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

BlahBlahBlah

April 15th, 2011
9:16 am

And God forbid we try to raise the retirement age a couple of years to keep up with the reality of increasing life expectancy; the Democrats freak out at that idea and once again try to demonize Republicans who dare suggest such an idea!

Good Grief

April 15th, 2011
9:18 am

BlahBlahBlah – Look at what happened when France wanted to raise the retirement age by two years. The younger generations took to the streets in protest because it would make it harder for them to find a job.

Some People are stupid

April 15th, 2011
9:18 am

RGB-

I would just love to hear this answer, how do you increase spending by cutting money out of the program.

On a sidenote, the problem with the vouchers are that they only rise with the cost of inflation, but health care cost rise above inflation. Technically you are ending medicare. Medicare is essentially a government insurance….in Ryan’s plan it’s no longer an insurance but a subsidy…sort of like…food stamps, and section 8.

Barry Soetoro

April 15th, 2011
9:19 am

Hopefully YOU will not be adding to the problem,as you see it!

Daffynitions

April 15th, 2011
9:20 am

The whole key to this is, in Cynthia’s words, sustaining “worthwhile federal programs”. It all rests on the definition of “worthwhile”. Who decides this? In my opinion, the majority of all federal programs are not worthwhile in a time of lean and can, and should, be eliminated. End of Story.

James

April 15th, 2011
9:20 am

How many different ways can you say “Death Panel” without actually saying “Death Panel”??? Rationing, plain and simple, that’s what it comes down to when resources are limited. As has been suggested numerous times during the course of the health care debate, it must come down to deciding who will and who will not receive care. Sounds to me like Cynthia is for cutting services to the elderly or age-impaired. Just say it Cynthia, “Death Panel”!!!

Steven Q. Stanley

April 15th, 2011
9:25 am

When I was a kid may parents didn’t spend much on us.

Today every kid has 3 or 4 video game systems and a library of games. Maybe if parents spent a little less of their own money on kids we wouldn’t need government to spend so much.

Cynthia is dead on about old people though. Let these geezers care for themselves.

Lynn

April 15th, 2011
9:28 am

Walk into any hospital and you will notice it is full of the elderly receiving extremely expensive care for illnesses that would not be treated on an inpatient basis for any other population even accounting for the exact same diagnosis and potential mortality. Elderly patients who have a terminal diagnosis even at age 90 and beyond still seek aggressive chemotherapy and other treatment.

However, we are always willing to sacrifice the care of someone else’s grandmother. As our President should consider, his own grandmother had a very expensive hip replacement even as she faced a terminal illness. I will say that every other country will national health care does ration care particularly for the elderly. And in many cases, those we would not consider elderly at all. The difficult conversation don’t happen because the government has already decided what treatment will be offered.

Meathead

April 15th, 2011
9:31 am

Maryj
April 15th, 2011
9:11 am
We spend too much money on the POOR children.

Wow. Stooping to an all new low. Blaming the poor children. Unreal.

FOX NEWS LOVER

April 15th, 2011
9:32 am

When there is no logical explanation, blame it on George Bush…..Baloney, nobody gonna buy that anymore….Elections in 2012 will change this country….I have confidence that the American nation that I live in will not be fooled by what is going on in Washington now and will run them all off….Keep giving money to foreign governments who charge us $300 a barrell for oil while we have all kinds of oil reserves and refuse to drill for oil because of some 2.5 inch little animal…Environmentalist protect things like the snail darter, a small fish that held up the TVA project in Tennessee for years, but yet they see nothing wrong with taking a human life in an abortion….And when they put the Alaska pipeline up there, all the moose and bears were gonna be killed….These people must think Americans are stupid….If we don’t clean it up in 2012, I might have to agree that we are stupid if we go with these same people who continue to pass bills the American public has told them clearly that we do not want…People who vote for things that the American people do not want have to go, and go quickly, like 2012……Japan honors their older citizens, but all we get in the USA is to defund the medical knowhow to keep older citizens alive and to continue to pay taxes so that we can buy influence in some part of the 3rd world nations……Don’t like our president cowering down to the people who are gouging us everyday on oil and laughing all the way to the bank….If they hate you, no matter how much you bow to them or cower down, they still gonna put another 9/11 on you when they get the chance….Can we not figure that out????

