It’s because one side wants to air TV commercials of a dark-suited Republican pushing grandma off a cliff, while pursuing a path of neglect that would let her die bed-ridden and alone.
There can be no “hands off Medicare” policy. Either your hands are busy trying to fix the indisputably broken program, or your hands are holding it down, helping it collapse under its own unbearable weight.
Left-wing pundits gloated over the news Tuesday from New York’s 26th Congressional District, a longtime Republican stronghold won by a Democratic candidate on the single issue of “GOP’s killing grandma!” Time’s Joe Klein, appearing on MSNBC, called it “a victory for socialism.”
But Margaret Thatcher’s dictum that, with socialism, “eventually you run out of other people’s money” remains true. And with Medicare, “eventually” has arrived.
The main tax dedicated to Medicare, the hospital insurance portion of federal payroll levies, no longer covers even half of retirees’ health expenses. In this fiscal year and the next five combined, Medicare will cost more than the sum raised by the tax in its first 45 years of existence. The shortfall between 2011 and 2016 is nearly $2 trillion.
And if you haven’t heard, most other tax revenues are more than spoken for.
Medicare is so central to the nation’s budgetary problems, and yet so frightening to touch, that the past workweek for members of the world’s greatest deliberative body regarding the country’s most important business went like this: Vote nay to the House Republican budget plan; vote super-nay (97-0) to the president’s budget plan; hear the majority party’s leader say “it would be foolish” for his caucus even to propose its own budget; declare it quittin’ time and head home.
The political temptation to interpret the past week’s results as an excuse to punt again, while great, would be harmful. So harmful, in fact, that former President Bill Clinton was overheard telling Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin congressman who authored the GOP’s budget plan and Medicare-overhaul proposal, to keep pursuing reform (if not that particular proposal).
Other Democrats ought to pay attention. There is a reason virtually no public program for senior citizens is aging well, from Medicare and Social Security to the majority of pensions for state workers and, in metro Atlanta, many county and city retirement plans. They were designed for a different era, then robbed or neglected as the world changed around them.
All of which means salvaging them is transforming them.
There are many differences between this debate and the Obamacare debates, during which Democrats (wrongfully) labeled the GOP the “party of no” and which now may lead those same Democrats to declare turnabout is fair play.
First, reforming Medicare is fixing an existing entitlement, not adding a new one.
Second, Democrats’ carping about the GOP was purely cynical: Their hurdle to passing Obamacare was getting other Democrats on board, not the vastly outnumbered Republicans. Now, in divided government, the two parties have to work together or let things fester until 2013 or later.
But most important, there’s only so much life left in Medicare for politicians to squeeze out for their own benefit.
– By Kyle Wingfield