’re debating which entitlements are entitled? The poor, the elderly, children, teachers, policeman, firemen and all kinds of public servants have to pay the difference when the right wing squanders our treasure and spills our blood? Do I have that right? Yeah. I thought so. By the way, lower taxation for the rich does not translate into greater employment. Jobs grew under Clinton while there were huge losses under George W. How does that work exactly? Well, it doesn’t and remains one of the biggest lies told by the right, one that goes on unchallenged and unsupported by the facts–like most all of their assertions.