lulu

April 15th, 2011
9:33 am

It never fails to amaze me that the people who are against abortion, birth control, and sex ed are the same ones who whine about the number of poor children, the high teen birth rate in low SES communities, and the money that goes to improve the lives of children who had nothing to do with their own conception and birth.

You’re probably also the same people who want every service imaginable that might possibly benefit YOU, but don’t want to pay any taxes on the off chance that – *gasp* – somebody else might see benefits as well.

And these are the people the politicians seem to cater to during election years. Complain about politicians all you want; they pander to what the masses want to hear. And until we’re willing to talk about actual solutions rather than fairy tales, we’re going to keep getting the same results that got us into this mess to begin with.

Wiie

April 15th, 2011
9:33 am

What a dishonest, self serving reading of history! Tucker shosw just how skewed and distorted her mind is.

Hankie Aron

April 15th, 2011
9:35 am

CT- Please answer this question. Why is it that you care for young children (as evidenced by this column calling for more spending) but if you can’t see or hear them in the mother’s womb they don’t exist?. How can you support abortion with a column like this? Please see yesterday’s column. Children are children whether 2 years old or 2 seconds old!. You are a complete hyprcrite.

Woody

April 15th, 2011
9:36 am

Referring to some of the comments here, it’s difficult for me to buy in to the idea that is is wrong, or rationally unjust, or logically incorrect, to collect a small amount from everyone to try to solve some of our widespread national problems. You should, for instance, pay for someone else’s food if that someone else is six years old and it’s the end of the month and parents have no money in the house to feed him or her. Especially if, eating in the morning helps the child behave well and learn well in school. Sorry, peanut gallery, Mom taught me it was right to share. Taxes and programs to support children in basic ways are an efficient way to do that.

FOX NEWS LOVER

April 15th, 2011
9:36 am

Steven Q. Stanley:
You gonna be an old geezer one day if you are lucky, and when they refuse you with medical help that might prolong your life, we’ll see what you have to say then….Guess some people value living a little more than you do…..

The list of hate grows

April 15th, 2011
9:36 am

So the farleft not only hates whites, blacks, hispanics, Jews, Christians, babies, freedom, capitalism and free will, we can now officially add the elderly to the list.

fascist gopher

April 15th, 2011
9:37 am

Seniors are parasites. Sucking on the government teet, like Ayn Rand in her dying days. Producing nothing, driving obnoxious 20-foot autos, and hogging all the tables at happy hour. Plus they smell funny. One caveat, they do seem to be able to still play a fast round of golf. It’s past time to crank up the democrat’s death panels and the republican’s death traps.

MountainMan

April 15th, 2011
9:38 am

It’s been proven time and again that for every dollar of revenue increase the federal gonvernment gets it spends $1.17. So it doesn’t matter how much you increase revenue, congress will spend more. The only way this will work is to get out Al Gore’s lockbox and put all the revenue increases in it and only fund deficit and debt reductions. Until that happens I don’t think the public will buy another tax increase to fund a drunken spending spree by congress.

Contractor

April 15th, 2011
9:38 am

Gracious alive Tucker. You sit there and admit your boy in office is spending way too much, because we don’t have the tax revenues to afford it. After admitting this, how can your only stance be to raise taxes? A 7th grader learning basic economics could answer this question, and it is to STOP spending and cut the useless spending. Of course, your class warfare opinion speaks for itself as you want a burger flipper to be worth as much as a heart surgeon. The rich aren’t rich because they spend more than they make, and the economic problems we are having are because too many irresponsible people were spending more than they had coming in. So why should the lifestyle that got all of us in this mess continue? It’s plain and simple that cutting is the only answer, not continuing to tax tax tax, because it will create less incentive to work (a little Macroeconomics for you). How do you and Barry expect us to afford these $30,000 hybrids to gain fuel independence when 30% of our check (30 cents of every dollar we make) is going to fund wasteful spending?

