Ambrose: Entitlements could shut down the nation's future
GalleriesNational cartoon roundup
After the 2008 financial crisis, many people suffered, but some didn't. There were culpable CEOs who luxuriated as bailouts helped them weather the storm, and some said to arrest them, try them, make them pay. It sometimes seemed unimportant to the vengeful whether there had been an actual crime or not.
But what about the politicians who helped create that maelstrom through the furthering of inane mortgage and other policies and have done far worse? They have been creating a major public debt that could reduce our continental grandeur to an island of distress. How about trying them and devising a punishment fit for their misdeeds? Would that be the ticket or what? No, please, it would not be. It's not punishment we need but rectification. Here is what we should do: Recognize how diligently they have worked for years and years to get us in this ungodly mess and demand better -- much, much better. Of course, these are frequently moral pretenders who react furiously at the mere suggestion they were ever wrong. But what's at stake is huge and there are compromise solutions. They need finally to admit the true evil is a failure to refashion entitlement programs that will otherwise undo themselves.
Restructuring Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid -- and doing at least something about the new entitlement called Obamacare -- is crucial. Leave them alone and their cost in another 10 years will be enough to take up half the budget. The debt is at $17 trillion now, up more than $6 trillion since President Barack Obama took office, and could easily go up another $7 trillion in that 10 years as we try to sustain these programs at the heart of our fiscal peril.
When I say "peril," I mean peril. If foreign borrowers hiked interest rates, we would have calamity on our hands. Debt of the magnitude we are looking at will surely slow our economic growth, meaning occupational and other opportunities for an increasing population would be vastly diminished. We would likely not even be generating enough money to pay debt interest and sustain other essential programs we now take for granted. The people who would have to deal with the worst of it are the generations lined up behind us. Good luck, young'uns.
Despite all of this, here's what you find on the front page of the Oct. 21 Wall Street Journal: a story saying some liberal Democrats don't want to negotiate entitlement reforms. They don't even want to consider something President Barack Obama came up with, some less-than-astonishing cost adjustments in Social Security and Medicare. They have not evolved one iota from the kind of pure, unadulterated demagoguery of the past that got us where we are today. Every time someone tried to do something to strengthen entitlements by rendering them affordable, these political critics barked that they were thereby forcing old people to eat dog food to survive.
What Democrats want is to save the day by raising taxes a trillion dollars, which the Republicans won't do and should not do. This solution would have many of the same economy-impeding effects as the debt itself and would be a temporary answer as ever bigger government ever more encapsulated our lives.
But there's negotiating room here. We do need tax reform -- reduced corporate rates, fewer loopholes for all -- as a means of more revenue along with greater growth. We also need fewer regulations of the kinds now smothering our economy. We need immigration reform that keeps doors open to entrepreneurial talents while affording less admittance to those most likely to fail and suffer. We need significant budget cuts.
Maybe, just maybe, the more reasonable Democrats and the more reasonable Republicans will thwart these regressive progressives wanting to shut down something more than the government. They want to shut down our future. And considering all the possibilities of the moment -- not least of them an energy boom -- what a future it could be if they got out of the way.
Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado.