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EDITORIAL: Crowding out the future

It’s the big spenders who should demand entitlement reform

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Big-spending liberals will soon run out of other people's money. This should scare them straight. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment benefits, food stamps and other welfare programs reaching deep into American pockets will soon leave no money for anything else. Yet the White House and congressional Democrats are determined not to touch anything. It's not as if the president doesn't know better. "Our retirement programs," he said in his State of the Union address earlier this month, "will crowd out the investments we need for our children."

Merely acknowledging the problem, however, is not the same as trying to do something about it. Five decades ago, entitlements accounted for a quarter of federal spending; now it's two-thirds. The remainder -- items such as national defense, transportation infrastructure, national parks and space exploration -- get what's left of a rapidly shrinking slice of the pie.

With their cherished discretionary programs in danger of getting crushed by an entitlement steamroller, Democrats should be far more receptive to saving themselves. One of the rare voices of reason on the left is a group called the Third Way, which released a paper last summer titled "Collision Course: Why Democrats Must Back Entitlement Reform."

That may not be a popular message for Democrats, who are more enthusiastic about redistributing wealth than about sustaining basic government services. The Congressional Budget Office and the Simpson-Bowles commission estimate that if we stay the course taking us into the iceberg, every penny of federal revenues will be consumed by entitlements and interest on the federal debt by 2025. That would leave zero for anything else, short of continuing to borrow heavily. That option becomes unrealistic once interest rates rise above their current near-zero rate, driving the cost of borrowing into the clouds. It can only get worse with further downgrades of the U.S. credit rating.

Bad things will happen to programs liberals love. There will be no money for the National Endowment of the Arts to fund "art" mocking Christians for their faith. No more foreign aid to Islamic extremists. The Postal Service will go under; so will the hopelessly inefficient companies selling windmills. Peddlers of fraudulent global-warming nostrums will have to get real jobs.

Lest those possibilities sound too much like a good thing, it also means no Army, no Navy and no money to pay for the government's legitimate constitutional functions. Risking everything for short-term political gain means an empty gravy bowl for everyone in the not-so-distant future. Mocking conservatives as meanies who want to throw grannies into the street might work for an election cycle or two, but time is running out for entitlement reform.

Middle- and upper-income Americans are particularly capable of funding their own health care and retirement (through insurance and mandatory savings accounts), rather than relying on budget-breaking government transfer payments. Means testing, raising the eligibility age for Social Security and other fixes can keep the programs alive long enough to implement fundamental changes. For the thinking, liberal and conservative, it's now or never.

The Washington Times

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