FOX NEWS LOVER

April 15th, 2011
9:40 am

Woody:
We have always helped the poor in this country, but why is this costing so much more now than it did in the 1980’s and 1990’s….Some people have chosen this as a lifestyle rather than trying to become educated and getting a good job….

jj

April 15th, 2011
9:41 am

In the Bush years tax revenues increased 6 out of 8 years. During his eight years in office total tax revenue increased by 36%, during the eight sainted Clinton years tax revenue icreased by 36%, so in total dollars Bush collectead a hell of a lot more tax revenue than Clinton. We don’t have a revenue problem we have a spending problem. The biggest increase in tax revenue during the Clinton years was his first, which was all passed by Bush Sr in his last year in office.
People have to stop asking the government to do everything for them, and the government has to stop bribing everyone for their vote.

Hankie Aron

April 15th, 2011
9:42 am

Yep the list goes on, the beat goes on.

williebkind

April 15th, 2011
9:43 am

Cynthis is for death panels, $5 a gallon gasoline, and higher taxes on the rich. OK, to solve this problem we need a new president. A person with integrity.

Troglodyke

April 15th, 2011
9:43 am

I have a lot of respect for the elderly, who have earned the right to relax in their waning years. They should receive what they have earned.

But one of the drains on the budget is indeed medicare, and this is partly because seniors are living longer. Medical science, by prolonging life, has created a situation in which people don’t die as soon as they used to. And if they get sick with a disease that would have naturally killed them 30 or 50 years ago, we prolong their lives.

Now, if we can cure the problem and give them several more productive years, I’m for it. But why prolong lives when there is no hope for recovery? Why Spend billions for dialysis and other maintenance (not to mention billions for vegetiative care) on people? I certainly think we should spend less on those who have smoked, or otherwise have made poor choices (yes, obesity counts here) that have now made them dependent on the government for medical help.

I know it isn’t a politically correct question. Is it a “sanctity of life” issue?

As for spending on children, I am torn. By subsidizing kids born to those who cannot care for them, we condone the practice. But it’s not the childrens’ fault. How do we take care of those already born and give them a chance at future success without rewarding the ne’er-do-wells who keep spitting them out because they want a plaything?

How do we show respect for our elders in a responsible way?

I reject the call for more taxes. Use the ones we pay already in a more responsible way. End the wars abroad and start taking fiscal responsibility here.

Greg

April 15th, 2011
9:44 am

And CT would be the first to scream we are killing our elderly if we were to cut any funding.

Janis

April 15th, 2011
9:46 am

We must put our elderly on an ice floe so that we can continue to fight wars all over the world.

TrishaDishaWarEagle

April 15th, 2011
9:46 am

Ah the clinton Glory days, when petfood.com had a higher market cap than Target..then the bubble burst..and all those debt projections evaporated..the convenient ommission of the left.

Martin the Calvinist

April 15th, 2011
9:46 am

Just think, a Democrat started Medicare in the first place, now they realize how expensive it is. How’s that great society working out for all of us.

fascist gopher

April 15th, 2011
9:47 am

Old people love Beck. After Fox kicked him to the curb he phoned the Mother Ship.When the Mother Ship arrives to pluck up Mr. B he could squeeze a couple million octogenarian’s onboard. Problem solved.

Martin the Calvinist

April 15th, 2011
9:49 am

Using IRS tax figures, you could raise the tax rate on all of those who made a 100,000 a year or more to a rate of 100% and you still couldn’t pay the overspending deficit created this year alone. Get a clue Cynthia, more taxes isn’t the answer.

Roger

April 15th, 2011
9:49 am

I have often wondered why you are so scared to go on FOX since they would actually challenge your sick, deranged point-of-view. Now I understand why you don’t. You clearly know you are wrong and may even be aware of just how evil you are.

