EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


March 24, 2013

Column: We're upside down and the debt crash is coming


It’s already the case that entitlements — mainly Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — constitute a major share of the budget and are passing the point at which “obese” is an adequate adjective. If the government maintains them without significant restructuring, just two basic ways exist to prevent a debt that could well bring us economic calamity. One is hiking taxes so high as to do the same thing. The other is cutting other federal programs so much as to bring us jokes about ending White House tours for even the president himself.

The problem is that Medicare and Social Security are immensely popular with the middle class and that demagogic politicians have made it sound that even perfectly reasonable refashioning would force the elderly to survive on dog food. Obama is still playing that game, referring to tiptoeing Republican proposals as gutting the programs, which is to say that he remains so enmeshed in his collectivist, welfare-state, big-government ideology that he is can no longer recognize reality.

Republicans to the rescue? The sad case is that some in this beleaguered bunch are lately playing down the looming crisis, too. It is not difficult to find astute fiscal critics who think the most recent budget proposal by Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, does not go nearly far enough.

Back to the movie “Flight.” In it, the pilot performed brilliantly during the emergency, even though he was criminally under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Maybe he did as much as could be done, because while the plane did crash, most aboard survived. Obama and GOP leaders are not alcohol-addled, thank heavens, but neither have they performed brilliantly. They have not done a fraction of what needs to be done, and no responsible citizen should let them off the hook. Otherwise, the economic survivors could be a precious few.

Jay Ambrose is the former Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers.

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