Granted: The national debt is a serious challenge to our economic prosperity and national security, and according to every budget projection, the problem will become even more serious in the years ahead.
So what are we going to do about it? Cut entitlement spending?
No, you’re not.
Not by enough to matter, anyway. If you want proof, take a look at how quickly that Texas tough guy, Rick Perry, has tried to backpedal on all that bluster about Social Security. And at this point, remember, he’s still running in the Republican primary, where such views are supposed to be popular.
On the other hand, if looking at Rick Perry is more than you can bear, you can also look at this:
Look at those numbers. If your plan for solving the debt crisis is to cut entitlements, you have no plan to solve the debt crisis.
The poll was conducted on behalf of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, which is grounds for approaching it with caution. However, it was conducted jointly by two nationally respected opinion research companies, one with generally Republican clients, one with generally Democratic clients. More importantly, its findings are consistent with poll after poll taken on the subject.
As the poll also found:
“When asked to choose between tax increases on the top 2 percent of income earners or cuts to Social Security and Medicare as a way to reduce the deficit, 94 percent of Democrats, 82 percent of independents, and 64 percent of Republicans prefer tax increase on the top 2 percent of income earners.”
The truth is, entitlements do have to be cut. Medicare’s current path is unsustainable. And with Social Security, a change in how benefits are adjusted for inflation would go a long way to making the program actuarially sound for the next 75 years. That’s not popular with voters — two-thirds of Americans oppose the idea, the poll found — but it probably has to be done anyway. (The poll also found that 71 percent of Americans favor raising the $106,000 cutoff on payroll taxes, compared to just 21 percent opposed).
However, such benefit changes are politically plausible only as part of a much larger package in which the burdens of debt reduction are shared broadly, through tax increases as well as spending cuts. Without such a package, forget it.
(And before you argue that we’ll just cut elsewhere, the so-called untouchables in the budget — defense spending, pensions, Medicare/health spending, Social Security, veterans programs and interest on the debt — amount to $3.1 trillion out of a total budget of $3.7 trillion. You could totally eliminate everything else the government does — environmental protection, federal courts, the FBI, border patrol, food inspections, the State Department, foreign aid, food stamps, Congress, the national parks — and still reduce the deficit by less than half.)
If you truly believe that the national debt is a serious threat, you have an obligation to quit the nonsense and get serious about politically realistic avenues for addressing it. Otherwise you’re contributing to the problem that you claim to abhor.
– Jay Bookman