David Post: Don't touch my Medicare

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 24, 2011

“Don’t let the government touch my Medicare!” demanded an irate Tea Party faithful recently.
Ignoring the fact that the terms “irate” and “Tea Party” are now synonymous, that comment reflects the absurdity of today’s political discourse. Medicare, of course, is a government program. If fact, health care is the largest government program.
Over the past week, presidential candidates, current and future, have begun making promises that are sheer fantasy.
One promised to balance the budget within 100 days of inauguration. Another promised to make the federal government inconsequential. A third argued that Social Security and Medicare have made Americans less self-reliant and that we should return to those days before such programs existed.
None of that is remotely possible. But they are great sound bites and attract votes.
First, can the budget be balanced within 100 days? Of course not.
If $1.5 trillion, or 40 percent of all spending, can be cut right now and every year hereafter, shouldn’t those specifics be shared with the rest of the nation? Defense, Social Security, government health care and interest on the debt account for approximately 75 percent of all government spending. Where are those trillions that can be cut in a matter of months?
For the past year, Congress and the president have been engaged in a game of mutually ruinous gridlock. Last winter, after agreeing on a $450 billion tax cut, they had difficulty cutting a mere $60 billion. Added together, the debt increased $400 billion, leading to outrage about the deficit. That’s like your spouse quitting work, cutting out a movie every month and complaining that your family budget is out of control.
The budget cannot be balanced in 100 days. Every presidential candidate knows that. But telling the voters that means losing.
Second, who wants an inconsequential government?
Are Social Security and Medicare inconsequential?
For the two-thirds of Americans who own their homes, most with mortgages, is the tax deduction for home ownership inconsequential?
Are student loans and support for education inconsequential?
Is the FDA, which tests the safety of our food and drugs, inconsequential?
Should the government eliminate deposit insurance and simply let banks fail? When that happened in the 1920s and 1930s, banks closed and people lost all their money. Are banks and federal deposit insurance inconsequential?
Are child labor laws and workplace safety laws inconsequential?
Should the government maintain highways and rail road lines?
Should airplanes fly wherever they want without air traffic controllers?
What person in the country is not touched by the federal government every day?
To run for office, candidates must argue that government is bad while asking for government employment.
Third, were U.S. citizens more self-reliant before Social Security and Medicare? Maybe, but more people were poor, and most people died sooner.
Today, almost 10 percent of seniors live in poverty. Before Social Security, approximately 35 percent of seniors lived in poverty.
And people died sooner. Since Social Security became law in 1933, life expectancy has risen 18 years. Since Medicare became law in the 1960s, providing health care to seniors, life expectancy has increased eight years. Certainly, if people die earlier, it costs the government less. Is this more poverty and earlier death the way we want to balance the national budget?
Maybe the good old days weren’t so good.
Why are voters so quick to protect the rich from taxes and not protect the elderly and the poor? Today’s senior citizens are told that these cuts won’t affect them. After all, they vote. At the same time, the steady drumbeat that the young will receive no government retirement or health care benefits is taking hold. The younger they are, the more they believe it and the more they don’t vote. Third, voters think individually rather than collectively as a nation.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), one of President Obama’s harshest critics, recently hopped onto Air Force One with the president to visit a broken bridge in Kentucky. Even though he is a Tea Party stalwart, his asking the taxpayers to fix a bridge in his state is “economic development.” Repairing a broken bridge in another state is government waste.
Citizens Against Government Waste compiled records — called the Pig Book — showing that 52 members of the Tea Party requested more than $1 billion in funding for over 750 of their pet projects last year.
That senior citizen who demanded that the government not mess with his Medicare is like congressmen who abandon their core beliefs when taxpayer money benefits their voters.
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David Post is a co-owner of the Salisbury Pharmacy and an adjunct professor at Georgetown University.

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