At least you indirectly admit you are a coward

Some People are stupid

April 15th, 2011
9:50 am

Contractor-
You sit there and admit your boy in office is spending way too much, because we don’t have the tax revenues to afford it. After admitting this, how can your only stance be to raise taxes? A 7th grader learning basic economics could answer this question, and it is to STOP spending and cut the useless spending.

That made absolutely no sense. Take that back, it made half sense. A 7th grader would say cut expenses and raise additional revenue. If you lost your job today and found a job paying less, wouldn’t you cut back on expenses and think about getting a 2nd job.

And as far as the macroeconomics point. In economic theory there is this thing called equilibrium. If you exceed the tax equilibrium, then yes, that would be a disincentive to work…you know what, on second thought that still doesn’t work on a progressive tax scale. Simply because at every step in the tax bracket, you still net more than previous. On a sidenote, so when the top marginal rate was 39%, it seemed we grew a lot, so I would assume that isn’t the breaking point.

Why are people so averse to taxes??

TrishaDishaWarEagle

April 15th, 2011
9:50 am

If old people love watching beck, who the F loves reading CT? I have been asking that for years(coinciding with the huge circulation loses of the AJC) but the AJC keeps her around..

Steven Q. Stanley

April 15th, 2011
9:50 am

FOX NEWS LOVER

I have already told the wife to pull the plug.

I have no desire to have my family, or others, spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep me alive for an extra decade of pissing myself and not remembering who anyone is.

Martin the Calvinist

April 15th, 2011
9:51 am

Besides, we shouldn’t even have SS, medicare, and medicaid in the first place. Every one of those entitlements should be eliminated! That’s our biggest problem!

Some People are stupid

April 15th, 2011
9:52 am

oh know…the dot.com burst and it’s 6 month recession..
oh the horror….can we please get over this dot.com bubble bursting thing. There was still economically perfect employment before, during, and after it burst. If anything it had an effect on market capitlization only.

Steven Q. Stanley

April 15th, 2011
9:53 am

A lot of our problems with all people on welfare, old and young, can be solved with more abortions. Every time we abort a welfare baby we save ourselves a lot of money.

Moderate Line

April 15th, 2011
9:54 am

But an adult conversation — a truly adult conversation — would engage seniors and help them to understand the consequences of our current spending curve.
++++
I agree whole heartily with your assessment. Except that it is not going to change with an adult conversation. How often in history do you see a group give up an entitlement? It just doesn’t happen. In the 2010 House race 21% of the voters are 65 and older. Also, Paul Ryan’s budget basically clevely maintains the present system for the current recipients and cuts it for future generations. Note people 65 and older voted 59 to 38 for Repub. Future generations will probably pay more into the system than they will receive in benefit.

The Dems are always playing racial and gender politics but the real problem currently from a conceptional standpoint is old vs young. We can pass laws to protect minorities and women but our democracy can’t pass laws which protect future generations.

fascist gopher

April 15th, 2011
9:54 am

Trisha,

I’m betting you have an “R” and an “L” written on your shoes.

TrishaDishaWarEagle

April 15th, 2011
9:55 am

@SPAS (appropriately)

You do understand what losing half the Dow valuation and 3/5 of the NASDAQ did to those rosey debt pay down 10 year projections ynthia spoke of, right?

jconservative

April 15th, 2011
9:56 am

Nice article Cynthia. But you left out of your list of sinners maybe the top sinner, Foreign Affairs.

To date we have spent over $1.6 trillion dollars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And, as of today, we do not have the slightest idea what we have in either country 5 years from today. Most guessing today is that Iraq will be a Radical Islamic Republic like its neighbor Iran and Afghanistan will still be a feudal state with several dozen power centers.

So we get little for our $1.6 trillion and growing debt on those two places.

