Friday, January 4, 2013

‘Entitlements’ shouldn’t be a dirty word

Now that Congress has bungee-jumped off the fiscal cliff, it’s time to change the way we talk about spending.

Republican radicals who seem to hate spending public money on anything except tax cuts for the super-rich have made “entitlements” a dirty word. They’ve made Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid sound like freebies paid to low-down, scheming, lazy chiselers who steal from the rich.

They’ve made seniors who get Social Security payments or who hand over Medicare cards in the doctor’s office—people who paid their fair share in their working years to support their own seniors--want to cringe in shame.

They’ve lumped Social Security and Medicare, funded by payroll taxes paid by workers, with Medicaid, which is out-and-out welfare medicine.

But who are the “cheaters” who get Medicaid? They’re our grandparents who’ve outlived their savings, poor children and the severely disabled who’re guilty of only one crime: being poor.

The programs’ beneficiaries are part of the 47 percent of people decried by Mitt Romney last fall, people who don’t pay taxes because they don’t earn enough money to pay taxes.

What do the barbarians who criticize “entitlements” want the old, the disabled, the sick and the poor to do? Would they have them take a long open-air trip on an ice floe? Would they be satisfied seeing urchins in rags groaning in pain on park benches? Would they reinvent the workhouses of Charles Dickens’ time?

Do they really believe that everything will turn out just fine if they dump the people and the problems back on the “private sector,” a cold euphemism for families? In Idaho, families have a median annual income of $48,498. With this, they are trying to meet the estimated total cost of raising a child to the age of 17, which averages $235,000—without private lessons or savings for college—according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. How are families supposed to bear these costs?

Do the math. President Franklin D. Roosevelt did it in 1935 when he signed the bill that created Social Security, the compact between generations. President Lyndon B. Johnson did it in 1965 when he signed the law that created Medicare and Medicaid. Congress did the math, too, and acknowledged that it had become impossible for people over age 65 to buy private health insurance and for the poor to get medical treatment at all.

No one knows how long he’ll live or if he’ll be injured. No one knows if a child will thrive or be disabled. With these programs we share the risk, and with that sharing are a better and stronger society.

Before the barbarians deride “entitlements” again, they need to imagine an America without them.

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