Entitlements – Why Fix Them When You Can Demagogue Them?

Is anyone really surprised that the so-called “Super Committee” in Washington didn’t come up with a compromise to cut our national debt? After all, any serious plan would have required a change to government entitlements… and we simply can’t have that!

Entitlement reform has long been considered the third rail of American politics. But one would think that if there ever was a time when politicians would find the sobriety, nerve, and political support to take on the major drivers of our national debt, that time would be now. The debt has just surpassed the $15 trillion mark, exceeding our GDP and leaving each newborn U.S. citizen with a bill of roughly $50 thousand. The insolvency dates for programs like Social Security and Medicare continue to jump forward by years at a time, yet the message from most of Washington has been clear: We don’t care.

Whenever a Democratic politician is asked by an interviewer their thoughts on entitlement reform, they’re answer typically begins with something like, “Well, we all agree that something has to be done about entitlements, but…” And that’s about as detailed of a solution that you’ll hear on record from any of them. The reason is that even with the widely acknowledged, catastrophic economic conditions our country is suffering from, demagoguery of entitlement programs is a political winner. It doesn’t matter that without reform, these programs will collapse under their own weight. All that matters is that any kind of proposed tampering of the system can be too easily demagogued by the opposition into a narrative of stealing from the most vulnerable in our society.

Scaring old people has long been a successful tactic for politicians, as FOX News political commentator Bob Beckel freely admits. Beckel, a former campaign strategist for several Democratic politicians, often speaks with pride on how he helped win elections by dishonestly convincing voters (including his own family members) that if the opposition won, they would take away government entitlements from the elderly. John Kerry used the tactic in 2004, in a last ditch effort to capture the presidency from George W. Bush, and the Democratic congress killed Bush’s attempts to reform Social Security during his second term. When Congressman Paul Ryan proposed a substantive entitlement reform plan in 2010, he got the same treatment with President Obama shamelessly leading the charge.

It should be noted that certain Republicans have adopted the tactic on occasion as well, when it has been convenient to do so. Newt Gingrich, in an attempt to appeal to centrist voters at the beginning of his presidential campaign, famously undercut the Ryan plan by publicly categorizing it as “right-wing social engineering”. Mitt Romney even jumped on the bandwagon when he scolded presidential primary opponent Rick Perry for likening Social Security to a “ponzi scheme”. Any intellectually honest person (including Romney) realizes that Social Security, in its current form, absolutely is a ponzi scheme. Those who get out early benefit from the system, while those who get in late are the ones who get screwed. Yet, like any opportunistic politician, Romney saw the opening and successfully rattled the nerve of Perry, who was speaking of the subject in more honest terms than anyone else.

The AARP has become the boldest, most dishonest source of anti-reform propaganda. With their aggressive commercial campaign of downright lying about proposed changes to our entitlement programs, they’re playing a substantial role in ensuring insolvency for future generations of seniors to have to cope with. Any current AARP senior citizen, with any sort of conscience about the country they’re leaving to their grand kids, should consider cancelling their membership.

That brings us to the latest debacle… the failure of the Super Committee to do anything to cut our national debt. You know there’s no hope when House Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi instructs her members of the committee not to even entertain the notion of touching entitlements. They didn’t need her direction. They wouldn’t have considered it anyway. And afterwards, of course, we were treated to another condemnation from President Obama who chastised House Republicans for not agreeing to the reasonable solutions laid out by the Democrats… as if placing a band-aid on a sinking ship was somehow considered reasonable or a solution.

I would like to think that some day, there would be a consensus from Americans that the political games are no longer acceptable. I would like to think we would some day demand our elected leaders to fix the programs. But we don’t do it in sufficient numbers, because so many of us cling to the false, conditioned belief that those entitlement rewards will just always be around, and any reform of the failed system jeopardizes that. We fear that our piece of the pie will be taken away from us before we’re finished with dessert.

Sadly, I don’t see that mindset changing, especially when trying to explain the details of entitlement reform in layman’s terms is about as easy as me trying to explain how the internet works to my mother.

If we don’t demand serious changes, they’re not going to happen. Expecting our representatives to fix the problem on their own would be like counting on a drug dealer to check his customers into rehab. It just isn’t going to happen, and our children are the one’s paying the price for our dishonesty and cowardice.

