By Lloyd Gray
The Republicans held a convention last week in which they said they would bring the deficit under control and secure “overburdened entitlements,” in the words of vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan.
The details of how they’d do it, other than repeal Obamacare, were scant.
Democrats will convene this week and they’ll give speeches, too, that promise they’ll do what’s necessary to get our fiscal house in order while keeping everybody’s favorite benefits intact – except for the current tax rates of upper-income Americans.
Neither party will level with the American people and tell us what would really be required to balance the budget and save Medicare and Social Security.
The reason? We don’t want to hear it, and they know it. In spite of all the rhetoric about telling the truth, hard truths will be in short supply.
Those truths are this: Saving Social Security will require some changes – reductions – in benefits, whether through further raising the retirement age, means-testing wealthier recipients, reducing cost of living adjustments or some combination of these.
Medicare will require surgery that lowers its costs to the treasury, and the Republicans – yes, the Republicans – told us last week how they’d restore the $700 billion in Obama Medicare cuts owed to the new health care law.
Ryan has a plan that would completely overhaul Medicare for people under 55, transitioning to an individual insurance voucher system, but he’s not talking about it since joining the ticket and Mitt Romney didn’t touch it last week, either.
The refusal of both parties’ candidates to publicly embrace anything that represents a change in the current entitlement system and their eagerness to accuse the other of endangering those entitlements explains why our system has been so dysfunctional in finding solutions. To put it simply, we the voters don’t want to give anything up.
We are content to maintain our illusion – encouraged by our political leaders – that it’s the spending on somebody else that’s bankrupting us, or that if we just eliminated a federal agency or two, reduced federal employment a bit or raised the taxes of millionaires, everything would be fine. But federal spending other than entitlements and defense is, by comparison, a drop in the bucket. Obviously there are other areas that require reining in, but by far the greatest cause of our fiscal mess are entitlements so dear to the middle class.
We think of “special interests” as the problem, but we would never think of ourselves that way. When even something as modestly painful as raising the full Social Security eligibility age by a couple of years can’t get anywhere because of the politicians’ well-founded fear of our reaction, how will we ever solve the problem?
Everybody has to sacrifice something in all of this, and yet neither party is willing to say so directly. That’s because they’re sure we wouldn’t stand for it.
Are they right? If they are, we’ll never get out of the mess we’re in.
Lloyd Gray is executive editor of the Daily Journal. Contact him at (662) 678-1579 or firstname.lastname@example.org.