In case you missed it: entitlement vs. obligationThe growing debate in Congress over “entitlement reform” is being made more difficult by the use of ill-defined terms. My colleagues are mistaken when they continue to refer to Social Security and Medicare as “entitlements.” Taking the view that these programs are obligations and not entitlements will help all of us clarify what needs to be done. Modifying how we discuss “entitlement reform” would be an appropriate first step in actually achieving it.
By: By U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack, Pine Journal
The growing debate in Congress over “entitlement reform” is being made more difficult by the use of ill-defined terms. My colleagues are mistaken when they continue to refer to Social Security and Medicare as “entitlements.” Taking the view that these programs are obligations and not entitlements will help all of us clarify what needs to be done. Modifying how we discuss “entitlement reform” would be an appropriate first step in actually achieving it.
First, we need to recognize the differences that exist between obligations and entitlements. Obligations are owed, entitlements are gifts. Workers and employers have jointly paid into Social Security and Medicare for many decades making them obligations. I am committed to fulfilling the obligations and the promises that our country has made to our senior citizens, to those who are retired and to those who are nearing retirement.
Medicaid, on the other hand, is one example of an entitlement. No one denies that Medicaid is an important program in our nation’s social safety net, but it should not be confused with an obligation. Funds that Congress authorizes for this program could be considered gifts from taxpayers. The people who are “entitled” to this gift must meet established need and income criteria. Difficulties arise, especially in lean times such as these, when entitlement programs become wrought with fraud, waste, and abuse. In this instance, the struggling American taxpayer has even more money taken from his/her paycheck to support federal mismanagement.
The problems we are facing stem largely from Congress, for decades, thoughtlessly raiding the Social Security Trust Fund in order to grow often bloated and duplicative federal government programs. The funds that were collected from employees and employers over the years have been spent. Left in the “Trust Fund” were “IOUs,” promises that the federal government would at some undetermined time in the future replace those borrowed funds. It has not yet happened, and with yearly trillion-dollar federal budget deficits staring at us as far as we can see, and coupled with the staggering $14.5 trillion in accumulated national debt, can anyone realistically believe that the time for a Trust Fund reimbursement is near?
Social Security and Medicare are consuming one-third of the current federal budget, and this share is expected to grow exponentially over the next 25 years. The Trustees of the Medicare Fund reported in May that the rate of the program’s growth is such that without immediate reform, Medicare will be insolvent in 2020. For Social Security, the year of insolvency is projected to be 2036. Congressional Budget Office computers crash when attempting to model the nation’s economy in the year 2037 and beyond - the modeling cannot compute a viable economy.
When discussing the health of Social Security and Medicare, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has said the programs are “strong,” but “there is far more work to be done.” This is like the captain announcing that there has been a leak detected on the Titanic. Make no mistake, we will suffer the same fate as that unsinkable ship if, as a country, we continue to ignore the financial realities of these programs - the outcome is certain.
Rating agencies are taking notice and informing us that a massive leak has been detected. The warning bells are sounding. What will our response be? Will we keep the status quo? Or, do we steer clear of the tragic realities that loom ahead? (Or, do we have the courage to chart a different course?)
Each year Congress delays action to protect and reform these programs is another year closer to insolvency. That is why I have pushed for action now, and will continue to push my
colleagues to ensure we have the
ability to fulfill our nation’s long-term obligations.