Author Bio:

John Daly couldn't have cared less about world events and politics until the horrific 9/11 terrorist attacks changed his perspective. Since then, he's been deeply engaged in the news of the day with a particular interest in how that news is presented. Realizing the importance of the media in a free, democratic society, John has long felt compelled to identify media injustices when he sees them. With a B.S. in Business Administration, and a 16 year background in software and web development, John has found that his real passion is for writing. His first novel, entitled "From a Dead Sleep", is now on sale! He lives in Northern Colorado with his wife and two children. Like John on Facebook. Follow John on Twitter.
Author website: http://www.johndalybooks.com/
  • Drew Page

    What I want to know is where was all the Democrat concern for adequate Social Security funding, when Lyndon Johnson signed legislation allowing Congress to dip into the S.S. Trust Fund to spend those funds on other than S.S. benefits, leaving ‘IOU’s in their place? Where was the concern when Jimmy Carter signed legislation allowing those who never paid into Social Security to claim benefits? And where, BTW, were the Republicans when all of this was going on? Certainly people like Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, John Boehner and Newt Gingrich were around when the federal government was using S.S. funds to pay for other things. Why weren’t they all raising hell about depleting S.S. funds then?

  • Shirl

    Just a bunch of Washington clowns doing the potomac two-step, living it up on those $16.00 muffins. Well, they better live it up while they still can; cause the giant is awake and just waiting for 2012.

  • Glen Stambaugh

    John, great piece! Loved the internet explanation analogy.

    • John Daly

      Thanks! I’m sure I’ll be receiving an angry email from my mother any time now.

  • John In MA

    All I can say is that it seems clear that the future will only bring more division. The middle is being eroded in the political culture. Although not a complaint, it’s easy to see the Tea Party influence causing moderate Republicans – that are quickly labeled RINO – and blue dog Dems to fall. Likewise, the unrelenting tug on the Dems to move more leftward is clear, too, and will likely be bad for other blue dog Dems. OWS and the whole “99%” ploy is clearly targeted at influencing elections more than solving problems. In my state, Elizabeth Warren, perhaps the most pristine example of a believer in a government solution for any and every problem of one man and mankind alike, will most likely benefit as Scott Brown will be attacked from the left AND the right (cries of RINO have been steady).

    So, this gridlock is only a sample of what is to come, I believe. Unless each side gets a 2009 style lever (majority) and rams through an agenda, don’t expect much activity. Compromise and finding common ground may only occur for short periods of time. Running for reelection will become more the norm, especially for House members, and demagoguery to deliberately contrast the sides will be the tool for a year or more before an election. I don’t dispute that this was the original intent of our governing structure, to prevent the dominance of one ideology over the other. I’m simply of the mind that it matters only because the federal government has grown to such a size and influence that such inaction is problematic.

    • Ken Hansen

      Half of America lives off the government, the other half feeds the government (more or less, based on federal income taxes – an imperfect, albeit serviceable measure for this discussion) – once those that feed off the government discovered they vote back the harsh mathematical realities of flawed, ponzi-like entitlements, our economy was toast.

      Go ahead, try and expand the tax base – 47% of tax filers are now a protected class – any attempts to extract ‘a little bit more’ from them (or, more correctly anything) results in howls about ‘hurting those most in need’.

      Try and decrease the tax burden the actual taxpayers pay (to free up capital to spur economic growth, and the cries are that such cuts only benefit the wealthy (ignoring the fact that you can’t cut taxes for someone that pays no taxes – what does a 5 percentage point drop of zero taxes look like?).

      Ignorance of basic facts & realities are crucial to sustain the partisan divide we currently ‘enjoy’ in America – sadly, no one in the mainstream media seems interested in filling that void – they seem to prefer commenting on the disfunction displayed by our political leaders, as if Washington were some sort of Reality Show (“The Real Politicians of Washington, D.C.”, or “The Potomic Shore”)…

      • Drew Page

        What, you ask, does a five percentage point drop of zero taxes look like? Obama calls it a ‘tax credit’, but it looks like a 5% welfare check to me.

        I don’t mind paying taxes to support social welfare programs for those who, through no fault of their own, cannot take care of themselves. But I do mind paying taxes to support those who can and should support themselves. I’m against any sort of social welfare programs to aid or assist any illegal aliens or their children; they don’t belong here in the first place. We have a hard enough time supporting the needs of our own indigent. We can’t afford to pay for the world’s indigent; for those who want to, there are plenty of charities to which they can contribute.

