Thursday, December 22, 2005

An "immoral" bill?

An “Immoral” Bill?

With Vice President Dick Cheney breaking a 50-50 tie, the Senate has passed a measure (S. 1932) that will cut future expenditures by about $40 billion over the next five years. (For those Lincoln Chaffee defenders out there (see my previous blog), he sided with the Democrats on this one. Gee, why am I not surprised?) House minority leader Nancy Pelosi was quick to provide her view on the matter: this was an “immoral” bill.

What is so “immoral” about it? Apparently because it touches some social programs, including Medicaid, Medicare, and certain student loan assistance funding. There are people in our government who believe that these programs are sacred. They cannot be satisfied unless they move in one direction: bigger. And there is no question that they have been getting bigger. We routinely hear complaints that planned reductions in their growth are "cuts." The language of politics has become more Orwellian than we would like to believe.

Let's look at just one program: Medicare. The Kaiser Family Foundation has put together a fact sheet on Medicare, which includes some useful information about financing this important program. It is available here:
In 2004, we spent $265 billion on Medicare – over 17 percent of the total healthcare expenditures in the United States. As a result of the legislation passed in 2003, granting a prescription drug benefit, we will add an estimated $724 billion between 2005-2017. After taking into account the one-time costs in FY2005 for the new benefit, growth rates are expected to be about 8 percent annually. This is going to be tough to pay for, especially when you consider the fact that we are going from 4 workers per beneficiary in 2000 to less than 3 by 2020. (These facts all come from the above fact sheet. I’m open to being educated if you think they are incorrect.)

Only a part of this $40 billion touches on Medicare. But keep in mind: a cut of $40 billion over five years out of a total budget of more than $12 trillion (5 years x 2.3 trillion/year estimated, rounded) translates to less than one third of one percent. So, that is like telling my son that instead of getting $10 for Christmas, he only gets $ 9.97. He is likely to shrug and deal with it just fine. When a twelve-year-old has more sense than a democratic congressional leader, well, I admit I am not surprised.

We must understand that we have limited resources. We cannot expect the federal government to pay for every need. Rather than relying on them, we need to take some responsibility for ourselves. We are already promising more than we can deliver, unless we can grow our way out of these obligations. Ms. Pelosi ought to consider the morality of that proposition. (And she should consider her opposition to tax cuts that will permit that kind of growth in the moral calculus as well.)

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