Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Entitlement (a rant)

There's a lot of talk right now about President Obama's budget plan that he submitted for approval:

-- Democrats are furious that he actually included spending cuts in the plan, in programs that serve students, the poor and the unemployed.

-- Republicans are furious that he didn't cut enough spending, and they have an alternative plan to remove more "discretionary" programs from the budget.

-- Neither side is saying or doing a thing about the "entitlement" programs (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid), even though they're nearly half the current federal budget.

-- Neither side is saying or doing a thing about military spending, even though it's a full 20% of our budget and our accomplishments on the battlefield have been arguable in value for the past decade.

-- Neither side is saying or doing a thing about increasing tax revenues to shrink the deficit, even though almost half of all Americans paid zero federal income tax last year.

What they've focused on is the mere 20% of the budget that they deem "discretionary" (veteran benefits, scientific research, education, foreign aid, transportation, etc...).

I have a strong opinion on this, and you might want to sit down first, since this is so antithetical to the current debate in Washington...

It's all discretionary.

We're not required to have a military force six times larger than every other country on the planet, nor to exceed the nuclear weapon capacity of the rest of the world combined.

We're not required to spend half our budget taking care of the elderly, no matter how noble that is, and no matter how much that impacts people I love. Because in another decade or so, when the boomers are retired, caring for them at this level will no longer be possible.

We're not entitled to any governmental benefits. My taxes go to meet today's needs -- they're not put away in a fund for me to tap into later if I'm disabled or retired. My taxes serve my country today; I have no claim on the money tomorrow.

We're not entitled to borrow from the rest of the world. China and others are sovereign nations with their own interests in mind, and that may not always include giving the US a loan.

We're not entitled to an ever-increasing quality of life. Nations fall, economies crumble, the world takes three steps forward and two steps back. If we look at Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa we recognize that our relative stability and consistent upward trajectory is the exception, not the rule.

We're not entitled to keep riding the gravy train with cheap prescription drugs and free medical care at the expense of the few, and we're not entitled to get rich with new business models that exploit the poorer and less educated.

We're not entitled to millions of dollars in life-saving care for our precious babies born months prematurely. We're not entitled to millions of dollars in life-saving care for our elderly family member who just suffered their third stroke.

We're not entitled to bailouts, tax breaks, unemployment benefits, food stamps, mortgage interest deductions, smooth interstate highways, college education, free housing or monthly checks from Uncle Sam.

I wish we could do all of those things (without raising taxes!) but we can't.

We get what we pay for, and what we work for. And if we continue to ignore the real budget albatrosses, focus instead on nitpicky expenses and completely ignore a declining tax revenue base, then we'll get less. A lot less.

And we'll deserve it.