        • Ken Hansen

          Agreed – Taxes are collected to fund the operation of Gov’t. If politicians want to hand out checks to lower income individuals they should craft a standalone program to fund that.

    • Dave O’Connor

      John, you and I live in a one-party state. “Elizabeth Warren…believer in a government solution for any and every problem..” Why we even have a bicameral legislature is beyond me. They leave many laws to be written by courts so they don’t have to explain their votes to working folk in their districts. And, just imagine how Warren and her ilk delight in that. Hard-line, all encompassing policies lead to dictatorships; the only rivalries being among the ticket-holding elite or “influentials”. Warren indulges controlled and sponsored chaos like and Eva and Evita Peron – the figure-head of state a mere capon; stuffed and dressed like a gerneralissiimo.
      Yes, John, we abide behind enemy lines.
      That recipients of government charity, and worse; largesse, are determined to be entitled has been the new ‘charity chic’.
      I was baffled when I heard some of these recipients referred to by a social worker as ‘clients’.
      Hey, now! I’m not scoring need when need there is and no other help is available, but we’ve ‘professionalized’ even recipients. The “Committee” would have done better with some forensic accountants.
      And, Mr. Daly, you serve us well; damn well, and thank you.
      Has anyone ever calculated how much of Social Security has been borrowed, if it was ever re-payed and at what interest rate.
      Hell, what’re the rip-offs of Fanny and Freddy compared to that lift.

  • Ken Hansen

    Entitlement reform is simple to explain – make up a posterboard timeline displaying each prediction of how long each entitlement program has until insolvency and between each list the changes that accelerate the insolvency date (move it closer) and your opponents denials of the mathematical reality.

    It is also important to note that Social Security (unlike Medicare/Medicaid) does not add to our national debt – yet. It is fully funded for the next 20 or 30 years based on most estimates I’ve seen, BUT without reform the program will explode when the last baby-boomer starts collecting their benefits – like the ladder scene at the end of ‘It’s a mad, mad, mad world’.

    Finally, the real problem is deficit spending, which increases despite ‘cuts’ year because of baseline budgeting. Politicians need to stop taking cuts after the budget grows – Democrats talk about cuts in spending but each year the budget is larger than the previous year. The issue with deficit spending is that in order to ‘live within our means’ we have to either cut the federal budget by some 40% OR double income tax revenues – you could, of course, take the Democrats plan and go for a balanced approach, but as any math literate fifth-grader can tell you, that would mean a reduction in spending by 20% AND a 50% increase in income tax revenues. Something tells me that isn’t what the Democrats mean when they talk about a balanced approach – as I understand it they want the top 1% which earns 20% of all income and pays around 38% of all income taxes to ‘pay their fair share’, AKA ‘a little bit more’ – surprisingly, their idea enjoys wide-spread support among the bottom 99% of tax filers, including the 47% of filers that pay nothing in federal income taxes (and in many cases PROFIT from the tax code, getting an annual refund that exceeds their payments for the year).

  • Ray

    President Obama is the last person to chastise anyone for trying to adopt “reasonable” solutions to the debt problem, be it Republicans or Democrats who feel his chastisement.

    The super committee was not about addressing the rising national debt – it was about furthering the Obama campaign rhetoric – and was never meant to succeed. The super committee was meant for campaign fodder, just as Obama’s “jobs” bill was. In the case of both, Obama will engage in demagogury, as he cannot run on his record. IOW, the economy would get better if the so-called obstructionists would just pass his “jobs” bill Porkulus II) and acquiesce to tax increases. No proof to bolster this, just as there is no proof that Obama’s Porkulus I was better than other solutions proffered.

    As the following points out, Obama never intended for the super committee to succeed:

    CBS’ Bill Plante (senior White House correspondent) reporting on the super committee failing:

    “But it’s safe to say that in the absense of a real debt deal, which of course they’d like to have, this administration couldn’t be happier that this is failing, because they will try to blame it on Republicans going into the election year.”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aHhMC0BxAYw

  • Jeffrey Gardner

    Everyday you and Bill Oreilly talks about the other news channels…when are you and Bill going to talk about Sean Hannity, He lie’s all the time…And the hell did Reagan do as President to be gloryfied

    • John Daly

      I’ve never talked to Bill O’Reilly in my life. And the rest of your post was nonsensical.

    • CCNV

      Jeffrey, you should have stayed in school.