The framers of the Constitution never envisioned a federal government awash in debt. One of the reasons the Constitution limited government was to correspondingly limit government spending. The framers were almost uniformly free-market advocates. Consequently, they understood that government spending and, worse yet, government debt were a detriment to economic growth and prosperity. The framers would cringe to see what their concept of limited government and corresponding limited spending have morphed into since the Constitution’s ratification.
Thinking people understand that government spending must be reduced, but few elected officials—Democrats or Republicans—are willing to accept certain hard truths about cutting the budget and reducing the national debt. Democrats want to cut the budget on the back of the military. Republicans—with a few commendable exceptions—either avoid the issue or go to great lengths to assure people collecting government entitlements that any solutions proposed will contain grandfather clauses to protect them.
The hard truth that all Americans and their elected officials are going to have to face—and sooner rather than later—is that any effort to reduce the budget and the national debt is going to have to include reductions in Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid/CHIP. In August 2011, President Obama talked about recommending “modest adjustments” to Medicare. Modest adjustments? Making modest adjustments to Medicare is like handing a teaspoon to the captain of the Titanic. Just tweaking social spending will not revitalize America’s economy or reduce the mountainous national debt.
No nation can substantially reduce its budget without reducing the big ticket items in it. The biggest big ticket items in America’s budget—Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid—must be tackled head-on if the budget is going to benefit from meaningful reductions. Slowly but purposefully transforming Medicare by adopting alternatives such as the premium support plan once suggested by Representative Paul Ryan is an absolute necessity. Raising the eligibility age for Social Security is another necessity. Elected officials on both sides of the isle understand the need to cut Social security, Medicare, and Medicaid, but few have the moral courage to admit it. And, with the advent of Obamacare, Medicaid costs have skyrocketed.
What America needs at this critical juncture in its history is public servants who will make getting a grip on government spending their defining vision. In the upcoming presidential election, candidates must be willing to look voters in the eye and tell them that the debt problem cannot be solved without making intelligent cuts to the three most expensive federal programs: Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid/CHIP. This candidate will have to be adept at setting the record straight when political opponents use scare tactics to frighten the elderly and the poor into supporting programs that will eventually bankrupt the country. This candidate will have to have the courage to tell Americans of all ages and stations that business as usual no longer works and that allowing the current situation to continue will eventually leave our country bankrupt and them with nothing. Greece has conveniently given Republican candidates the ideal example of what happens when nations mired in debt refuse to make fundamental and permanent spending cuts.