Oh, and do I need to mention the 5000 dead American soldiers? We got all bent out of shape over 3000 dead on 9/11 but do not blink and eye over 5000 dead soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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

April 15th, 2011
9:58 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?

RambleOn84

April 15th, 2011
9:59 am

The problem is not that we spend too much on the elderly. The problem is not that we don’t spend enough on kids.

The problem is that “we” spend too much, period. “We” equals the government, without the consent of the governed.

The problem is that the Democrats want to spend entirely too much on welfare programs. The problem is that the Republicans want to spend entirely too much on military.

But the biggest problem is that when it comes time that both sides realize we cannot afford to do both, and that they must compromise, they both give in: NOT to spend LESS on their respective favorite programs, but to spend MORE.

Now what sense does that make?

America has become like that guy in your neighborhood who you happen to know makes less money than you do, yet is always buying new cars, throwing big parties, etc. How does he do it, you ask? The answer is he is up to his eyeballs in debt.

And it’s just a matter of time until there’s a foreclosure sign up in his yard.

It was kind of fun while it lasted.

the obvious

April 15th, 2011
9:59 am

If black women would devlope a little class and stop reproducing like savages and stop becoming grandmothers of 4 by the age of 30 that would probably help tremendously

Jeff

April 15th, 2011
10:00 am

CT, you have zero credibility. I seem to recall an editorial you once wrote asking republicans what they would choose to “cut”. Looks like you have decided you can cut something.

Red

April 15th, 2011
10:02 am

Seniors contribute nothing??? Seriously? Some people are flat out stupid for making such ignorant assertions. Seniors gave 20 times more than all the morons saying this stupid statement combined. They contributed and took nothing in return. They did not live off of government programs like today’s generations do. They did not have fancy schools, super highways, mass transit, etc. Government was comparatively non-existent in their time than in ours. What they put in for retirement was based on a FDR lie. Seniors did not go around screaming they were entitled to social welfare programs, handouts, tax breaks, health care, education programs, etc. They fought WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. They built up this country out of a Depression. And some ignorant fools come on here saying they are a burden and drain us? Sucking on the government teat? They are merely asking for what FDR and LBJ promised them. Now the so-called compassionate liberals are here telling us to kill them off in some Nazi style “kill off the weak and burdensome in society” rant.

Kamchak's Gerbil

April 15th, 2011
10:03 am

Woody – I should not be made to pay for food for someone else – it is morally wrong.
If I want to give money to the needy then so be it.

Bubba

April 15th, 2011
10:03 am

quit giving tax money to welfare queens. simple solution-if you dont work, you dont eat. it is not my job to take care of other peoples kids.

Contractor

April 15th, 2011
10:04 am

Some People are stupid,

You basically agreed with exactly what I said. You don’t spend more than what you make. The government is doing that and so are irresponsible citizens who are overloading the system on us that are trying to live within our means. You post speaks of finding a second job, but it’s the people without even one job that are leaching off the rest of us and creating the initial problem.

As far as your economic theory, try reading a book. It clearly states that people lose the incentive to work when it just isn’t worth your time. Take a listen to the song Tax Man written by George Harrison. Just say he made a million dollars a show with the Beatles, yet the government took 70%, he doesn’t find it worth his time to even perform, therefor losing incentive to work, but if he only had to pay 30% taxes on that million, then he decides it is better to work because he will profit more. You are correct that in our tax system, the more you make, the more you pay, but increasing those numbers will create a non-working society. Hmmm, bust my butt 40 hours a week and pay 40-50% if not more in taxes, or sit on the couch and receive a check every week watching TV? Sounds like a pretty simple answer to me that most would take the couch route, because it is simply happening as we speak.

People aren’t negative towards paying taxes when they are going towards useful spending and towards programs that help society, but when they are raised for the benefit of things that people don’t want, then that’s where your problem comes from.

the dumb get dumber

April 15th, 2011
10:06 am

@lulu

Clearly you are confusing desiring others to take care of thier own, responsibilty and self-control with “whining about poor children.”

Please, grow up and when you do get an education