Saturday, April 23, 2011

Whose Entitlement?

Empty highway with sign Ask what you can do for your country; full exit ramp labeled ASK NOT
Ed Lotterman strikes again with his April 21 column on solving the "entitlement problem."

His solution? Last in first out -- which would require dropping the Medicare Part D drug coverage added in 2003 and the Medicare Advantage coverage of the 1990s. These two cuts would reduce deficits by $750 billion over the 10-year period discussed in Paul Ryan's plan.

I'll let him explain his logic:

If you recoil from these suggestions, but are one of the people who have been calling for lower taxes, lower deficits and smaller government, my counsel is simple: Shut up! Abolishing these two entitlements is the most concrete step the nation could take to give you exactly what you have been asking for.

Harsh words? Yes, but there has been so much demagoguery, so much willful fostering of self-serving misinformation around fiscal issues that we are not going to solve these problems without someone's feelings getting hurt.

People have to face realities. But based on the number of emails I get from people who believe that we could balance the budget by cutting foreign aid (0.6 percent of federal outlays) or curbing federal employee compensation (all civilian personnel costs come to less than 5 percent of outlays), it is clear that self-delusion still is rampant.
He continues later in the essay:
Many people did just fine without the [Part D drug] benefit. Indeed, studies showed that paying drug bills posed serious problems for less than 15 percent of Medicare beneficiaries. But most of the rest naturally have been glad to slurp free gravy offered to them....

It is true that, in the past three years, outlays for older programs like the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or SNAP (formerly called Food Stamps) and unemployment compensation also have risen sharply. But increased spending for SNAP stems from more people meeting existing criteria due to the sour economy, not from any major expansion of benefits. If unemployment drops, outlays on SNAP will return to more usual levels.

The same is true for unemployment compensation. New claims will fall if the economy recovers. The initial 26 weeks of coverage is statutory. Anything beyond that, including the extensions of up to 99 weeks of coverage in force at times during the past three years, depends on congressional action. If Congress does nothing, outlays will drop.

So if you are looking for new, big entitlement programs enacted because a special interest group had the power to wrest money for itself from the rest of society, you are talking about Part D Medicare and Medicare Advantage plans....

Other big welfare programs like Medicaid, food stamps or Supplemental Security Income, and even minor ones like the Women, Infants and Children program are means-tested. Unless your income and net worth fall below specified amounts, you don't get the benefit. Medicare Part D and Advantage plans are not tied to need. Warren Buffett or George Soros is as eligible as some widow living on an $800-a-month Social Security check.

This is a litmus test. If you are all for curtailing entitlements, ending deficit spending and cutting taxes, but are unwilling to contemplate ending these two programs, then you are either very poorly educated about fiscal realities or hypocritical about defending your own benefits at the expense of the general good. [emphasis added]
Way to kick some cognitive dissonance butt, Ed!

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