No easy fixes for Medicare

Political rhetoric does nothing but prevent bipartisan solutions

In recent years, some politicians have called for an "all of the above" approach to energy policy — a mix of renewable, nuclear and conventional power sources. This approach differs from the "drill, baby, drill" fixation on oil and natural gas.

This year, with Republicans and Democrats deadlocked over a long-term plan to bring down the federal government's trillion-dollar budget deficits, it's time to roll out the "all of the above" approach. The chasm between spending and tax collections is way too big to close with spending cuts or tax hikes alone.

"Cut, baby, cut" won't get the job done. Neither will "tax, baby, tax."

Just consider the numbers from the nonpartisan Pew Fiscal Analysis Initiative. The federal government's mushrooming public debt is on track to exceed the nation's total economic output in 2025. To bring it down to a sustainable 60 percent of the economy by 2025, Congress would have to reduce federal spending by 23 percent in 2016, according to a Pew report released in March.

A reduction that big would be draconian, even if split between entitlement programs, including Social Security and Medicare, and discretionary programs. The Social Security benefit would be docked $300 a month, and Congress would have to come up with $330 billion in cuts — the equivalent of eliminating federal spending on education, transportation, environmental protection, job training, science and NASA.

Talk about limited government.

If lawmakers decided to forgo spending cuts for tax hikes, they would need to raise all federal levies on businesses and individuals 26 percent in 2016. The average Joe would pay $1,240 more in income taxes that year.

Congress' top Republican, House Speaker John Boehner, last week demanded trillions of dollars in spending cuts as the price of his party's support for an increase in the nation's debt limit. Boehner declared that tax increases were "off the table."

Meanwhile, Democrats have savaged House Republicans for the budget plan they passed last month because of its spending cuts. Its most controversial element calls for slowing spending growth in Medicare by changing it from a government-run health care program to one that subsidizes private insurance for seniors and the disabled.

South Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who became Democratic National Committee chairman this month, hyperbolically called the House budget plan "a death trap for seniors."

Shades of death panels. The change to Medicare is projected to raise the cost to seniors substantially, though the plan wouldn't take effect for another decade.

This kind of over-the-top rhetoric from Democrats, and angry protests at town-hall meetings like the one that greeted freshman Republican Rep. Dan Webster in Orlando last month, have led GOP leaders to get cold feet about revamping Medicare.

Of course, that just narrows the party's chance of making a dent in deficits through its cuts-only approach.

America's prosperity and power are at risk if Congress doesn't solve the nation's budget problems. A balanced and bipartisan approach is essential.


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